33 Recruitment Experts on Mistakes People Make on Their CV

34 Recruitment Experts Share the Top 3 Mistakes People Make on Their CV

It is the first impression you leave on someone you are hoping would employ you. Yet, people often do not take the necessary care when it comes to preparing their CVs. Thoughtless mistakes can result in a CV application being rejected from the onset.

Recruitment agents receive hundreds of CVs. We asked them: “What are the top three mistakes people make on their CV?” To give yourself a competitive advantage when applying for a job be sure to avoid making these mistakes.

Ryan Olver, DAV

Marna Thompson, Network Recruitment

Phillipa Geard, RecruitMyMom

Brenda Bensted-Smith, Ad Talent

Georgina Barrick, Cassel & CO and Insource.ICT/IT Edge

Saleem Jaffer, Joblife

Philip Park, Professional Career Services

Lara Birkett, Greys Recruitment

Maraine Basson, CA Financial Appointments

Michael Tuohy, Headhunters Recruitment

Celeste Sirin, Strategy Recruitment Marketing

Ronel Irvine, Pro Appointments

Martin Janse van Rensburg, Talent Magnet

Nicholas Edmayr, Blazing Business Boosters and Cofesa

Emél van Zyl, GAP Placements

Samantha Harper, Nu Beginnings

Ellie Zwanepoel, 7 Dimensions Recruitment

Seaton Guess, Profile Personnel

Roelien Kruger, Stafflane Recruitment

Caren Human, ASIE Personnel

Letesha Hauptfleisch, Khanye Staffing Solutions

Jackie Jacks, Capital Edge Recruitment

Eta Lyons, Eta Lyons Medical Recruitment

Marion Abbott, Doncour

Candice Macdougall, Complement Recruitment

Joanne Barrett, Joanne's Placements

Katie Schnugh, Tracking Talent

Natalie Davies, Capital Connect

Teresa Da Costa, DC Labour Solutions & Recruitment

​Caren Doyle, Ambit Recruitment

Charles Collier, Collier Recruitment

​Jeannine Dickie, Hire Power SA

Odette Putter, York Recruitment

Jimmy Reid, Sales Recruitment & Profiling

Jump to conclusion

Ryan Olver, Talent Development Specialist at DAV

The story of my life

“When writing the story of your life, don't let anyone else hold the pen.” Harley Davidson coined this phrase in one of their television adverts showcasing their iconic motorcycles. As a successful ex-recruiter, having run an R1.5 million desk, it is a quote that left an indelible mark in my life. It is a quotation that encapsulates values such as ownership, pride and accountability.

It is also a quotation that can metaphorically describe the role one should take when writing his/her CV for prospective employers. For, if you aren’t going to hold the pen and write your story, can you really trust someone else to write your story for you?

Ask any successful recruiter what their typical day entails and they will most probably describe it with one phrase: “a rollercoaster ride.” This phrase can, unfortunately, be mirrored in the market place today. With an economy battling to keep its head above water; an unemployment rate that is increasing on a quarterly basis; and a significant skills shortage in our country today candidates are battling to differentiate themselves and leave that indelible mark in an employer’s mind.

Your CV or “story of your life” is one of the few measures you have in ensuring that you make that great first impression. It is one of the few tools that can showcase your skills in that brief 30-second window of an employer’s attention. It is often the difference between a gander and a gawk; a yes or a no.

Throughout my recruitment journey, I have identified some key factors that can either make or break a CV. Let me share my story with you:

1. The power of precision.

I remember spending late evenings sifting through potential CVs. I would often ask myself, as a recruiter, what caught my eye when paging through all these CVs? What directed my attention to a candidate’s life story? A person I had never even met with face-to-face.

The answer was simple: precision. My eye would often be attracted to straight lines and well-spaced paragraphs. My eye loved professional language and correct punctuation. I got excited when I saw a well thought out CV that demonstrated skills, accomplishments and a stellar track record. But it was the accuracy and precision in their CV that made me want to pick up the telephone and screen them further.

That was the driver for me – the petrol that fuelled my enthusiasm and intrigue. They say in life that the little things are not little. This is so true when designing your CV. The small things will either count in your favour or against it. Spelling, punctuation, paragraphs and professional language – they all count. Make sure it counts in your favour.

2. Start now and work backwards

Have you ever heard of the phrase: “You are only as good as your last deal?” Well, that’s what employers think. As much as they want to know how you got to this point, they want to also see what kind of form you are in.

When designing the story of your life make sure you start with the now and work backwards. As good a waiter as you were, when you were making great tips in your first job after school, your future employer will most likely not be as enthused. You need to showcase what you can bring to the table at this very moment.

What better way to do that than to start with your most recent job first then slowly work backwards. Skill is often permanent but form can establish how quickly you can acclimatize to your new role and hit the ground running. Employers want to see that.

3. You cannot put a price on honesty, trust and loyalty

Honesty, trust and loyalty are the Holy Trinity – the values that are ingrained in my DNA. Values that have made me the man I am today. Honesty, trust and loyalty take years to form but seconds to break. Now, I know you cannot demonstrate these skills to a prospective employer merely through your CV but you can aid it.

