How To Proofread Your CV: The Ultimate Guide

You finally have a perfectly written CV. You have just finished typing and you are thinking of sending it straight off to the recruiter or to the company.

STOP!

Don’t write a CV and then immediately send it.

According to Undercover Recruiter, 59% of recruiters reject a CV because of bad spelling or a grammatical mistake.

That’s right, you are likely to be completely rejected out of hand by having just one tiny mistake on your CV.

So proofreading your CV is really important advice. It’s also the most ignored piece of advice.

Some of the most off-putting errors seen on CVs are:

  • Poor Spelling & Grammar
  • Poor Formatting
  • CV not tailored to the role

Proofreading would pick these points out and save you the loss of a great opportunity.

Before you Begin

The first mistake people make is to proofread their CV immediately after writing it.

We highly recommend you walk away from it. And we mean that literally.

Preferably you should leave it overnight, even 24 hours, before you start.

Go and do something else: chores, other work, shopping, night out with friends. Whatever it may be, it should be away from the computer.

Having this distance means your mind is refreshed and that you can come back to it with a much more objective view.  

This will det you to pick up on tiny details when it comes time to make your edits.

You will need to set aside an hour or two and make sure you’re ready to concentrate without any distractions.

When proofreading, read with a pen in your hand. You’ll be able to immediately make notes when you spot a mistake.

The next step is to read it out loud. This is what I do for every CV, article, blog post and everything I write, and I am paid to write. I like to pace up and down a room and read it out loud pretending I am giving a speech.

I read it slowly, clearly and confidently. By slowing down you’re forcing your brain to look at every word and sentence carefully.

This is the easiest and most effective way to pick up errors on a CV. You may feel a bit of an idiot when you first start doing it, but you won’t feel like an idiot when you get the job!

Listen to how it sounds. Is your message clear? Does that sentence make sense? Did you misspell a word? These will all be caught by doing this.

Rule of Three

All professional proofreaders will say that you need to keep editing the same piece again and again before its complete. However, the number of “proofs” will vary from whoever you ask.

I prefer the rule of three.

You should proofread your CV three times.

Each “proof” has its own specific purpose.

The rule of three is something I have adapted and modified for CVs from Ann Handley’s book “Everybody Writes”:

The three levels are:

  • – check basic spelling, grammar, format and facts
  • Proof by chainsaw — make each paragraph earn its keep
  • Proof by surgical tools — make each sentence and word earn its keep

It may seem like unnecessary effort, but this ensures you’ll catch all your errors.

Remember, quality will always beat quantity! That’s why tailoring your CV is so important, but any change to your CV should be checked and proofread.

Proof for the basics

Let’s start with the basics: spelling and grammar.

Spelling

The one thing that all recruiters and hiring managers home in on are spelling mistakes.

They stick out like a sore thumb and one spelling or grammar mistake and your CV will be chucked in the bin.

Don’t rely on Word’s spell check! Whilst it is good and useful, you are going to want to check it several times, in several ways.

Run your application through a program like Grammarly which will iron out major spelling and grammatical errors, catch what Word may have potentially missed.

American Spellings

Seeing as we are a British company, talking to a British audience, then use British spelling.

With most of computers defaulting to American spelling it is easy to miss these mistakes, and they don’t pop up in a normal spell check.

Think “British CV, British Spelling” and look out for this as you scan through your work.

Grammar

Where spelling is one set of issues, grammar is its twin. We’re not going to give you an English lesson, but we’re going to look at the main issues we see on almost every CV we see.

In a study conducted by Grammarly, a typical CV has an average of five errors, and over 60 per cent of these are grammatical.

It’s easy to fall victim to grammar (lord knows I have). However, here’s a quick checklist of the most-common CV mistakes:

  • Advice/advise: ‘Advice’ refers to an opinion or recommendation given (e.g. He gave good advice). ‘Advise’ means to provide an opinion or information (e.g. He advised the employee).
  • Affect/effect: ‘Affect’ is a verb, meaning to impact or change (e.g. The new policy affects employee lunch hours). ‘Effect’ is a noun that refers to the outcome of a change (e.g. the effect of the change in procedure).
  • It’s/its: ‘It’s’ is the contraction of ‘it is’, while ‘its’ ‒ without an apostrophe ‒ is used to show possession (e.g. the company and its benefits program).
  • There/they’re/their: ‘There’ is used to describe a place or that something exists (e.g. There is a vacancy). ‘They’re’ is a contraction of ‘they are’ (e.g. They’re in the middle of negotiations). And ‘their’ is used to show possession (e.g. their jobs).
  • Your/you’re: ‘Your’ is used to describe something connected to or owned by you (e.g. your experience), while ‘you’re’ is the contraction of ‘you are’.

