CV Deal Breakers and Cover Letter  No-Nos: How to Master the Perfect Job Application 

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Sometimes it seems the rules of creating the perfect curriculum vitae, or CV, are constantly changing. Is it better to condense your work experience down to a one-pager or get detailed? Do you cover everything from high school jobs to volunteer experience, or is it best to keep it top level?  

Everyone seems to have a different take on what makes a good CV when job-hunting, so we reached out to UNSW’s Head of Talent Acquisition and career advice expert, Simone Donovan. With her help, we uncover the biggest deal-breakers and CV no-nos to help you make the perfect first impression to your next potential employer.  

What is the most common deal-breaker candidates make on their CV? 

Job seekers often add a photo to their CV. This is an unnecessary step, as you want your work and job experience to speak for itself. Your future employer may also have an idea of the kind of person they’re looking for, so it’s best to allow yourself to shine in a real-life job interview as a headshot will never reflect your true essence. 

Which outdated CV myth are candidates still guilty of doing? 

Ever heard that prospective employers and hiring managers don’t care too much for a long CV? That one’s pretty accurate. As a general rule, a potential employer is in a very busy role and reading through CVs is a time-consuming task. This means anything over four pages can be overwhelming to time-poor hiring managers.  

On top of this, overly long CVs can be interpreted as an inability to be succinct in your work, so it’s best to keep it clear, concise and consolidated to a few pages, max. Be sure to focus on the job description and use concise formatting with a good CV template and clear bullet points.  

List the biggest CV no-nos: 

  1. I’ll say it again - putting your photo on your CV. They may be able to see your picture on LinkedIn, but it's better to save face for the job interview.  
  2. Avoid using an unprofessional or tacky email address. We’ve all got them from our teen years, but it pays to create a new, more professional email address for job applications and hiring managers.  
  3. Don’t be unclear. A prospective employer may work in a different role to you within the organisation, so clarity on your work history, overall experience and previous roles is paramount. 

How do employers scan CVs and what are the first things they notice? 

Keywords Are Your Friend 

Some potential employers use software to do the initial scan, so looking for strong key words is a great step to take in your job application. This could include important skills required for the new job you’re applying for.  

Showcase Your Experience with Clarity 

Others initially scan manually to capture the titles of the most recent roles to see they align with the position – this is where being concise is a must. They’re looking for clarity in employment history including dates and years of experience in your recent jobs, your skills and qualifications that relate to the role and a detailed snapshot of your experience.  

Provide a Professional Profile 

They’re also looking for a brief introduction and personal statement on your professional profile, which is best featured in one or two paragraphs at the top of your CV on who you are, what you do and what you’re after. Also be sure to run a quick spell check for sanity, and double check you have given clear contact information, including your phone number.