Be honest with your track record. If you started a job and it didn’t work out after a month or two you must still declare it on your CV. Why wouldn’t you? People often think that being too honest can hinder your chances of success. You are more likely to jeopardise your chances by being dishonest. Tell the truth and you never have to remember anything. Trust me – it works.

The next value, trust (often intertwined with honesty), can be easily broken if you cannot relay in the interview what is stated on your CV. So don’t fib on those extra “Key Performance Areas”; or that statement that says “Proficient in Microsoft Excel” – when in fact you know you are barely average. If someone trusts you they can rely on you to deliver. You wouldn’t want to start the next chapter of your life not being able to deliver on your promises, would you?

Lastly, the value of loyalty. You cannot put a price on loyalty. It demonstrates consistency, perseverance and tenacity – qualities that prospective employers will kill for. Make sure the story of your life can demonstrate these qualities.

Indicate clearly your years of service at previous employers; the actual years it took you to complete that BCom degree; or the amount of time you were out of work after being retrenched. Recruiters and employers alike will focus on dates and months and will question gaps in your CV. Bridge that gap and promote loyalty. It will only stand you in good stead.

In conclusion, everyone’s story is different and that’s what makes you unique. You are not always going to get a seat at the adults’ table or, more simply, that elusive interview with the CEO of a JSE Listed company. But you want to give yourself the best shot possible. You want to differentiate yourself from the herd and place the spotlight firmly on yourself. Hopefully, this article has given you the pen to enable you to write the best story of your life.

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Marna Thompson, Branch Manager at Network Recruitment

1. Spelling errors

Job seekers need to ensure that their CV is error-free as this demonstrates precision and attention to detail to specialist recruiters. It’s vital that you always spell check and proofread your CV. In addition, ensure that you have written the correct abbreviations of specific technical terms, and specify the details of any professional associations to which you belong.

2. Poor CV format

Since it takes eight seconds to impress a recruiter or prospective employer, it’s imperative that your CV is clear, concise and easy to read. Ensure that your CV does not have any career gaps and that your start and end dates are in chronological order. If there are career gaps, explain what you were doing during that time; e.g. further full-time studies.

3. Being too vague

As a professional, you should not underestimate the importance of mapping out the progression of your career in your CV. This becomes particularly important if you have been at a company for a long time, and if you have fulfilled different roles and functions in that company. Be clear about your qualifications, where you studied and whether you completed them. If you had to put your studies on hold, add a short explanation as to why this is the case and how you plan to address it going forward.

Phillipa Geard, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of RecruitMyMom

1. The one-size-fits-all CV

In today’s fast and, largely, online world of recruitment, job-seekers tend to submit a one-size-fits-all CV. They do not tailor their CVs for the specific job they are applying for. This could result in their CV applications being overlooked by a recruitment agency/employer – even though they have the perfect skillset for the job.

For example, a generic CV may include several jobs that have been done in the past with a wide variety of experience, roles and tasks. The employer may only be looking for one or two of those particular skills. Because the CV received is broad, the employer would rather choose a candidate whose CV displays the two skills required most prominently and consistently than the broader more generic CV.

How to overcome this? Always write a strong motivational letter – highlighting why you suit the role being advertised. Ensure that the CV submitted supports the motivational letter by consistently displaying the skills in previous places of employment; as requested in the job specification.

2. It’s too long or too short

Candidates can often fall into one of two categories when submitting a CV. It’s either way too long or way too short.

Employers do not have the time today to read through CVs much longer than 4 pages. If a CV has too many pages, the chances are that an employer will only read the first few and then set the CV aside – often missing important information. Rather keep the CV brief, and add the detail in an interview, than miss an opportunity to have an interview at all.

Just because a CV is being submitted online does not mean it should be too brief either. Writing “Finance Manager” and expecting the employer to deduce what roles, responsibilities and tasks were undertaken in this role will not work. Candidates need to expand and explain the tasks and responsibilities undertaken while being employed.

3. Gaps in the CV

Trained recruiters will immediately spot gaps in a CV. Rather explain a gap in the CV than leave it for interpretation by the reader. For example, at RecruitMyMom a candidate may have had a career break whilst raising her children. Rather than omit this time from the CV, include it with an explanation of where and what one was doing at that time.

If one doesn’t explain gaps away the employer may feel the candidate is hiding something in their past.

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Brenda Bensted-Smith, Chief Executive Officer of Ad Talent

  1. Spelling mistakes. Check your CV, check again and check one more time. Confusion over what should be in lower case and what should be in upper case is a no-no.
  2. Inaccurate dates and gaps. Even if you have travelled these dates must be stated.
  3. No reason for leaving or rambling on for three paragraphs in explanation. Just a one-liner will do.
  4. First job listed first. Your current job must be listed first and then work backwards.
  5. Clutter and not visually appealing. Use bullet points. Avoid scrolls and unrelated images.
  6. Irrelevant information under "Education". For example, “First Aid Course completed” or “Reiki course completed”.
  7. Irrelevant achievements. For example, do not include that you swam the Midmar mile when you were 12, but if you won the top achiever award it should be included.
  8. Vague employer details. For example, not “The Hub” but “The Hub – a global communications company”.

