Rejection: is your CV letting you down?

Posted in: Advice, Applications

Robot with a broken heart

At this time of year we see plenty of students who haven't yet secured their ideal internship or graduate role.  We all know that competition is fierce, so building your resilience is really important. Take a look at these great blogs on dealing with rejection, and developing resilience.

But there may be things you can do to improve your chances if you keep falling at the first hurdle.  In this blog, we're going to consider common CV mistakes.  Before we get to the detail, consider these things:

  • Are you using the same CV for different roles? Never use a generic CV.  Always tailor to the role, organisation and industry.  For example, investment banks tend to appreciate shorter CVs that highlight leadership skills.
  • To help you with your research on this (as well as talking to us - see below), think about your own contacts.  Who can you speak to for information and advice on applications and what the role involves? Consider using our alumni network as one source of information.
  • And lastly, but importantly, do you really understand the role you're applying for? Do you think you'd enjoy and be good at it? Those who do, tend to demonstrate more enthusiasm and understanding in their application materials.  Book a careers appointment with a careers adviser if you're unsure about your career strategy.

Now that we've got that out of the way, let's have a look at some common errors made in CVs.

Error #1 Not making your relevant experience and skills stand out

Opinions vary as to how long recruiters scan your CV for before deciding whether to read on or move to the next CV. 8 seconds or a positively luxurious 30 seconds?

The point is that you don’t have long to grab their attention, so the most relevant experience needs to prioritized and prominent. Some top suggestions:

  • Replace your work experience section (that currently lists every role you’ve ever had!) with a “relevant experience” section.  Think about which positions have required you to do similar tasks, or that demonstrate the required "soft" skills - such as an ability to work under pressure. You can include both paid work experience and volunteering roles that demonstrate the right skills.   You could also include significant projects from your study.
  • Don’t ask employers to wade through paragraphs of text. Bullet points give you the opportunity to start with a verb that makes it crystal clear what you did. E.g. “Designed…” “Negotiated with….”. Try to use some of the keywords used in the job specification – this will make it really easy for employers to tick their “can do” boxes.  See this great blog on using language well and avoiding common pitfalls.
  • If specific technical skills are vital to the role – such as laboratory techniques or programming skills – it’s a good idea to summarise these (along with your proficiency level for each) on your first page.

Error #2 Telling employers what you’ve done, but not how you’ve done it

A CV is not just for telling employers what you can do, but what your approach and attitude to work is.  Yes, fine, you developed and tested an electro-hydraulic control system. But what skills did you use to make that a success? Using your initiative and being self-motivated? Learning from mistakes? Effective project management? Collaborating with others?

Think about what kinds of personal skills the employer is looking for and include these words and phrases where relevant in your bullet points.

Error #3 Omitting  your achievements

Employers like to know that you’ve made an impact. Some examples could be:

  • Undertaking detailed research that helped to make a project a success (define the success)
  • Contributing to an improvement in membership / sales / social media followers (be specific about how you contributed, and if you can, quantify the improvement)
  • Initiating new projects, services or processes that have improved customer experience, or that have just helped people out!

Your work experience is an obvious place to start, but don’t forget to describe achievements from “extra-curricular” activities such as volunteering and sport. These things can really make you stand out from other applicants.

Listing a couple of relevant awards and prizes can useful, especially if applying to an employer with a traditionally competitive environment. BUT there’s really no need to have a long list of scholarly awards dating back to your school days.

Error #4 Not getting feedback on your CV!

If you suspect that you're doing something wrong, then get feedback.  Most organisations can’t give feedback during the early stages of application, as there are so many applicants.  But there may be other people you could talk to - perhaps working in the same industry - who could give you some pointers.  Applications Advisers are also here to cast a critical (but encouraging) eye over your CV.  You can book a 15-minute CV and Applications Advice appointment via MyFuture.

Other resources:

See this blog on other common CV mistakes

Read our Application, CV and Cover Letter guide

Great resources for employer research

Posted in: Advice, Applications


  • (we won't publish this)

Write a response