Prisons, lumps of clay, 'Mr Bitch': PR chiefs reveal CV shockers (and top tips)

Do you have good attention to dteail? Does your CV still proudly list all your primary school swimming badges? Whether you're looking for a job or a laugh, read on.

"It says here you were director of van-based ice-cream sales from 1998-2003?" (©BBC)
"It says here you were director of van-based ice-cream sales from 1998-2003?" (©BBC)

PRWeek asked a variety of comms professionals for the best (or, depending on your point of view, worst) CV blunders they've witnessed - and for some top tips on how to create a knockout résumé.

Matt Peacock, group corporate affairs director, Vodafone:

"Less is more: two pages, maximum. Use bullet-point lists; they make it much easier to speed-read.

"Lead with a concise summary of experience and skills then go straight into career history. Education should follow career, and condense academic achievements to the minimum necessary. Don't waste space on personal interests unless you've done something remarkable. Being awarded a George Cross is impressive; enjoying cinema and cooking isn't. Proofread everything. Then again. And again.

"Horror stories? Honesty is important, but listing the prisons you've served time in may narrow your career options. Listing your mother as a reference only really works for the Prince of Wales. And, no, I really did not need to know that you are STD-free."


Brian Beech, MD, Havas PR UK:

"Sometimes the problem arises before I even get to the CV. If I had a £1 for every time I had been addressed as 'Dear Brain Beech', then I’d be a very wealthy man.

"There’s also been 'Dear Mr. Birch', 'Dear Mr. Leech' and – on one occasion – 'Dear Mr. Bitch.' And if it’s sent ‘To whom it may concern’ I stop reading immediately. If they can’t do desk research and find the right name, they’re not for us.

"Finally, there's the embarrassing round-robin application, where they've forgotten to change the name of the person they are writing to and/or the agency."


Gill Morris, founder, DevoConnect:

"The grammar, spelling and punctuation horrors you see - especially leaving out the 'L' in 'public' as in PR - will ruin any interview hopes.

"If your CV is typo- and smudge-free I tend to head straight to the outside interests to find out if they are fun people to work with. One guy said he liked spending time in his garden shed and another said she used to be a Lego Girl. The latter was interviewed, got the job and ultimately made it to board director.

"I also love it when candidates do their homework. When you don't or simply recycle or mail merge your CV, leaving in the name of a competitor company, or worse, your CV will be filed in the bin. A good tailored covering letter can make all the difference but don't exaggerate or mislead like, 'I was an advisor to Tony Blair' (I had hundreds of these after the 1997 election) when at best you probably made the tea.

"My final faux pas is the use of a photo more appropriate to a dating website or Facebook. In the days of anonymised CVs this particular horror is less prevalent, thank God!"


Misha Dhanak, founder and MD, The Romans

"I find it baffling when candidates go to the trouble of writing their CV and a detailed covering letter that lists their many excellent and varied attributes, and then they spell my name wrong in their salutation. Mischa Barton is partially to blame here but the use of ‘Dear Hiring Manager’ is also pretty weird.

"Every now and then I get an email asking if it’s ok to send in further details. CV foreplay is not necessary – just sent it all in one succinct note. A journalist wouldn’t let you sell in twice and the same goes for getting a job interview."


Davnet Doran, managing director, Unity:

"Bad CVs are not a phenomenon specific to our industry, but the pressure to be creative can certainly lead to some comical errors. The first time I tried to get into an agency cold, I sent the MD a lump of clay and implored him to 'mould me'. I got their attention, but I didn’t get an interview and am still mortified.

"We try to reply to 99 per cent of approaches (and are forgiving of the novices, when they just haven’t got a lot to say). The most off-putting trend of late is those CVs that include a highly styled photograph that wouldn’t be out of place on a Kardashian’s Instagram feed. Of course it’s subjective and what will float someone’s boat might sink someone else’s – so try to get to the point, do show some personality and be true to yourself."


Kate Clover, recruitment manager, Ketchum UK:

"The classic CV blunder is obviously the 'I have fantastic attention to detail' statement with a grammatical issue in that very sentence. It does happen.

"But far more common is the cut-and-paste mistake of some entry-level candidates – where they say they’re very keen to work in a world-leading advertising agency, when applying to a PR firm. You also get some applicants using the email addresses they created when they were twelve: PrincessLulu and ScaryPirate may not get the serious jobs they desire.

"Journalists can sometimes submit six-page, non-formatted, non-structured CV monsters and you also get the odd senior applicant who has added to the same CV for the last decade, so you end up with a 15-pager, including detail on their university summer work at Waitrose.

"The CVs that really stick out, though, are the ones where people with completely irrelevant experience are trying hard to sell in their transferable skills. I’ll always remember a particularly well-written account manager application from an ice-cream van man in Ipswich."


Martin Ballantine, MD, Piracy Corporation

"Not long ago, I had to berate an ex-team member who thought that a dodgy claim to fame on their CV could pass without comment. Unluckily for them, I’d been asked to look at their CV by a potential new employer.

"I was also alerted to the falsehood being reproduced on LinkedIn by an ex-colleague of theirs. It’s bad enough claiming to have worked on a 'signature' piece of work by an agency when you haven’t, but risible if you’re going to claim that it was all your idea, that you solely co-ordinated and executed it (see the 'Pink Street' saga in the late 90s). Happily, they deleted the claims. Sadly - though unsurprisingly - they didn’t get interviewed for that job.

"My top tip is to think of a CV - a Latin phrase - both in 'vitae' and 'veritas' terms. Truth is all and folk should have faith in their actual experience, skills and ability. There’s no need to lie, no matter how tempting it may be. If you’re worried about a lack of experience, just craft a cracking personal statement - they’ve often been a ‘clincher’ for me."

All gifs used were via GIPHY

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in