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Georgina Barrick, Managing Director of Cassel & CO and Insource.ICT/IT Edge

One of the top mistakes that people make is forgetting to put their contact details on the CV. You cannot believe how many beautifully crafted CVs I see where the candidate has forgotten their telephone number and email address.

Another common mistake is that people list their duties as they would appear on their job description rather than their achievements or outputs in the role. A list of duties really doesn’t give the future employer any sense of whether you executed these well or not; what the results of your efforts were; and the impact of the business.

Saleem Jaffer, Co-Founder of Joblife

The stress of putting together a compelling CV often stems from the fact that people are usually uncomfortable selling themselves. But, a well written and concise CV can catch attention, highlight your strengths and get you that job. Here are seven common job-seeking blunders to avoid as you piece together a CV to wow your new employer.

  • You add too much unnecessary detail
  • Over-zealous styling
  • You ramble
  • The CV is riddled with spelling and grammar mistakes
  • There’s no cover letter
  • You mention money
  • You grovel

Putting together a knock-out CV is no easy feat. You need to summarize your entire working history, explain why you’re incredibly hireable and do it all in just a few short, sharp pages. But rest assured that if you keep your CV succinct and make sure to avoid the above mistakes you have a much better chance of letting your skills really shine through.

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Philip Park, Managing Director of Professional Career Services

  1. The dates on the CV are incorrect and very often do not include the month (just the year). There are also gaps between the dates.
  2. Not describing the company they worked for. If the potential employer does not know the company he/she really has no idea what the company is about. You should include a brief description of what the company does and give an idea of the size of the company (turnover or number of staff etc.).
  3. No clear indication of major responsibilities. Instead, there is a list of duties (including mundane ones) which make the CV very long with irrelevant info. Also, people do not list their achievements with the company, if any, in brief.

In summary, people need to put themselves in the potential employer’s shoes and sell themselves on their CVs whilst being totally honest and factual. Thereby, the potential employer can form a quick and accurate picture of what the candidate is all about.

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Lara Birkett, Senior Talent Acquisition Specialist at Greys Recruitment

  • Age or ID number left out
  • Residential address and province left out
  • Educational details left out
  • Computer literacy listed
  • Dates of employment left out (date being month and year started and ended)
  • Position held left out
  • Detailed duties not included
  • Reasons for leaving left out
  • No reference details (Name, designation and all contact numbers – cell and landline)

Also see our blog post on how to write a CV.

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Maraine Basson, Recruitment Researcher at CA Financial Appointments

As a recruitment researcher, I spend 90% of my day scanning through CVs and, as you know, it’s the determining factor as to whether or not I’ll be interested in meeting you. With the excess of CV writing advice available somehow the simplest mistakes still remain the most prevalent. These are the top three mistakes my colleagues and I still see on a daily basis:

Lack of Proof Reading

Your computer has spell-check, yes, but just because your spelling is correct according to Word does not mean that the word itself is actually correct. For example, you “file” papers; you don’t “fill” them. Therefore, your duties include “filing” not “filling”. “Filling”, however, is a correctly spelt word and your computer won’t highlight this mistake for you – technology is limited like that.

Incomplete Information

For every position you mention you need to list the following: start and finish dates (which include the year as well as the month), job title, duties and reason for leaving. If any of this is missing, mentioning this position becomes somewhat useless. Similarly, gaps between positions need to be explained. Do not use senseless reasons for leaving. If you say that you left a job for growth but then you didn’t work for six months it just doesn’t make sense. Yet, we see this all too often.


Just don’t. Our office agrees unanimously that typing your entire CV in caps is an immediate turn-off. It might seem petty but not only is it grammatically incorrect and highly unprofessional; it also causes the voice in the reader’s head to shout your duties at them. It’s just unpleasant and there’s no logical reason for CAPS.

Getting a CV right is not a difficult task but it takes some careful consideration and strong attention to detail. Essentially, the best CVs are the ones that simply have all the necessary information listed correctly in a concise manner.

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Michael Tuohy, Managing Director of Headhunters Recruitment

1. Typos, spelling mistakes and grammatical errors

Errors like this are avoidable and show carelessness. That is not an impression you, as a job seeker, want to portray to a potential employer.

2. Submitting a generic resume

No two jobs are the same. Therefore, why would you assume that you can use a “one-size-fits-all” CV to apply for roles? The best way you can make a potential employer or recruiter take notice of your CV is to structure it around the skills matrix/requirements of the job description – showcasing your skillset against those that are required.

3. Unstructured CV

A CV that is unstructured does not reflect well on the applicant. Ensure your CV is well structured so that recruiters can follow your employment progress from one job to the next. Jobs are listed in date order, from current, and there are no date gaps on your CV.

