Silence is golden: Improve your CV / résumé by removing damaging information

Most CVs / résumés I happen to see are bad, which is to say that they are not very convincing. Usually, this is caused by a combination of a lack of focus and a lack of presenting relevant accomplishments from the professional activities of the previous five years.

However, most of them suffer from another problem as well: the document containing information that not only doesn’t increase the applicant’s chances of a job interview but actually reduces them! In other words, a lot of CVs / résumés could get easily improved by removing damaging statements alone.

Why people do that

From my observation, there are two common reasons why people allow that to happen.

The first is a lack of awareness of how the details in question may be interpreted by the hiring managers and what the outcome would mean for the chances of being considered any further.

The other is the occasional belief that, although a particular detail is obviously problematic, it has to be mentioned in the document anyway because it is “required”.

There are a few exceptions but in most situations across the world, job applicants can decide freely how they present themselves best in general and within their documents as well. Of course, stating false information in them would be illegal, can have serious legal and financial consequences at a later stage, and should therefore never be considered. Not presenting something that isn’t in your favor, however, is something completely else and simply your right.

In other words, a CV / résumé is nothing else than an advertisement, sales copy so to speak, and you need and should follow the legal and marketing rules that apply to those materials.


I have prepared the following five examples for you to illustrate the problem:

1. Wrong age

If you know that the hiring managers are likely to prefer candidates at an age like yours, you should mention your age because it will increase your chances to get invited for a job interview.

If you know, however, that they may consider you to be a bit too young or too old, leave it out. In such a case, you should normally not include a headshot either (see also the next example).

Of course, people will find out about it later in the job interviews but here you have the chance to present yourself as mature enough or still young in spirit, respectively, which is something you can do in person but not within your CV / résumé.

2. Unsuitable headshot

In some countries, it’s typical or even expected to include a headshot in your CV / résumé. Is this the case in the region where you are applying for jobs (the one you’re from is not relevant for it, of course), you should add a nice little photo next to your name and contact information at the top of the first page as well. “Nice” in this context means professional in every aspect. That includes the right background, lighting, clothing, posture, smile, and so on. If you don’t have one yet, get one done by a good photographer. It’s well worth the investment because a picture is worth a thousand words as the adage goes.

However, if you don’t have a professional headshot on hand yet but need to get a particular job application out very fast, then it is better not to include a photo at all rather than to use one that is not professional. The adage of the thousand words would apply in this case as well but not in your favor.

3. Unfinished studies, training classes, etc.

If you went to college but did not finish it with a degree or if you attended training classes without completing them with the usual certificate or similar, you should still mention the fact that you were engaged in such activities. After all, you did pick up knowledge there and that could be relevant to the success of your applications.

However, there is no need for mentioning that you did not complete them. Of course, you must not state a degree, etc. you didn’t get but the attendance itself is a true fact and not a lie. If you present your educational background in a smart way, the risk that the readers will actually become aware of the missing completion is rather low, by the way.

4. Unrelated activities

Mentioning any kind of activities that are not related to the positions you are applying for can have a counterproductive effect as well. Especially if a certain unrelated topic is repeated too often in your CV / résumé, the hiring managers may get the impression that your true interests lie with that instead of what you’re telling them officially.

So, too much yoga in a document meant to get a job on the stock exchange is not a good idea. 😉

5. Problematic hobbies

Mentioning a hobby that is related to the positions you are applying for is normally advisable as it emphasizes your intrinsic interest in them. So, if you are a passionate free climber and you apply for sales positions with outdoor stores, your “exciting” hobby is likely to boost your chances to get a job with them.

Presenting the same pastime can badly backfire, however, if you are after a position with a fast-paced online marketing agency. In this case, the hiring manager may become afraid of you missing work too often because of frequent injuries received by practicing such a “dangerous” hobby.

Please note that the five examples above are just a few of the many possible aspects where you can run into such problems.

A question that will help you decide

To get you on the right track with making wise decisions about whether or not to mention something, here is a question you can always ask yourself:

In what way would the detail in question increase my chances to get invited for a job interview?

If there is a good reason why it will help, you should include it, of course. If the answer makes you realize that it would rather be counterproductive, you should leave it out. And if you come to the conclusion that it has to be regarded as neutral, you leave it out too! Because in this case, including it would still steal valuable “advertising” space from your document that could better be used for a convincing piece of information instead. So, neutral information is damaging information in the end as well.

My email course “How to Write a Power CV / Résumé” is there to help

The easiest way to create a truly convincing CV / résumé, apart from having me at your side as a coach, is to use the special email course I have created for it. You can book it here and be on the way to success in a few minutes already!