A quick thing to note though is that you shouldn’t use contractions in  your CV (i.e. you’re should be written as you are). It just gives your CV a much more polished and professional feel.

Passive Voice

Look at the two examples below.

  1. I wrote a CV.
  2. The CV was written by me.
  1. I achieved a 30% increase in sales.
  2. Sales were increased by 30% because of me.

Which ones sound better?

If you said 1. then you’re correct.

These are in the active voice.

It sounds and reads a lot better than the passive voice.

Write your entire application in the active voice.

It’s all about where you put the verb (the action/doing word).

The sentence should be Pronoun, Verb, Rest of the Sentence.

Pronoun = I, Me, He, She, You, They, Them

Verb = Any Action e.g. achieve, increase, do, write etc.

Rest of the sentence = Does what it says.

Going back to our examples:

  • I (Pronoun) wrote (Verb) a CV. (Rest of the sentence)
  • I (Pronoun) achieved (Verb) a 30% increase in sales. (Rest of the sentence)

If you’re still unsure you can always run your personal statement through the Hemingway App.

This nifty little app highlights passive sentences in green, so you can change them at a glance.

Formatting

According to Undercover Recruiter the average time spent looking at a CV is 5-7 seconds!

So your CV has to be easily read and easily skimmable.

Is it clear and easy to read?

That first impression is the format of your CV. It should just look easy to read, before they even absorb a word of it.

Check for:

Are the fonts the same?

Make sure you use no more than two fonts. There can be one font for headings & subheadings and another font for text. No more than this.

Also your font choice should be a clear professional one. Calibri, Arial and Helvetica are fine for this. Avoid fancy fonts like Comic Sans and Papyrus as these will make you look unprofessional and get your CV thrown in the bin.

Same size

Apart from headings, is all the text the same size. This can happen quite commonly when you copy and paste from previous versions of your CV.

Take the time to double check.

Subheadings?

Have you used subheadings?

They break up your CV but also direct the recruiter’s eye to the most important parts.

Work Experience, Education and Core Skills are all good headers for your CV.

Length

Is your CV at the 2 sides of A4 mark?

There are exceptions based on seniority, industry, technicality of role, if they requested a portfolio etc but most CVs should fill 2 sides of A4 and no more.

Short impactful sentences and paragraphs

This not only helps with formatting but also helps you pack more value into your two pages.

Proof By Chainsaw

Proofing by chainsaw is to broadly check that each paragraph that you write a. makes sense and b. is tailored properly. While proofreading your CV, make sure you think to yourself “Is this tailored to the role, job description and company?”

You should be adjusting and tailoring your CV and cover letter to every role that you apply for.

This ensures quality over quantity when it comes to job applications. Yes, it takes longer but it is worth every second.

Are you stating achievements or assertions?

This is very important. When you’re looking throughout your CV check to see that you are stating achievements, facts and what you have done rather than just assertions that you can do the job.

The main way to tell the difference between assertion and achievement? Is there proof in the form of a figure?

If there is proof or you can prove it, add it in. If you can’t then it’s most likely just an assertion.

Here’s an example:

  • I’m a good sales person.
  • During my employment I implemented a new sales technique that increased my sales by 14%

Which one would you believe more? If you said the second one then you’d be right. The point is that where you state what you have done, how you have done it and what the result is your CV looks good.

Make sure you cut out the assertions in your CV and put in the proof of your results.

Use clues in the job description and your research to highlight your experience and skills for the role.

Use the “I did X that resulted in Y” formula:

  • I was responsible for financial administration saving £5000 in potential lost revenue.
  • I implemented a social media strategy that led to a 5% increase in sales.
  • I managed a sales team that increased average order value from £25 to £47.

This formula is great start but you may want to add context.

What was the situation or task surrounding this achievement? Include it, remembering to keep it brief.

This shows the whole story to the recruiter, reinforcing why you are the one for the job.

Consistency is important

You need to be consistent throughout your CV. Make sure you keep to consistent spelling, grammar, tenses, punctuation and capitalisation.

We’ve already gone through the particular of spelling, grammar and format but it is always good to check a second time.

Remember that your CV should flow and be easily readable. Being consistent in that effort goes a long way and won’t confuse the recruiter reading it.

Employment gaps accounted for?

This is commonly missed out at the writing stage because you either didn’t think about it or are a little shy about it.