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Celeste Sirin, Managing Director of Strategy Recruitment Marketing

The compilation of CVs across generations is a big problem and can either earn the recruiter’s respect or discredit a CV application right from the outset. Personally, I have screened many CVs to date with applicants applying across industry sectors and job categories. If I look at the most common hurdles that we have to overcome in terms of probing areas that are often not forthcoming in a CV it would be the following:

  1. Candidates often do not take the time and effort to write a tailored covering letter and, if they do, it is often a generic letter that is way off the mark in speaking to the position in question. I even received letters addressed to other recruiters where candidates have been too lazy to even change the contact person’s name. If I receive a well-composed letter up front (maybe even with a picture) – motivating the candidate’s reason to applying for the post – they immediately earn my respect and it will compel me to want to read further. Take the time and attention with your CV submission; as desperately tired as you are of applying to numerous roles and being let down time and time again.
  2. Often there are gaps within the candidate’s employment history. Don’t wait for the recruiter/interviewer to have to probe for answers in this regard. Account for them upfront as these time frames are as important as the periods of employment which you have accounted for.
  3. They say ‘less is more’, but just the name of company, position and dates are not sufficient. You need to go back to your schooling days. Look at the job description/advert as your exam paper and your CV as your answer paper and address directly what the position is asking for. Top Key Performance Areas and/or responsibilities are good (maximum 5-8 short one-liners).
  4. Another observation I made, especially when one is a graduate with little experience, is to list your accomplishments, accolades and achievements. When companies are recruiting for graduates they often ask for the top achievers with strong leadership abilities. Your CV needs to demonstrate Prefect/Toastmaster/rep on the school governing body etc.

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Ronel Irvine, Recruitment Consultant at Pro Appointments

As a recruiter, we receive hundreds of CVs a week. Many of these are not the best reflection of the application. A CV is your first impression and care, consideration and detail are so important. Imagine going to an interview at a potential employer dressed in shorts and flip-flops. What do you think the potential employer would think? Sending a CV has pretty much the same effect. The more professional the layout, the more care you have taken in the presentation thereof, the more chance you have of being seen.

With this in mind, our top three mistakes would have to be:

  1. Leaving out dates of employment: never leave these out. Most recruiters will not even consider your application if there are no dates. Include months and years.
  2. No duties and responsibilities: it is imperative to give potential employers an idea of what your duties are. If your duties are long enough to fill pages and pages, then a brief bullet-pointed summary will suffice. Bullet points are easier to comb through than a long, story-type paragraph with a list of duties.
  3. Grammar and spelling: there is nothing worse than receiving a CV with poor grammar and spelling. It is not a great reflection on you as an individual and applicant. Remember, a CV is your first impression so make sure you make an impression.

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Martin Janse van Rensburg, Director of Talent Magnet

In my opinion, the greatest mistakes that applicants make on their CVs are the following:

1. Poor presentation

When I was young my father taught me a small rule that he used to determine whether to hire someone: "Check his watch and check his shoes. If he doesn't have a watch he will probably be late. If his shoes are dirty it's probably because he doesn't care to finish things."

As much as the workplace has become more casual, in terms of appearance, there is still a lot to tell about a person from the presentation of her CV. It's not necessary to get a graphic designer involved, but basic care in the presentation is essential. There are wonderful tools such as Kickresume that makes it very easy to draft presentable CVs.

2. Focusing on job specifications as opposed to achievements

Traditional wisdom teaches us that your CV should let the reader know what you are currently doing at your job. Although this is important, it is equally important to let the reader know how good you are at it. For instance, if you were to hire a Security Guard, it is not only important to know that he has the proper training and experience to be a guard but also how good he is at guarding stuff. What good is a guard if he never stops a bank robbery?

Achievements do not have to be formal. If you are a Salesperson, mention how you performed against your targets; or, if you are an Accountant, mention how your practices reduced the company’s tax liability. You don't need your boss to give you a trophy to know when you have achieved something.

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Nicholas Edmayr, Chief Executive Officer of Blazing Business Boosters and Organisational Psychological and Safety Specialist for Cofesa

1. References

A CV must contain a minimum of three references – stating the name, surname, designation and contact details of the relevant person. The reference(s) that a person chooses to add to their CV must be able to describe the ex-/current employee according to the following aspects:

  • Time management/punctuality
  • Team building/working ability
  • Strategic agility
  • Communicative ability
  • Leadership and managerial ability
  • Motivating ability (internally and externally)
  • Salary/remuneration (Current/Previously)
  • Reason for leaving

Obviously, it will depend on the applicant’s industry, age, experience or trade. But the above criteria must at least be attainable from all the references that are available on a CV. Most people fail to take into consideration the above criteria and, therefore, their CVs never pass the screening process when applying for jobs.

2. Employment History:

The employment history section must contain the following criteria:

  • Time period of employment
  • Company name
  • Reason for leaving
  • Company trade/industry

Obviously, once again, it will depend on the applicant’s industry, age, experience or trade. The above criteria must at least be available on a CV. Most people fail to take into consideration the above criteria and, therefore, their CVs never pass the screening process when applying for jobs.

