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CV howlers – 13 ways to make a headhunter cringe

Posted: Oct 2023
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We read a lot of CVs – and they're not always pretty. Many of the CVs that come our way contain errors, minor ones usually, but sometimes we come across mistakes that set off alarm bells, making us start to doubt a candidate’s credibility. While we know that candidates are not intending to frustrate us with their CV blunders, the reality is that we do get frustrated because so many people make the same mistakes, again and again.

Knowing what a great CV looks like will help yours stay out of the discard pile – you can read exactly how to craft a strong, flawless document that showcases your strengths to help you stand out from the competition here.

We may sound as though we are nit-picking here, but there are certain pitfalls that you need to avoid at all costs. If you want your CV to make it past the gatekeepers and into the hiring manager's hands, please steer clear of these cringe-worthy mistakes.

1. Do not include a photo
– if we want to see your beautiful face then we can easily find it; in an age when we are actively considering your work experience on its merit and that should not include judgements about your appearance in our assessment of whether you’d be a good fit for the role. Furthermore, many employment laws and recruitment best practices exist to eliminate discrimination from the hiring process. If you include a photo, you’ll undermine them.

2. No PDFs please – as the point people representing you, we remove any personal details and contact details and add our company logo. We will never change your CV without your permission. A Word document makes our lives a lot easier in this respect.

3. Stick to black and white – you may think that adding a splash of colour to your CV will help it stand out from the crowd; it won’t. Focus your creative skills on honing the quality of your CV’s content rather than making it look pretty.

4. Choose your font wisely – Times New Roman may be easy to read but it can make you look old-fashioned. We appreciate that this is highly subjective, and we did just say the focus should be on the content of your CV, but we recommend you choose a font that is modern and easy to read font; do ensure the size of the font is either 10 or 11 to avoid the need for a magnifying glass!

5. Avoid using pronouns – when it comes to which viewpoint to use when writing your CV – first person, second person, or third person, the answer is none of them! Your CV should be written using ‘implied first person’, a form of first person where the pronouns are left out. This creates a more professional impression. It’s also more concise and easier for us to read.

6. No personal details – do not include your marital status, how many children you have, and their ages. We are not the right audience! When all’s said and done, these play no part in you being good at your job.

7. Keep the personal email address under wraps – using an email address which is not linked to your professional status may cause some raised eyebrows when (if you get offered a job) we share this detail with a potential employer. Do you really want them to know you call yourself

8. Steer clear of generic personal statements – we really, really do not want to hear that you are ‘a great communicator and team player’, however articulate and collaborative you are. Your personal statement is your hook – what makes you unique? Give it some thought and keep us interested, wanting to know more.

9. A one-page CV is too short – while less is often more, one page is not enough. You have two pages to sell yourself so make full use of those pages, and no more than that!

10. A four-page CV is way too long – balance the amount of detail you include. Even if you have lots of experience, we don’t need to hear it all. Stick to the best bits.

11. Post-nominals not needed – we appreciate that you may have studied long and hard to get the letters after your name, and we can see the value in adding them on a CV for a medical role, but in our industry, it’s not necessary. Let your knowledge and experience speak for itself.

12. Omit the ordinary hobbies – going to the cinema with your friends and reading aren’t really hobbies. Think carefully about which interests you want to include – ideally they should be ones that are a potential conversation starter.

13. Middle names – in or out? This one isn’t as cringeworthy as the rest but it’s worth a mention as it tends to make us chuckle – so maybe you should keep it in; we all need a laugh from time to time!

Yes, we are tough critics, but we hope this gives you some insight into not just how to make headhunters cringe, but how to avoid falling at the first hurdle in your job search. We understand that trying to make a strong first impression can be exceptionally difficult so please do get in touch if you want any further advice on ensuring you have an exemplary CV.

For a free download of our full Annual Salary Guide 2023, click here.

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The Works Search: a search consultancy specialising in PR and corporate communications. We have unrivalled matching abilities and are known for finding the top 5% performers in the industry - the ones who deliver and make your reputation great. For more advice or market insights, do get in touch with us on 0207 903 9291 or email:

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