in Careers Advice, CV Writing, Job Applications, Training Contracts, Pupillage and Work Experience

Five Common Mistakes When Writing a CV

Five common mistakes when writing a CV.

Here are five very common errors that arise from CVs we receive every day of the week into Ten Percent Legal Recruitment.  Some of them are glaringly obvious, others are not so straightforward.

1)    Not putting any contact details on the CV

This is very common and a complete mistake for a number of reasons. Firstly, quite a few candidates assume that recruiters and employers read covering letters and store them with CVs. Whilst some do, a lot don’t. Very often if we have a vacancy with say 5 potential candidates being considered for it, we will quickly skim through the CVs, extract the information we need and make a decision as to who to put forward. This process takes very little time, thus it is unbelievably frustrating if searching through potential job applications for a post in Essex, and not being able to see where two of them live because they haven’t put their contact details on their CV. Whilst you may think this stands you in good stead if you live out of the area and therefore the recruiter still has to consider you, it very often leads to the CV being ignored if there are plenty of applications.

Always include your contact details on a CV, including full name, date of birth, postal address, email address, mobile number, landline number, nationality and possibly marital status & sex if needs be.

2)    Writing Loads of Waffly Nonsense.

So many CVs are stuffed full of waffle that this could be the subject of copious amounts of books advising on all the different ways to fill out a CV without actually saying anything.

It is still very common practice to include a personal statement, as instead of stating facts such as “I am a five year PQE conveyancing solicitor with extensive experience in new build and staircasing, looking for work in London, seeking a salary of £45,000 and have a notice period of 3 months”, they say something like “I am a tenacious, bubbly, outgoing character with a strong sense of humour and a keen eye for the law. I am a go-getter, outgoing, possess a will to succeed, enjoy a challenge, seek to follow instructions diligently and perform my job to the best of my ability”.

Can you see which is more use to a potential employer or recruiter? Hundreds upon hundreds of CVs come into us with this sort of nonsense at the top of the CV, requiring us to scroll all the way through the CV to see whether or not the person is suitable for the role they have applied for. Whilst there are CVs where you are trying to pull the wool over the potential recruiter or employer’s eyes and avoid them seeing that actually you do not have any experience, or very little experience that is relevant for the role, there are a lot of people out there with good quality experience who hide it halfway down the CV. Avoid including this nonsense on your CV and thus avoid one of the very common mistakes.

3)    Not giving enough detail about your experience.

This is not uncommon amongst senior staff in all walks of life and all industries. When you have been in a role for 20 years it is difficult to look and see exactly what a new employer needs to see in order to determine that you are suitable for their post. We often get CVs in from senior solicitors with 30+ years’ experience which states their experience underneath their employer’s name:

“Conveyancing – all types”.

No mention of residential development, leasehold, freehold, unregistered land, agricultural land, leasehold enfranchisement, staircasing, right to buy, new builds or similar. No indication that the person is computer literature and uses case management systems, keeps open 100 files at once, has been on a target of £200k a year which they have comfortably met, undertakes partnership responsibilities and is the COPA for the business; no discussion of estate agency ties and links to new work coming in, just ‘conveyancing – all types’.

You must include as much detail as you possibly can about your role and any past roles. This is the information that employers like to read. When we get a CV in it is very common to simply scroll down to the experience and not read the rest of the CV, to check and see whether or not it is worth bothering proceeding to consider the rest of the CV. If the CV is very sparse, it contains very little detail, we are either a) suspicious that the person has any detail to give us, b) quite annoyed because the person has been so lazy as to not state it on the CV, or c) don’t even bother reading any more and just press delete. Include as much detail as you possibly can in bulletpoint format underneath each of your work experiences to date.

4)    Not checking the CV for spelling mistakes.

This again is unforgivable and such a killer for so many junior staff. If you do not include a spell check as part of your routine for working on a document on your PC, then it is unlikely that you are going to do very well in a job.  If you can’t even bother to spellcheck your own CV, would you bother spellchecking a piece of work for a client?  If you don’t spellcheck a piece of work for a client, what does this say about your attention to detail? For junior members of staff, we often delete CVs if we spot blatantly obvious spelling mistakes because we cannot be bothered spending any time messing about with people who don’t bother checking their CVs. Chances are they won’t turn up to interviews anyway and it is not worth our while proceeding with their application.

5)    Using a template for a CV (or tables or text boxes)

This is very annoying for us as recruiters and employers. Somebody sends us a CV, uses a Microsoft office CV template, and then wonders why we get back in touch 10 minutes later to ask them to resend the CV pasted into an email without any formatting.

If you send us a CV in table, text box or template format, it makes it very difficult for us to access the CV other than to read it. We want to be able to do more than just read it and so do employers.  Very often, we want to store the CV on our computer systems, but our automated software does not allow us to access text boxes or tables.

The same applies with pdf CVs. If you send us a pdf CV we have to convert it into a Word document at our end. This takes us 30 seconds which does not sound a lot, but when put into context with say 60-70 CVs coming in each day, if we have any doubt at all about whether your CV is worth a story, we will not bother if the CV is sent to us in pdf format.

Always send the CV in Word document format, or failing that in .odt format. The latter is the free Open Source word processing software and is just as good as a Word document.

Pdf format is for reading only and CVs are proactive documents that very often get cut and pasted into other applications.

So there we have it, five common mistakes and how to avoid them. I hope this is useful and it applies to job applicants in all industries and professions, as well as the legal profession.

Jonathan Fagan is managing director of Ten Percent Legal Recruitment and a qualified solicitor. He regularly writes for the Ten-Percent and Legal Recruitment News & Blogs and regularly assists law firms up and down the UK with their recruitment of permanent and locum solicitors, legal support staff, secretaries, legal cashiers and paralegals. You can email Jonathan at cv@ten-percent.co.uk or you can access our CV writing products at our legal careers shop www.legalcareercoaching.co.uk.

Jonathan Fagan

Jonathan Fagan LLM FIRP is Managing Director of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment. He has been recruiting solicitors and legal support staff for law firms and in house legal departments for over 17 years and handles roles from junior fee earners through to partners and law firm sales/purchases. A non-practising solicitor on the Roll since 2000, he is also the author of a number of legal career books, which are available at www.legalcareercoaching.co.uk. You can contact Jonathan at cv@ten-percent.co.uk