CV Mistakes – From the person who has to tidy them up

Something you should know up front - I’m not a Recruitment Consultant.  I just want to get that out there before I start.  I won’t advise you on the content of your CV.  Instead I’ll tell you about my bugbears when it comes to CV formatting.


  • PDFs
  • Design
  • Spelling Mistakes




The popularity of PDF CVs is increasing.  We see more and more each day.  What’s wrong with the traditional word doc?


I’d prefer a word document over a PDF every time.  If there are typos, I can fix them.  If a candidate tells their Recruitment Consultant on the phone that they’ve forgotten to add something in, we can add it in for them. 


We send CVs to clients in a standardised format, so they are neat, tidy and easy to read, which is made a lot harder when the original document is a PDF and has to then be converted to word so that it can be formatted.  PDFs converted to word often do some strange things: bullet points become symbols rather than bullet points, graphics get hidden behind the text, page breaks, column breaks and section breaks appear in random places and are difficult to delete etc.  


If a client wants the CV uploaded to their applicant tracking system (ATS), a word document is always easier, as often the system can’t pull the details correctly from a PDF document.  Some PDFs are fine, the system reads them perfectly but others are completely unreadable.  Sometime we can see this and type in the details manually but depending on the ATS the client uses, there are times we could be unaware that the details do not display correctly (if you apply to an employer directly and they’re using an ATS the same applies).


So what are the benefits of PDFs?  Why do candidates use them?


  • A PDF should look the same across all computers, devices and operating systems.
  • PDFs are more secure and aren’t easily editable (they can usually be converted to word, however it often messes up the document’s formatting).
  • PDFs are less susceptible to viruses than word docs.


If you send your CV to a Recruitment Consultant, they are going to want to remove your contact details before they send your CV on to their client, as they will be acting as the point of contact between the two parties.  A word document makes this a quicker process, which gets your CV in front of the client faster.




The general rule is that a CV should stand out for its content, not because it’s brightly coloured or has impressive graphic design (unless of course you’re applying to be a graphic designer where this is more likely to be a plus). 


If you’re looking for an accounting job, you want your accounting ability to stand out – your experience and qualifications need to be easy to find and recognise.  You don’t want to distract the reader with colourful side bars, company logos or a headshot.


Trying to get your CV into a tidy and standardised format when there are side bars, text boxes everywhere and multiple columns, takes time, which means it takes longer to be sent to the client.


Spelling Mistakes


Who doesn’t have spell check?  It’s quick, it’s easy, it picks up most things.  You’d be surprised though by the number of people who don’t spell check their CV before they press send.   


Then there are the people who probably have spell checked their CV but the language is set to English (US) rather than English (UK).


Spell checking is one thing.  It takes seconds.  Proofreading / sense checking is even more important.  Often all the words can technically be spelt correctly, however when you’re typing it may have autocorrected to the wrong word.  It is important to check that your CV makes sense and says what you meant it to.


Final thoughts


A word document that has been spell checked, sense checked and doesn’t have any crazy formatting takes 10 minutes to double check the spelling, standardise the formatting and prepare to be sent to a client.  A PDF or a CV with text boxes / additional design work (that has probably taken you longer to create to begin with) can take up to 45 minutes (sometimes longer) before it’s ready to go to a client.  


Which would you prefer to receive?


Read more CV writing tips