How to pass the 30 second CV test

Tracey Dall
Wednesday 13 December 2023

This post provides our advice on some of the most common CV mistakes and how to avoid them.

Hiring managers are busy people; they work to tight deadlines and can receive hundreds of applications per week for one position.  Research shows that the time spent reading a CV for the first time could be as little as 30 seconds (sometimes even less!)

To impress an employer and secure an interview, it’s vital that your CV stands out from the crowd and is easy to read and navigate.

1. Poor formatting

Your CV should be consistently and professionally presented.  Pay specific attention to the following points:

  • Keep it clear and concise – get straight to the point and highlight the most relevant facts – ideally keep to no more than two A4 pages. Your CV needs to be focussed, contain quantifiable achievements and include only relevant information.
  • Choose a professional font – select a font which can be easily read and scanned and which won’t distract the reader from the content of the CV. The font should be no smaller than size 10 and no larger than size 12. Use a modern and professional font style, such as Arial, Calibri or Times New Roman.
  • List everything in reverse chronological order – this means putting your most recent experiences first, at the top. This lets the recruiter see your most recent work history and achievements first.
  • Use clear spacing and bullet points – these are a great way to draw attention to the most relevant information or key facts and allows a recruiter to quickly scan your CV to find achievements and skills suited to the role. Use short sentences throughout.
  • Use action verbs – use action verbs in your CV to capture the reader’s attention and to describe all skills, accomplishments and responsibilities. Make the action verb the first word of each bullet point in a list.
  • Minimise contact details – maximise space in your CV by minimising your contact details. All you need to include is your name, telephone number, email address, address, and LinkedIn profile link (if you have one). Put these details at the top of your CV. Remember to keep your email address professional and avoid typing ‘CV’ or ’Curriculum Vitae’ at the top.
  • Colour and fancy fonts – unless you are writing a creative CV, coloured text and fancy fonts (such as Comic Sans) are best avoided. They look unprofessional and can be difficult to read. If you are going to use colour, use it sparingly to draw attention to key aspects of the document, like your headings.
  • Don’t include a photo -there is no need to add a picture of yourself to your CV, unless you have been specifically asked to do so. If you have a LinkedIn profile, add this instead.
  • Name the document when saving – don’t just save as ‘Document 1’. Make sure the title of the document is professional and identifies you, such as ‘Joe-Bloggs-CV’.

2. Spelling mistakes and poor grammar

Employers will reject applications with poor spelling or grammar, so write in good English and revise English grammar rules. If applying for jobs in the UK, ensure you use British spelling throughout. It’s also a good idea to print your CV off and ask a friend to check it for common spelling and grammar mistakes before sending.

If you use English as a second language, the University’s Academic English Service offers one-to-one tutorials to help you improve the accuracy of your language in job and internship applications.

3. Failure to tailor

It’s vital to match your CV to the position to which you are applying. Look carefully at the job description. This will outline the key skills and experiences the employer is looking for in a successful applicant. Your CV needs to reflect and show evidence of these.

4. Not highlighting transferable skills

Transferable (or ‘soft’ skills) are highly valued by employers. Even if you don’t have any directly relevant experience, it’s still possible to highlight the key transferable skills you have gained from your degree, work and voluntary experience, or extra-curricular activities.

Transferable skills include communication skills, commercial awareness and teamwork. The kinds of transferable skill that the job demands will be clear from the job description. Find out more about the transferable skills employers want (Prospects).

5. Adding referees to your CV

Unless specifically asked for, there is no need to include details of referees on your CV – simply add ‘References available on request’ (if you have the space to do so).

Careers Centre help

The Careers Centre has many resources to help you write a CV:

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