3. Personal Contact details:

A person must have their own personal phone number (preferably cell phone; otherwise landline number) available on the CV’s personal details section. Many South African job applicants, in particular, have their spouse or family member’s contact details on their CV. Therefore, their CVs are removed immediately from the shortlist during the screening process.

4. Competency/Qualifications:

Many job applicants fail to state the following criteria on the academic section of their CVs:

  • Year of graduation
  • Qualification type (certificate/diploma/degree/etc.)
  • Institution
  • NQF Level

Another aspect that people should take into consideration is to certify the copy they attach to their CV. Some applicants actually fail to attach their qualifications to their CV, which then also ends up on the pile of failed job applications.

Emél van Zyl, Head of Recruitment Operations at GAP Placements

The most important thing is for the CV to be clear and professional. Poor font selection or, even worse, different fonts is a big no-no! Something like Arial 10 works well. The only exception for this, perhaps, would be if you are in the design or creative fields.

Crazy colours, designs and texted boxes all over the place are just confusion for the reader. You may think your CV looks great, but it’s just not functional. An employer who reads hundreds of CVs weekly will only give your CV more than a scan if something catches interest.

Something I find unique to South African CVs is the need to include personal information; such as how many kids (I’ve even seen candidates name their kids) and the exact nature of their marital status. None of that information should have any relevance to your suitability for the position. If you feel the need to include personal information to your CV, “married” or “single” is more than enough.

Lastly, another basic error is not listing education and employment in order of latest first. Your CV should be in the following order:

  1. Name
  2. Contact details
  3. Location
  4. Education [order of latest first]
  5. Professional qualifications [order of latest first]
  6. Employment History [order of latest first]
  7. Interests and Hobbies [at the bottom – unless they are relevant to the role]
An inside recruiter tip that not many people will know!

Include a bunch of keywords (around 20 at least) that are relevant to your skill set at the bottom of your CV. For example, “marketing, digital marketing sales, graphic design…” Then select all and colour white so the words are invisible. These keywords will come up in online CV searches but will actually not be visible on the CV.

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Samantha Harper, Owner of Nu Beginnings

  1. Including too much personal information on their CV. You really shouldn’t put your ID number, physical address and even your marital status and number of kids. Identity theft is real.
  2. Including contactable references. Your references will eventually get annoyed from being contacted continuously. Instead, give the reference details out on request – after you’ve asked your referee for an available time slot for a call.
  3. Not using spell check. The saying “first impressions last” is very true when it comes to your CV.

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Ellie Zwanepoel, Managing Partner at 7 Dimensions Recruitment

1. Irrelevant cover letters

We get a lot of cover letters included with CV submissions and bizarrely most are completely irrelevant to the role for which candidates are applying. I'm a firm believer in the fact that your CV should be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. But cover letters can and should be adapted to the person and to the role to which you are applying. Most letters we receive are ones that people reuse over and over again. This shows laziness and lack of preparation and attention.

2. Unprofessional profile picture

When I say “unprofessional profile picture”, I don't mean it in the sense that you should have paid a fortune to a professional photographer. Not everyone has the means or the funds for such a thing. Rather, an unprofessional picture is one where the applicant is surrounded by friends on a raucous night out, or they are dressed immodestly and striking a pose etc. A profile picture for a job application should show the applicant smartly dressed, standing straight and tall, a nice smile and with a minimal background (e.g. against a plain wall; not in the middle of the street or shopping mall).

3. No information on their current role

Many candidates are in such a rush to send in their CV when a new role becomes available that they forget to update their CV. Attention to detail and taking pride and care in your CV and application is critical in showing yourself to be a good potential candidate or new employee.

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Seaton Guess, Director of Profile Personnel

  1. Candidates often make the mistake of underselling their application with regards to their recent duties. They should provide all the relevant information to the hiring manager in order to be the best shortlisted candidates for the position.
  2. Candidates do not tailor their application for the specific position.
  3. Candidates do not account for periods or gaps in their employment history.

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Roelien Kruger, Internal Recruitment Consultant at Stafflane Recruitment

1. Structuring their CV incorrectly

The correct way to put your CV together is to start with your most recent position and work backwards. The reason is that I don’t want to read what a job applicant did ten years ago and page through pages on pages of employment history only to get to the last page – which tells me what they do now. I want to see what they are doing now first. The quicker I see what a job seeker does presently the quicker I can phone them for an interview.

2. Not putting in relevant information

This is a big one. I get CVs daily from applicants who do not put in job titles, dates or even duties. What must I do with a CV with no information? Duties are incredibly important as it tells the reader what the applicant does daily.

3. The wrong photo

So many job seekers put photos on their CVs that are okay for Facebook but terrible for a CV. The correct photo would be something like an ID or Passport photo but with a little smile. No poses!

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Caren Human, Digital Marketing Manager at ASIE Personnel

1. Add personal contact details

How do you want recruitment agencies/hiring managers to get hold of you? Add your telephone/cell phone numbers. Make sure there are no missing digits. Add an alternative number, email address and/or home address.

