Here in the UK, I have received maybe 200 CVs over my career for people who want a job at one of the companies I work at, most of them are average at best, some are terrible and rarely are they outstanding. I'm not talking about the person as much as the CV.

The first critical point for anyone sending out their CV is this: The person who you are sending this to does not know you and is deciding who you are from your CV alone.

That point in its own right would be enough for an intelligent person to re-check their CV and even ask a friend to see whether it contains a useful description of them as a person but let us break this down into some common mistakes. These are all easy to fix so give yourself the best chance to shine.

These are in no particular order.

Length of the CV

A common criticism of CVs is that they are too long. It is also possible that they are too short. The art of length is really asking about what is important. Employment gaps are not good (read: they were swanning around, in prison, unemployed, etc) but also this doesn't mean that you should include great detail on the fact that you worked on Pascal in 1986 unless you are applying for a job writing Pascal! Have the sense to tailor your CV to your job which should help remove a lot of dead wood.

In development, most of your skills prior to about 5 or 10 years ago are likely to irrelevant to many companies. Sadly, 30 years in Development really does not give you anything automatically that will be better than a keen youngster out of college! This is a common assumption, "I am senior because I've been doing it a long time". It won't take me long in an interview to demolish that assumption - you really need to think about the value that you will actually add.


Another common complaint is the details. I am talking here about the small mistakes, typos etc. in your CV. We are all human but I am going to assume that you are either not bothered or otherwise do not have good English skills (if you are not English, that is not so bad!). "Your" instead of "You're"? No need for that, especially when you want £50-60K per year!

I have had other CVs where the intro paragraph is not up to date, perhaps it has not been changed since you last looked for work. If this is the case, guess what I will assume about your motivation and attention to detail?

Weasel Words

This is a pet hate of mine. CVs that are full of important sounding words and phrases that don't actually mean anything. One CV I saw the other day said, "I worked on very innovative desktop applications". Good for you. Now what did you do on those applications and why are they innovative?

The intro paragraph I usually skip over because it contains pointless superlatives like, "A motivated and professional engineer with the enthusiasm to move an application forwards". Just so you know, I will not believe you just because you write that, so you are better off sticking to the facts, "A developer with a predominantly .Net background but with more recent experience with DevOps and the Cloud"

Lots of work placements

What do you think I will assume if you have had 10 jobs in the last 10 years? I will assume you are either restless, hard to get on with or just not very good at your job. Sometimes I will flatly reject a candidate based on this. What if you are a Contractor? If you have contracted for a long time, I will not assume that you will take to the permanent role as easily as you suggest you will. Working on lots of shorter term projects reduces your exposure to risk, often avoids the need to really work long and hard to get hard projects back on track and the obvious difference is that after 6 months on half as much money as you were making before, there is every chance you will be tempted back to the dark side! Don't be offended but you need to seriously consider moving away from contracting and have a very compelling reason for me to believe you will stay.

You can be wise with your work list and abbreviate things over 10 years old if you wish and be extra careful where you have worked for a company that maybe changed name or ownership. Make it clear on the CV that this is essentially a single post so that I will not assume the worst!

Selling your previous companies instead of you

This is a common problem and might be driven either by the fact that you think your experience by itself with a company like Google of Facebook has intrinsic value or maybe you just haven't thought about it but I am potentially looking to recruit you, not your former employer. For this reason, working for Google is great but I need to know specifically what you did, I need to know the level of seniority you had (decision maker or backlog developer), I need to know about tasks that you completed that a fresh graduate would not be able to do and this might be harder than you think.

While you are employed, part of your professionalism is deciding about your career and proving that you have what it takes to get promotions etc. without having to leave a company. You were a decision maker? Then why were you not a Senior or a Technical Authority etc? You were instrumental in writing an app but could you do the same from day 1 if I asked you to do the same? If you are claiming to have any kind of seniority then I will not only expect to obviously read this on your CV but I will even question you about it.

Lies and embellishments

Some people don't care as much as I do but I will pick up every word on your CV. If you say that you are highly experienced in Entity Framwork, for example, I will ask you what you can do that I can't! You would be surprised how many people can't answer. I had one recruit who claimed he was "smoking hot" at HTML. When asked about what this actually meant, excluding HTML emails, which I told him was a dying skill in most places, there was nothing.

Sometimes this is the recruiter front sheet trying to get your CV in front of me and "accidentally" including the wrong skills but be warned, this can back-fire on you and the recruiter. No-one wants to be grilled at an interview about things that they can't actually do so don't waste time, stick to the facts and allow the right companies to decide that you are a good fit.

Lack of specialism

.Net is not a specialism! It's like saying that work with cars. It's like saying I specialise in speaking English. There are 1000s of developers who claim to know .net but I want to know more. Now you might actually be an expect in the Common Language Runtime or MSIL hand-crafting so make sure you mention it, otherwise I want to know what valuable skills you will bring to my company. I can already write .Net MVC and web forms and can probably do it faster than you so to pay you a wedge of money to just do that is not always productive.

If instead you can honestly ask about what it is that you really excel at, this can endear you to a company. If you specialise in the cloud and can claim some nice headline figures that you have accomplished, great! "I saved the company £100K per year by moving on-site applications to the cloud". Maybe you are super at organisation and processes, "I helped improve task throughput from an average of 2 hours per task to 1.5 hours per task by automating a lot of previous manual steps". Great, these all give a picture of the kind of person you are.

You might be a generalist but you should always have some specialisms, otherwise it is hard to see you as anything other than a generic programmer with X years under their belt where you haven't done anything much other than getting stuff from a database and displaying it to the user!

Some things to consider for specialisms: DevOps, Front-end JS frameworks, containerisation, web app security, performance testing and optimisation, pen-testing etc. And I don't mean, "I watched someone do it" but ideally "You could give me this stuff now and I would nail it".