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12 job application pet peeves from real employers

Standing out is important, the job market’s tough out there. But you have to stand out for the right reason.

Reed.co.uk asked employers the immediate turn offs in Job Applications, so you can keep your CV out of the bin.

These are their biggest no-nos.


1. Addressing your application to no one in particular

“For media jobs particularly, it’s a killer not to address the person you’re applying to by name. If you can’t find out something as simple as that, you are really going to struggle as a journalist,” says Helen Lewis, deputy editor of New Statesman.

This applies to all jobs. If there’s a way you can find out who will be looking at your CV, do it and put their name on the letter.

2. Spelling the name wrong

“You find out who to address it to and then spell it wrong? That one’s going straight in the bin,”

says Jenni Gill, a digital strategist at a customer research company.

3. Not having a bite-size about me section


Jenni continues, “I don’t have time to summarise your CV for you. If there’s no paragraph at the beginning that gives me an idea of who the person is in 20 seconds, they’ve lost me. CVs with lines of achievements all look very similar, you have to make it bite-size.”

4. Not explaining why you left your previous job

Commercial finance manager Joanna Tenconi-Cattell’s pet peeve is unexplained movement.

“Moving jobs every nine months on a CV makes me nervous! Did you not fit in with the company culture? Do you not commit to a company? Do you get bored easily? It’s perplexing.”

If you have a jumpy CV you need to explain why, even if there’s a perfectly rational explanation, otherwise employers will think the worst.

5. Not substantiating your claims

“Making claims without supplying evidence is a big no-no,” says Jenni. “Do not just go to what I affectionately call the Positive Adjective Grab Bag and take a handful. I sometimes play adjective bingo with applications.”

Don’t waste space with empty words. Always back up your claims. How many ‘enthusiastic team players’ do you think there are in the world? Empty.

6. Not tailoring the CV to this specific job

“Tailor your CV to the job,” advises senior environmental consultant Tara Sethi. “Take off or minimise anything that isn’t relevant,” “There’s nothing worse than getting a CV you know has been sent to a hundred other people. It doesn’t make me think you really want the great job I have to offer. So I probably don’t want you either.”

7. Not including your grades or qualifications

Once you have a degree, no one cares about your A-levels, right? Wrong.

“Put your A-Level and GCSE grades in, depending on your job level. If you don’t I wonder what you’re hiding,” Jo says.

You can do them all in one line, it doesn’t take up much space.

8. Not relating the skills you have gained to the job

Tara Sethi again: “Don’t list loads of experiences and not explain the skills that they’ve given you that make them relevant to the job.”

“I don’t want your life story.”

9. Being vague with your achievements


Neil Postance, a software testing manager for an IT company, warns,

“vague phrases like ‘I have experience of databases’ generally mean that the person has watched someone do something to a database, and they didn’t understand it. But they ‘experienced’ it so feel they can put it on their CV.”

Be specific with your achievements and skills. Everyone else has ‘experience with databases’. But how have you gone that extra mile?

10. Attempting to stand out with a strange format

Andrea Corrigan, a senior consultant in defence says that her biggest bugbear is people “using bizarre fonts”.

Fairly niche, yes, but as she explains:

“Your CV just needs to be easy to read. If you’re going for a design job, maybe move away from Arial. But otherwise, just make sure it’s clear.”

You want your application to demonstrate unique attributes, so that it gets the attention of your prospective employer. But tone it down a bit; we’re talking no Comic Sans, no Wingdings, and definitely no changing font half way down the page.

Employers, unfortunately, are on the constant search for reasons to lob your application in the incinerator. If they think, ‘that CV is unbelievably ugly’, you don’t stand a chance. In this case, Less actually is More.