2. Not adding enough duties

Each position has a list of duties one has to perform to fulfil the role and, if it is not listed on your CV, the recruiter will have to move on to the next CV. Add your duties, using bullet points, and list duties properly. List the most important duties first.

3. Add dates and reasons for leaving at each company listed on your CV

Recruiters want to know for how long you have been at a company. List the month and year you started as well as the month and year you stopped working at a company; e.g. February 2007 to July 2010. List a reason for leaving at each company – why did you leave the company?

Recruiters spend, on average, six seconds per CV. Your CV needs to give the recruiter the information they need. Recruiters work according to a job specification and are screening your CV for the minimum requirements as per the job specification. Always make sure you meet the minimum requirements for a position before applying.

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Letesha Hauptfleisch, Director of Khanye Staffing Solutions

We see more and more applicants making use of Professional CVs – whether that is going to a specialist in the field of CV drafting to compile one for them or downloading professional templates from the internet. Although it makes our life a little easier, there is, unfortunately, the good, the bad and the ugly of doing it this way:

  • The Good: The CV is well constructed with all the required information and is more often than not SPELL CHECKED.
  • The Bad: The CV expands on experience generically (e.g. there will be a formal job description for Debtors Clerk in much detail without the person having genuine knowledge of or experience in what is being described).
  • The Ugly: It is full of clichés and heard-it-all-before-s – specifically in the overview- or introduction sections; or in the cover letter. Not everyone single person can be “hardworking, loyal, dedicated, a fast learner, etc., etc., etc.”
  1. I must say that I still prefer the original CVs without all the bells and whistles (and mistakes…ok, not all ALL the mistakes) as that gives you a much better picture of the applicant. AND, yes, we do judge a candidate on his/her CV-cover. We also do verify certain information; either via LinkedIn profiles or checking references etc. So, I would say the number one rule should be NO LYING ON YOUR CV. The first (and biggest) mistakes candidates make is to either lie, mispresent or omit information/facts. We ALWAYS find out.
  2. The second mistake would be to not do a SPELL & GRAMMAR CHECK. You should take pride in your CV. It is your selling tool and window to who you are (not the 5 page covering letter singing your praises). It only takes five seconds to check your spelling (the computer actually does it for you) but shows that you give attention to detail.
  3. The third mistake would be to attach a non-professional (without professional attire) picture to your CV. Matric farewell pictures; wedding pictures; you as a bridesmaid/groomsman pictures; and selfies does not portray a professional image (and I am sure that that is not how you will show up for your interview).

Some food for laughter (Some examples of what we receive daily to justify me being obsessed with SPELLING/GRAMMAR):

Applying for a Technical Support Specialist Position:

“I'm very integrated when it comes to the Tech world so my experiences and hobbies will be of high value to both me and the organization. I'm a type of person that works for a very long time on the computer”

Application for a Personal Assistant position:


Application for an Admin position:

“My objective to work harder in order to climb the corporal ladder and reach my full potential.”

Application for a Graphic Design position:

“Long story short, I am a graphic/web/multimedia designer. Having said that, it's a good thing I've spent most of my sober life learning all the semantics that go with it. As for my personal time, I spend it playing pc games, skateboarding and listening to the odd sound vibrations of the universe. I live outside the box.”

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Jackie Jacks, Owner of Capital Edge Recruitment

  1. Lack of attention to detail: a CV that isn’t formatted consistently using the same fonts or which is grammatically incorrect with spelling mistakes.
  2. Not providing contact details: we cannot contact you if we do not know how to get hold of you.
  3. If tertiary studies are incomplete, or in the process of being completed, the CV needs to read as such otherwise it comes across as dishonest.

We receive volumes of CVs. So, ideally, a CV should be concise, tailored to the job you are applying for and consistent with your LinkedIn profile.

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Eta Lyons, Chief Executive Officer of Eta Lyons Medical Recruitment

  1. Be specific about what position or kind of position you are looking for. For example, you are a Medical Technologist but want to be placed as a Medical Representative – we need to know. You can definitely say, in your covering letter, why you think you would excel at the job.
  2. Please put your address on your CV. We receive MANY CVs with only an email address and cell phone number. We recruit nationally and internationally. These little omissions are frustrating for us. We are always under pressure.
  3. Include your name, address and cell phone number. If you were recently married or divorced, make that clear too.

We have advice on our blog .

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Marion Abbott, Director of Doncour

  • 50% of the CVs, received by our agency daily, have blank subject lines and no introduction
  • 35% simply state “Applying for advertised vacancy”
  • 15% of all applications received have no contact details; incorrect contact details; no specified area of residence; and/or no applicant names (amazingly enough)
  • More than 60% of CVs received do not reflect the following essential information: position applied for; job titles; employer details; valid employment dates; duties performed; contactable references; qualifications; and/or reasons for leaving
Excerpts from actual applications received by our office:
  1. "Im the hard werk and rispect poeson..."
  2. "I am freandly,to the people. I like to work seriosly more especial when the busy time..I am fast and active...I like to listen to everything that ather person teach me about how I must do this and tha..."