Don’t Be.

All you need to do is make sure you account for all gaps in your employment.

You don’t have to go into detail, a quick sentence explaining the gap is enough, but make sure it’s there.

Are your Hobbies & Interests relevant?

There’s nothing wrong with including your Hobbies and Interests on your CV but give them a quick scan.

Are they relevant to the job your applying for?

For example, if they are looking for a team leader, have you shown how you are a team leader at your local sports club?

Proofing by chainsaw requires you asking yourself “Is this paragraph or section providing value to the recruiter?” If it is, leave it in. If not, be ruthless and cut it out.

Proof by Scalpel

Checking by scalpel is where you really have to concentrate and look at every word carefully. Each sentence should convey value to the interviewer.

This is taxing on your concentration so use your finger as a pointer, reading one word at a time. This slow deliberate method makes sure you take into account every word.

Don’t be tempted to speed up! Take your time.

Use a blank sheet of paper to cover the rest of your CV. You want all of your concentration on each word of each line.

Again read this out loud. You may feel like a small child learning to read again but I promise you this is the most effective way of catching out silly errors that can cost you a job.

Got Keywords?

When you tailored your CV did you think about keywords?

Got experience with a piece of software? That’s a keyword.

Specific skills or experience? That’s a keyword.

What would be something a machine could pick up? That’s a keyword.

A lot of companies are now using Applicant Tracking Systems (or ATS for short). These scan through your CV and pick out the keywords best suited for the role.

How does the computer know? It matches the keywords to those in the job description.

So make sure you have used keywords to match the words in the job description.

Don’t Use Boring Verbs

This will help make last minute improvements to your CV.
Boring will put off a hiring manager.

The easiest way to be boring is to use boring verbs or putting “very” in the sentence.

Use strong, powerful verbs.

Here’s a quick list of strong verbs for you to use in your CV.

  • Achieved
  • Created
  • Developed
  • Established
  • Improved
  • Increased/decreased
  • Influenced
  • Launched
  • Managed
  • Negotiated
  • Resolved
  • Trained/mentored
  • Volunteered

Not only will this help save your word count but it will help your CV focus on what you have done and achieved rather than just assertions.

Clichés

There are a lot of clichés that people have used on their CVs.

When you use them you sound unimaginative, unoriginal and bland.

The main ones to avoid are:

  • Flexible
  • Motivated
  • Strong work ethic
  • Multi-tasker
  • Independent
  • Detail-oriented
  • Self-motivated
  • Go-getter
  • Go-to-person
  • Strategic thinker
  • I can work on my own or as part of a team
  • Think outside the box
  • Results-driven
  • Hard worker
  • People-person
  • Team player

Why? Because they have been used thousands of times before and are also impossible to prove.

Jargon

Let’s keep this simple.

Avoid technical jargon as much as you can.

Unless the job description asks for specific skills or qualifications that you can prove using keywords and phrases, avoid using it.

If you cram your personal statement with technical terms, it looks obvious and will work against you.

Final Checks

Can you be contacted?

Check that your contact details are correct! It’s very easy to mistype a phone number or leave a letter out of an email address.

Make sure that your email address is suitable. FootieMadGary84@email.com is not a suitable email address so create a professional one and add that in.

Added Links?

If you have added any links to your CV, quickly double check they work and go to the right webpage.

Hire a friend

Why not send your CV to a friend? They will be a lot more objective and instantly give you feedback as to any spelling errors, grammatical errors, parts that don’t make sense etc.

This feedback will prove invaluable.

File name of your CV

With constantly tailoring your CV you probably have several copies saved.

Make sure you save the right CV with an appropriate name so that recruiters know exactly who you are (i.e. no CVFinalDraft file names.)

File format

Make sure to save your CV in either Word (ie .doc or .docx) format or PDF format.

Proofing Done!

Doing all of this proofing will help you catch every mistake on your CV.

It may take a little while but I assure you that quality will always beat quantity as one well written CV is far more likely to get you an interview than 20 poorly written ones.

To stand out from the crowd requires you pay attention, to concentrate, to make sure you take the time to be exceptional.

I wish you the best of luck with your CV writing, with your proofing and with your job search.

Freddie Chirgwin-Bell

Marketing & Communications Executive at Morgan Jones Recruitment Consultants
Freddie joined Morgan Jones in 2019 and has quickly established himself as the marketing authority in the group. Bringing years of experience to the role he is in charge of all aspects of the brand's marketing.

I'm passionate about making marketing more human and less robotic and automated. Marketing is about making true connections and having great communication.

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