Are there any words you should or should not use in a CV?

by Mercedes Grant MIEP, Development Director and CV Workshop Co-ordinator at Belina Consulting

A CV has one function – to get your candidate an interview with a particular employer. It has to show why this person should get that job, so to begin with the key words are those that make sure their CV matches that employer’s requirements. That means each time a CV is sent it should be tailored.

What not to say:

Too many CVs contain strings of meaningless adjectives that cover as many bases as possible in their allotted two sides of A4.  A CV that begins “I am a hard worker; able to take instructions and work on my own initiative. I am honest, punctual and a great communicator” does not impress.

Your candidate may well be honest, hardworking, punctual and energetic or have a will to learn. But just ask yourself – is there anyone out there applying with a CV that says “I am lazy and a bad time keeper; curmudgeonly and antipathetic to work?  The key message is don’t just make a list of adjectives. An employer wants to have examples and to know that your candidate understands why these attributes are important. Let’s take a list of words that you might want to use and think about how we can best deploy them.

  • Confident
  • Creative
  • Dedicated
  • Helpful
  • Punctual
  • Team worker

You could say:

I am confident, creative and dedicated. I am always punctual and helpful and am able to work on my own and in a team

But far better to say:

With my NVQ level two in Childcare and recent experience at a Children’s Centre I am a confident childcare worker. Dedicated to helping children fulfil their potential, I make sure I am there early each day to prepare creative sessions and work with the whole team to create a safe and secure environment where children can develop. I am responsible for supporting individual children at play time and mealtimes. Each day I write a short report for parents and post a picture to their phones so they can see what their child has been doing.

Use more verbs

At Belina we love verbs. Particularly the simple past tense that usually ends in an ed.  This tense shows that they did the task themselves. Here is part of a list that we provide to our candidates, with examples from just the first letter of the Alphabet.

·       Accomplished

·       Achieved

·       Administered

·       Advised

·       Analysed

·       Approved

·       Applied

·       Arranged

·       Assessed

·       Assisted

·       Attained

We would help a candidate come up with a sentence that added value to the verb for example.

·       Assisted the team to meet its sales targets.

·       Achieved a certificate in Food Hygiene.

·       Applied the company’s Health and Safety rules and arranged for machines to be inspected.

Don’t worry about first or third person

I think formality is important in a CV, so make sure it is written in good clear prose, with correct spelling and punctuation. But I don’t think it really matters whether it is First or Third person, as long as you are consistent. Personally, I prefer the third person as it cuts out a lot of superfluous ‘I ams’, but sometimes it feels more personal, especially where there are human relationships involved, for example in care work and childcare, to write in the first person.


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