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Candice Macdougall, Director of Recruitment and Talent Acquisition at Complement Recruitment

1. Less is Not More

More often than not candidates feel a shorter, one-page CV is better. A “highlight” reel of sorts – listing their achievements in each role but not their actual duties in the position. They also state they will elaborate if requested for an interview.

The problem here for the Recruiter (who may be the first point of contact) is that, while a one-page CV is sometimes acceptable, it’s not enough information for us. Our client wants to know what you have done on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. If you can handle and fully understand the role they have available. Let us decide what is applicable as we know our clients and what they are looking for.

A one-page CV or achievements section is great – but give us all the information upfront so we don't need to waste your time and ours by going back and forth for days asking: “But have you got this experience or that hands-on software knowledge?” Most importantly, you are not guaranteed the opportunity to be interviewed. It’s in your own best interest to compile a detailed and up-to-date CV for your future applications and ease of reference.

2. Reasons for leaving previous and current employment

This is a favourite of mine. When I receive a CV with no reason for leaving in the employment history, or the dates, I am alarmed. We do not know you personally. Our first instinct could be that there is an issue here. Either you will disclose the reasons in the interview or you may have been fired and could be trying to evade the topic.

As recruiters, the truth always comes out. We conduct references direct with HR and your line managers – to name a few. You are not always guaranteed the opportunity for the interview to explain your situation. Rather be up front. We can work with honesty but we cannot support any misconduct and/or a pattern/history of bad behaviour.

3. Fonts and formatting

Some agencies will submit the CV in the format that the candidate provided. Others will create a professional CV template for each candidate’s application. The difficulty we face is all the different fonts, images, alignment, tables and formatting.

Each section should be the same. We don't need to see pictures of your animals or children on your CV. You may feel that this helps us to connect with you on a familiar level but it is unprofessional and too personal. If your alignment, grammar and spelling are inconsistent and your CV is generally untidy we cannot take your listed “Key Skill” of “Paying Attention to Detail” seriously.

Please view our blog tab for some handy tips for interview preparation and related articles.

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Joanne Barrett, Owner of Joanne's Placements

1. Poor Formatting

Different fonts, sizes of font, pictures and borders on CVs are a huge turn-off to anyone employing. If they are not clear and easy to read, you can be certain, the CV will not be looked at.

2. Spelling, Typos & Grammatical Errors

There really are no excuses for spelling mistakes – spell check can be utilised as well as proof reading your CV and taking the valuable time needed. Someone can also be given your CV to do a once-over. Errors of this nature can really kill your prospects. An error free CV is vital in making a first impression count.

3. Lying

The facts on your CV are easy to follow up on. Never assume that recruiters or employers won’t make enquiries and check. Lying about University dates or degrees; jobs and or positions held; and/or salaries won’t do you any favours in the long run. The truth always comes out. At worst, you may be invited for an interview where you’ll either trip yourself up or be asked questions that you’re unable to answer. Word gets around in the industry and it simply is just not worth it.

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Katie Schnugh, Director of Tracking Talent

For me, it’s the small stuff:

  1. Typo’s in their phone numbers and contact details. We can’t get hold of you if the basics are wrong.
  2. CV is written like a job specification – they don’t sell themselves. It’s boring.
  3. Duties written in long paragraph forms. Use bullet points – recruiters and HR managers want to scan your CV for keywords, initially, not read an essay.

For tips on writing a CV visit our blog.

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Natalie Davies, Director of Capital Connect

How to write a CV - Be EASY

Be EASY – follow these important points when compiling your CV:

Make it EASY for the organisation to contact you
  • You will be surprised how often we receive a CV with no contact number or email address.
  • Rather use a private email address (that way you are easy to reach even once you have changed companies).
  • Remember that a potential employer is likely to look at your Facebook and LinkedIn profiles – so make sure you are consistent in the way you present yourself.
Go EASY on your Audience
  • We recommend that you have a basic CV that is easy to tailor according to the role you are applying for. Making tea for your boss might not be a necessary skill to include if you are applying for a sales job.
EASY on the Eye
  • Your reader is probably reviewing A LOT of CVs.
  • Pay attention to your CV layout; it should be clean and consistent (i.e. use the same spacing and font throughout the document).
EASY does it
  • Pay attention to detail. Accurate spelling and grammar are important.
  • Don’t use capital letters unnecessarily.
  • Get to the point (no long sentences or unnecessary words). You want to communicate your skills as quickly as possible before you lose your reader.
  • Each job should have no more than ten key functions.
  • Include reasons for leaving.
EASY…but not cheap
  • Avoid including salary details. That is something best discussed in person and at the next stage.

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Teresa Da Costa, Human Resources Professional and Founder of DC Labour Solutions & Recruitment

1. Application is not relevant to the job specifications

More and more job vacancies are being advertised on social media through various different types of job portals. Therefore, it has become a common trend for applicants to abuse the application process by not taking the time to read the relevant job requirements advertised. They are simply applying to the advertisement.

