Because CVs are meant to broadcast information to potential employers, sometimes our focus gets stuck on things like formatting and getting the dates of our past work experience right. But just as important as the details themselves are good writing and sharp keywords that will make that recruiter want to pick up the phone and bring you in for an interview.
So what exactly do recruiters and hiring managers want to see? To be sure, this will vary significantly depending on your industry and ideal career, but one thing is certain: There are some words that you want to avoid, and others that you want to make sure you include.
Start by making a list of keywords from your target job posting and work them into your CV. Once you've done that, give your CV a facelift, snipping redundant, empty words and swapping them out with sharp, powerful ones that will leave your reader feeling energised and intrigued.
We spoke with Alisha Miranda of #alishainthebiz, author of the Millennial's guide to surviving (and thriving) unemployment, who coaches women and young people on career pathing, technology leadership, and professional development. Miranda sheds some more light on which CV words to nix and which to play up, so that you can send off your CV with confidence.
Miranda advises deleting all words that are empty descriptives, such as “maven” or “ninja” or any other tongue-in-cheek phrase that isn’t a real title or professional descriptor. Too often, our vocabularies get saturated by meaningless buzzwords, and they can creep into our CV and cover letters, but these words often make a reader’s eyes glaze over. The risk with using them is that you might not be taken seriously — after all, empty fluff on your CV is never a good look.
Beyond this, Miranda says to avoid terms that could take away credibility from your application. “Don't include words like ‘junior’ that show your weaknesses,” Miranda says, adding that doing so could serve to downplay your qualification for the role. “Instead of saying you're the lowest on the totem pole, show how you ‘contributed,’ ‘supported,’ or ‘served’ in the best interests of an employer."
Conversely, one of the best things you can do is to use language that sounds like a solution or action. In other words, use your CV to show, not tell.
Miranda recommends including words like "built," "produced," or "managed" to demonstrate leadership and independence. If you can describe a time when you were the "first" person to make something new happen at work, this will also help you stand out as an innovative and dedicated employee.
Another way to make your CV pop is to include words that reflect strong personal and professional values. Instead of saying you are a "team player," Miranda recommends weaving in words that demonstrate this is part of your work ethic, such as "collaboration," "partnership," or "dependable." It’s easy to say you work well with others; it’s another thing to prove this is the case.
Ultimately, your CV gives others their first impression and will determine your chances at snagging a new job. If you’re feeling stuck and aren’t sure of your strengths, Miranda recommends asking someone you trust for help. “If you're having a hard time coming up with words to describe your best employable self, ask friends, peers, or coworkers how they would describe you,” Miranda adds. “Then work that into your CV.”