Last updated March 24, 2023

This free-to-use training activity for Resume Writing and CV skills covers reasons why CVs and resumes often get rejected. Feel free to use this in the training materials you are designing.

Resume and CV writing training activity

Setting Up the Classroom Activity

This activity can be done by asking the main question and then having a class open discussion (as I have done below in the instructions) before showing the bullet points on the slide.

You alternatively though can run this activity by putting participants into small groups of 3 or 4 people and then having them brainstorm together for five to ten minutes and then having a group discussion.

Getting Started

Start by showing just the title first and ask the question below.

What do you think are the main reasons why a CV/resume can be screened out?

Allow for participants to discuss aloud and as ideas are vocalized, write the answers as bullet points on a whiteboard.

Once the participants have given all the answers that they can collectively think of, go through the list on the slide and explain each using the notes under the slide below.

Why CVs and resumes can be rejected
Taken from the CV | Resume Writing Skills training materials.

There are 16 reasons why a resume or CV can be rejected and these are as follows:

1. Typos and Poor Grammar

It probably comes as no surprise that one of the most common reasons why CVs and resumes are screened out (meaning rejected) is because of typos and poor grammar.

A simple tool such as the Grammarly web browser plugin or the MS Word Grammarly add-in (for FREE) is very useful to spot errors. Grammarly is a good start.

Proofreading several times will also help to get you on track!

2. Poor Formatting on the Resume or CV

By this, I mean a CV/resume formatted in such a way that it is hard to read. For example:

  • hard-to-read fonts
  • overuse of bold and or italics
  • not enough white spaces between sections, etc.

There are many best practice rules for CV and resume formatting (and this is covered in the training materials if you are using them).

3. Hard-to-Understand Writing

This refers to the way in which the sentences are constructed on your resume.

Try and write in a way that is clear and direct, as opposed to writing complicated and long sentences.

Also, avoid jargon unless necessary, or acronyms that not everybody may understand.

4. Lengthy Sentences and Paragraphs

Long sentences are hard to read.

Similarly, long paragraphs are hard on the eyes, so break them down.

You want the reader to make as little effort as possible to spot your skills and experience.

Often, readers will scan your CV/resume rather than read it in detail, due to lack of time.

Short sentences and short paragraphs are easier to scan.

5. The CV or Resume is Too Fancy or Too Boring

You want to avoid both these extremes regarding being too fancy or too boring.

A CV/resume that is too elaborated can be distracting and make the employer think that you are trying to disguise a lack of substance.

Things that make a CV or resume boring include presenting lists of duties in your previous jobs without showing how you made a difference and repeating words.

Instead, use active verbs to describe what you accomplished on the job and use synonyms if you can, rather than repeating the same words over and over.

Later on, during this training (if you are using the CV /resume writing skills training materials), we will discuss more about how you can describe your achievements.

6. Wrong Job Target vs the Resume/CV

This can happen if you do not target your CV or resume for the job.

It is essential to ensure that the resume you send for a job application is tailor-made for the job in question.

Take time to research the company you are applying to and try and understand their company culture and try and get a feel for what their ethos as a company is.

Then write and tailor the CV to make it even stronger in terms of how it matches the employer and job role.

7. Having No Relevant Experience or Skills

If your CV/resume does not contain relevant experience and skills for the job, the employer will screen it out.

If you have such experience, make sure you highlight it.

If you don’t have it, do not lie as you will be found out at some point.

Instead, it may mean that you are not ready for that job yet and that you need to accrue more relevant experience if you want to apply for that job in the future.

8. Including Irrelevant Information

Adding irrelevant information will only make the CV/resume longer than necessary.

It can also make the employer think that you have padded out your resume to make up for a lack of relevant experience.

9. Sections Missing on Your CV

Some sections are necessary on your CV.

For example, you need the contact details or the work history. So do not leave them out.

There may also be sections that are not necessary for every job but are necessary for the job you are applying for.

For example, you might have to add a list of publications to apply for an academic job.

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10. The CV or Resume is Too Long or Too Short

A CV or resume that is too long will put the employer off from reading it.

Likewise, if it is too short, it may be because it does not contain all the necessary information and in this case the CV will also be rejected.

How long is too long or how short is too short depends on the type and seniority of the job.

11. Not Explaining Your Accomplishments

Explaining your accomplishments is key, as it shows the prospective employer how you can make a difference.

After carefully reading the job ad and application notes, consider carefully what skills you have that match what they are looking for.

You might have management experience, for example, because you managed a team of six people whilst doing voluntary work for a charity.

Many people often fail to include what is sometimes an extremely good and relevant accomplishment.

12. Being Boastful or Too Modest

You don’t want to under-represent your accomplishments because you want to highlight the best of you (remember that your CV/resume is a marketing tool).

At the same time, you do not want to come across as arrogant.

A way to highlight your achievements without sounding arrogant is to quantify your achievements and responsibilities (for example, ‘increased sales by 20%’, ‘managed a team of 6’).

This will make them seem more objective, as long as you do not lie and make up unrealistic quantities.

If you received any awards mention them and give details (name of the award, what it was awarded for, who awarded it, and the year you received it). Finally, avoid pronouns.

You don’t want to talk about yourself in the third person, but you don’t want to repeat ‘I’ all the time, to avoid sounding repetitive and egotistic.

So, for example, say: ‘increased sales by 20%’ instead of ‘I increased sales by 20%’.

13. Too Sparse

Give more than the bare essentials on your resume. Provide details instead.

14. Too Wordy

At the same time, you don’t want to provide superfluous details on your CV.

Also, try to express things in the most direct way possible and avoid adding unnecessary words.

15. Time Gaps in Your Work History

Large time gaps on your CV is something that makes many employers suspicious.

If there are sizeable (of at least a year) gaps in your work/education history, explain them.

You don’t have to go into too much detail but explain enough to account for them.

For example, if you took a career break or extended holidays, explain what soft skills you developed or if you learnt any language or hard skills in the meantime.

This way a break will look like something constructive, and you will come across as a person who is open to learning and can make the most of their time.

If there were no vacancies suitable for you in the market, you can say that you were waiting for the right opportunity to come along.

If there were family or other sensitive issues, you don’t need to disclose details but a three or four-word description will be enough, as long as you account for that gap in some way.

16. Lack of Right Keywords Used in Your Resume

Using the right keywords in your CV or resume for the job you are applying for is extremely useful for two key reasons:

  • When the employer screens your document and decides if they want to shortlist you, they will be looking for certain keywords and terms, related to certain skills and work experience.
  • Furthermore, many employers use ATS software for the first screening of CVs and resumes they receive.

ATS uses keywords to assess if a CV/resume is relevant and worthy of being passed on to a human to read. So, if you don’t use the right keywords for that job, you don’t have a chance.

Resume and cv writing teaching materials
Dr Valeria Lo Iacono
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