This not only frustrates the recruiter, who has to screen and sift through all applications, but it is extremely time-consuming. An applicant, who does not take the time to read an advert and apply with relevant matching skills and competencies, leaves the impression that he/she will not take the time during employment to carry out the work that is required of him/her.

2. Ignoring the gaps in the work history

Gaps in a CV can result in your application being deleted from the process. If the applicant has not indicated what activities he/she performed during significant gaps in the employment history it looks suspicious.

3. Not selling your achievements

It is important to highlight success within your career history (without sounding arrogant). If you have had success and you have achieved something, why not mention it in your CV? It also gives the employer an indication of what type of work has been carried out and opens up the door for discussion at the interviews.

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Caren Doyle, Owner of Ambit Recruitment

  1. Ensure your CV is up to date.
  2. Remember to put your current job first on your CV.
  3. Your CV is the image that precedes you – ensure you do a spell/grammar check.
  4. If you have worked on projects, put them in your CV and explain your involvement and achievements.
  5. Spend time on your CV. Remember that companies and/or recruiters look at hundreds of CVs a week. If your CV stands out it will make you stand out!

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Charles Collier, Founder of Collier Recruitment

  1. Some CVs are too long. Keep it short and to the point – preferably two to three pages maximum (some companies insist on a two page CV and will not look at anything else).
  2. Dates on the CV don’t tie up. Dates must be correct and fully cover your relevant working life (there should be no gaps).
  3. Information is missing from the CV. Job/Career information must contain: Dates; Company name; Position held; Description (brief) of roles; and Reason for leaving.

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Jeannine Dickie, Owner of Hire Power SA

1. Incorrect contact information

We frequently receive applications without contact phone numbers or the cell numbers no longer operate.

2. General lack of content and related details

Incorrect or non-existent dates of employment on the CV. It’s vital to show both the month and year – from start to termination of tenure. Many applicants give a blanket year; e.g. they worked for XYZ Ltd in 2017. Meantime, they were employed for only three months of that year (January to March of 2017). This is a form of misrepresentation which creates the wrong impression and expectation of the applicant’s ability and experience in the eyes of the recruiter.

Applicants should also include the name and designation of their immediate superior for each place of employment – coupled with the correct and up to date contact details of this referee.

3. Photographs of the applicant

If a photo is included on the CV it should be a clear head and shoulder shot – taken against a neutral, uncluttered background (the bathroom or office door is usually a good option). The candidate should be wearing classic, corporate wear and the digital rendering of the image should be clear.

Do not include duck-faced selfies. Or photos of scantily-clad individuals taken in social settings (where their face has been cropped but they did not notice the photo bomber or hand holding a bottle of liquor in the background). Also, no “fashion photos” of applicants sporting bling, sunglasses, chunky gold chains and the like. It does the applicant no justice.

4. Supporting documentation

We experience tremendous problems with the verification of supporting documentation (academic qualifications, driver’s licence etc.). So much so that we now, as a rule, request that applicants who are invited for a registration interview bring their original documents along to our meeting. We then scan these in digitally onto our database. Do not provide uncertified copies. We’ve seen way too many falsified copies.

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Odette Putter, Talent Acquisition Specialist at York Recruitment

Mysterious gaps in employment

If for any reason you’ve taken a break from employment – whether it’s for travel, study, volunteering, redundancy or simply to care for your child – explain it. If you don’t, recruiters may jump to their own, less flattering conclusions and pass your CV over without a second thought.

Sentence/paragraph form

Always list your duties and responsibilities in bullet form and NOT in paragraph/sentence form. This will ensure easy reading.

Including irrelevant personal information

Don’t clog your CV up with irrelevant information that’s not going to help your application.

Reasons for leaving

Always ensure your reason for leaving each company is listed.

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Jimmy Reid, Sole Proprietor of Sales Recruitment & Profiling

I am not sure if much can be added to this topic – so much has been written about. For me, the real problem is the submission of the CV, in its standard format, with nothing of real interest for the person who reads it.

When jobs are advertised, CVs arrive in large numbers regardless of whether the person sending it even qualifies. In posting advertisements for vacancies we try and eliminate those who don't qualify (even remotely) but it makes no difference. There are so many people out there who are desperate for work and mobile devices have made it easier to send a CV – without giving too much thought to what is being applied for.

For me, a great covering letter detailing achievements, hopes, dreams and why that individual believes they can do it if given the opportunity is the crucial factor. If I like what I see, I will then look specifically at work history, qualifications and anything else that might be significant. I think that most recruiters discard the CV if there is nothing which stands out as being worthwhile.

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It is astounding how many CV applications get discarded because of common mistakes which can be avoided. Apart from including unnecessary information or omitting relevant information, the top three most common mistakes applicants make appears to be:

  • Poor spelling and grammar
  • Incorrect dates and gaps in the CV
  • Not describing duties and achievements in properly

Other mistakes people regularly make on their CV include format/layout/presentation errors; no/incorrect contact details; using a generic CV; not indicating a reason for leaving; no/insufficient cover letter; no contactable references; attaching an unprofessional picture; incorrect date order of employment history; the CV is too long or too short; and not updating their CV.