We remember English class as a child; being taught to vary your language choices and know your nouns, verbs, and adjectives. And while that may feel like a lifetime ago, the basics are excellent lessons to draw on for your applications; word choice really does make a difference! Avoid letting your CV and applications become a heady mixture of overused, cliché buzzwords and ineffective expressions.
As a starting point, think about your tone to ensure you’re not undermining what you’re trying to say altogether with phrases like “I had to”, “it was required of me”, and “it was necessary to”. You may be trying to think of new ways to phrase your examples, but the underlying message is that you didn’t enjoy or weren’t very good at whatever you’re describing. Try reading it out loud to see how it would sound in conversation and how you’d interpret someone’s story if they told it to you in that way.
So, what should you avoid?
Familiar with, Knowledge of…
These are nondescript ways of saying you are potentially unskilled. Having knowledge of something can mean you heard your friend mention it once when you might mean you have a thorough education in that topic. Don’t sell yourself short, but equally don’t pretend you know more than you do. If you have a basic understanding of a topic, address it by looking for ways to upskill with a free online class for example or by expressing your willingness to learn on the job.
Think about these words carefully; they don’t tell you much. When you’re applying for a job, it’s your task to promote your skills and attributes. If you ‘supported’ a project in some way that could mean you made the tea or it could mean you were the project assistant. Candidates often use these expressions when they don’t want to take credit unduly. While this is admirable socially, it won’t work on your CV. The easiest way to approach this is to explain exactly what you did. If you were the project lead in everything but name, the evidence will speak for itself.
Absolutely, you need to demonstrate your potential for the role with lots of enthusiasm and ideas, however, employers need more than that. Focusing your entire CV and application on how interested and passionate you are about the role, company, and sector often leads to missing out on the reasons! Ensure you back it up with thorough research which is an active demonstration of your drive and motivation. You can also use examples of how your passion has led to tangible, successful outcomes.
It seems counterproductive to recommend that you don’t say you’re hardworking when you’re looking for a job, however, working hard doesn’t always mean what you think it does. Instead think about how you work ‘smart’. Applicants talk about how many extra hours they’ve invested to complete a project, but extra time spent isn’t always productive or positive. It can imply that you are inefficient, so choose your examples carefully and think about whether it demonstrates the skill you’re aiming to prove.
As recruiters, when we see these words, we know it means a list of (potentially irrelevant) activities is sure to follow. Forget listing what you did. What skills did you use or gain by having those responsibilities? If you’ve worked in a café, explain how you approached the work, how you dealt with difficult customers, made efficiencies, worked flexibly to ensure customers were served under tight time constraints… and always make sure you’re highlighting skills that are relevant to the role you’re applying to.
Speak to a member of your university Careers Service for advice about how to articulate the skills you have.
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