Language sets the framework for how you present yourself to a potential new employer. Here are a few dos and don’ts to make sure this important document promotes your best attributes.
Use the active voice: This is passive: The project was completed successfully. This is active: I completed the project successfully. The latter not only emphasises you as the agent in the role, it articulates your contribution.
Be specific: Short examples of your achievements are more informative than throwaway lines. Something like I am a fast learner can be improved by saying I started the role not knowing how to use the system but became an intermediate-level user within a week.
Highlight initiative: Even if your previous roles or experience haven’t been illuminating, you can frame it in a better light. Don’t describe the role that was given to you. Instead, narrate what you actually did. It’s the difference between answered phones and drafted emails for my manager and dealt with 30 to 40 customer enquiries a day and provided executive-level written correspondence.
Be positive: If you have a blight on your CV – for example a poor performance in a role – you can turn this around with the emphasis on the lessons you learnt rather than the negativity of the incident. Avoid words like struggled and use overcame, focusing on the outcome rather than the issue.
Be confident: Be upfront about owning your skills, knowledge and achievements, and use testimonials and other evidence to support this. Instead of writing managers have told me I'm good at writing reports, try I have strong written communication skills and managers often highlight the high standard of my reports.
Use buzzwords you can’t support: It’s good to be positive, but don’t burden your writing with clichés or jargon that you don’t understand or can’t support with examples. Instead of using team player, for example, explain what you brought to the team.
Overuse lists: Bullet points are handy and they make a CV scan well, but overuse makes it look like you’ve handed them a list. Keep it to no more than five points per subheading and always add a concise explanatory note of no more than one line to clarify points if required.
Forget to conduct a spelling and grammar check: Small things like poor punctuation could put you out of the running if you’re coming up against a candidate of equal strength. One tip is to read the whole document aloud, or ask a friend to check it once you’re ready to send it.
Remember that a CV is a document that sells your skills and knowledge to a potential employer. By using the right language, they will understand what you can do and then use that information to decide if you should progress to the next stage.