No one likes to work on their CV or résumé. It’s a stressful task and often has to be done quickly. It requires a lot of attention to detail, and if you want the job, it has to be almost perfect. This makes it an even greater challenge for ESL or non-native English speakers. The good news is that if you follow these guidelines, you can avoid a lot of the mistakes that I see my clients make in their first drafts.

How can I avoid cultural mistakes on my CV or résumé?

One of the first things you should do when you’re applying for a job or internship is to learn about the place where you are applying. Different countries use different styles of formatting and have different rules about what you should include in a CV or résumé. Let’s begin by considering the difference between these two documents.

As described in this article from Undercover Recruiter, the biggest difference is the length. A CV is a longer document that lists your entire job history and it only changes when you add something new. A résumé is shorter, only includes some of your skills and experience, and you should customize it to match the job you are applying for. It’s a good idea to keep a master CV with everything on it, and use that document to create shorter, customized résumé.

Usually, a résumé is the best choice in the US and Canada. However, in the UK, Ireland, and New Zealand, a CV is preferred. In Australia, India, and South Africa, the terms résumé and CV are used to mean the same thing, so it’s a good idea to search for some examples online to see what is used in the country you’re applying to. You can also ask for more details from the company you’re applying to if you’re not sure which one to choose.

Some other differences between countries are things like spelling, date format, and personal details. For example, there are small differences in spelling and word choice between the US and the UK, like color vs. colour. Also, the way the date is formatted is different; sometimes the month is first and sometimes the day is first.

In many countries, it’s common to include a headshot photo and personal information like your age, nationality, or marital status, but this is not a good idea in the U.S. It’s illegal to choose an applicant based on this kind of personal information, so they don’t want you to include it. Also remember that in English-speaking countries, the first name is first and the surname or family name is last. You can read more about these little differences in this post from Partnership International.

It is a good idea to share some kinds of personal information on your CV or résumé. These interesting little details can help the person reading your résumé to notice and remember you. Good things to include are your hobbies, interesting experiences, or your goals for the future. If you include an objective or personal statement section, this is a great place to put these details.

Finally, if you do include a photo, choose one that clearly shows your face. You should crop it so that only your head and shoulders are included and you should have a plain background. Smile and be sure there is enough light on your face to see it clearly. If possible, use a professional photo.

How can I avoid design mistakes on my CV or résumé?

Another kind of mistake that I often see are design mistakes. Sometimes people spend so much time focusing on choosing the words in their CV or résumé that they forget to think about how it looks. A good CV or résumé should be easy to read and have a clear, consistent format.

One way to be sure you have a good design is to look at the white space, or the empty space. Since many people try to include a lot of information in one or two pages, it’s easy to make your résumé or CV too crowded. Your eyes need some white space to break up the text. Try to include an empty line between each section and don’t make the margins too small.

Another way to create a good design is to use type hierarchy. This means that you use bigger type for the section headers and smaller type for the body text. The usual size for body text is 10-12 points. You can also use bold type, italics, Title Case, or ALL CAPS to create a visual hierarchy of text in your document. You can also use bullet points to help you organize your information. Using these techniques will make your document easier to follow.  Look at some résumé or CV examples online to find a visual hierarchy style that you like.

It’s always a good idea to put your contact info at the top of the document. (Remember to use an email with a professional name, not something silly like If you have more than one page, include your name on each page and add page numbers so that it’s easy to keep the pages together if they are printed.

How can I avoid English mistakes on my CV or résumé?

Your document includes a lot of information, so it needs to be clear and easy to read. One way to do this is to use a consistent writing style throughout the document. For example, if you capitalize all the words in one of your job titles, you should do the same thing for all the job titles. In the US, all job titles and company names should be capitalized. (We call this Title Case.) If something on your CV looks different than the other things like it, there should be a reason for the difference.

Using action verbs and compelling adjectives will make you and your work sound as good as possible. For example, instead of saying “I was an intern for five months,” say “I worked as an intern for five months.” Action verbs are more exciting! If you need help finding good adjectives to describe your work, try using a thesaurus.

Sometimes choosing the right words to describe your job title or duties can be difficult too. One way to know which words are best is to look at the language used in the job posting, or by searching for descriptions of jobs similar to yours. You can also use this approach to find your degree title.

Remember to check your punctuation too. In English, we don’t use periods unless it’s at the end of a complete sentence. So if you are using bullet points with short phrases, they do not need periods. Check to see if your apostrophes are correct for singular and plural possessives as well.

When you’re ready to proofread, do a spell check and grammar check. Check your subject/verb agreement for singular and plural errors, and also remember that some uncountable nouns don’t have a plural form, like your “work experience.” This post from Pyers English explains a lot of the little mistakes that non-native speakers make in more detail.

I recommend using an app called Grammarly for your first draft, especially if you have trouble remembering articles or choosing the correct preposition. It’s free and easy to use! Once you finish proofreading, get a native speaker or English coach to look over your document for final edits before you send it.

I need more help!

Now that I’ve explained some ways to avoid mistakes in your CV or résumé, I’d like to hear from you! Do you still have questions? Ask me in the comments or send me an email! You can also download my free checklist: Avoid these CV/résumé mistakes (A checklist for non-native English speakers). You can use it to be sure you’ve covered all the things I described above. If you’re interested in working with a coach, you can also schedule a free trial lesson so we can talk about what you need and how I can help!