7 (+13) Deadly CV Design Sins

Sep 13, 2010 by

Match great content with great presentation.

If you are about to set about writing your CV, you may like to consider a few basic design tips.  Your CV is a crucial document: the thing that in many cases will clinch some face-to-face time with an HR manager.  Don’t do yourself a disservice with a ill thought-out document.

I have attempted to compile a brief list of CV design tips which you should consider when writing your CV.  As per my previous blog, I don’t claim to have all the answers and we’re always happy to hear any more…

1. Fancy paper

Keep it plain, white or cream, and good quality. 

2. Font

Times New Roman is out.  Usually the default setting, it’s difficult to read and has some odd spacing issues.  Comic Sans might make them laugh, but not give you a job. Arial, clean and crisp and professional, is in – so use it.

3. Font size

Avoid making it teeny weeny.  You may cram more in, but without 20/20 vision, it will be tricky to read.  If you need such small text, there’s a good chance you’ve written too much.

4. Coloured text

Feeling creative? Save it.  Grey text may look more “designer” but it can be tricky to read, and you are risking your CV being illegible when printed out.  Keep text black, and don’t go below 75%.  Primary colours are a hit with babies, but steer well clear on a professional document.

5. Pretty pictures

Ahhhh, a lovely bit of clip art and a flowery border: perfect for Granny’s birthday card but NOT a good CV look!  Try adding character with your name in a slightly larger size or in bold.

6. Paper size and format

Keep to portrait format and A4.  A paperless office is great in theory, but in practice it’s tricky.  Assume that your CV will be printed off and put in a file for future reference. Make it easy for them by adhering to convention.

7. Order of information

Keep it in chronological order, and always most recent first.  Education or work experience first? There are no hard or fast rules.  It’s your call and depends very much on the stage of your career you’re at.

8. TLAs

Avoid 3 letter acronyms like the plague.  Your industry jargon may leave someone else bemused. Remember, the first person who reads your CV (and gets to decide whether or not to bin it) may well be a company HR Manager with no knowledge (nor interest in) of your area of expertise.

9. Listing your employers 

Explain what your employers do. Always.  For the same reason above, include a brief line under each company you list outlining who they are, what they do and how big they are.

10. Beware of what you write

Everything you put on your CV is fair game at interview. Don’t tell any fibs and make sure that you can back up any claims you have made with hard facts.

11. Vocabulary

Keep it simple.  If you can’t explain what you do on a day to day basis, how can you expect anyone to believe that you know what you are doing? If necessary, practice explaining what your job entails with a friend or family member, or just talk at the dog!

12. ’Curriculum Vitae’

Do you really need to title your CV ‘Curriculum Vitae’?  I would suggest that if you need to tell people what document they are looking at, you have a real problem on your hands - surely it is ought to be obvious?!

13. Spolling, spilling, spelling

If you must write “Curriculum Vitae” and other long words – or even simple ones – for goodness sake make sure that you spell it correctly. Word has a spell-check, make sure you use it. It’s amazing how many don’t.

14. Writing in the 3rd person

“Alex wrote this blog, following years of experience looking at CVs…” Writing in the 3rd person is naff.  It just doesn’t work.  It is also worth avoiding starting every sentence with “I” and brushing up on your (not you’re!) basic grammar.

15. Contact info

Sad but true:  we regularly get CVs with missing details.  Make sure that all your contact info is clear and at the top of the front page, so that it is easily accessible if printed off and stapled together.  If your CV is available to download off a job website, do not assume that it will be read, from top to bottom online. 

16. Too much info

An employer will scan your CV in 17 seconds.  Help them by keeping it to the point.  Don’t waffle on about everything you did day-to-day.  If you’ve been reading our blogs you will know you should keep it to the key points and achievements – the ones the employer is interested in.

17. Too much personal info

Don’t leave yourself open to identity theft.  National Insurance numbers, kids’ names, birth dates and (yes, you better believe it happens) pets’ names don’t belong on CVs.  

18. Less is more

Less is more:  Try to keep to 2 pages. If you run into more, ask yourself why?

19. Numbering pages

There is no need to number the pages either.  If you’re CV is so long you need to number pages, it’s probably too long. See above.

20. Format

Consider format.  You may well be emailing your CV through.  Make it easy on employers and recruiters by saving it in a common file format.

Remember, this list isn’t exhaustive, but taking note of some of the tips above and paying attention to detail may well save your CV from your reject pile.


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