Words to avoid and use in applications

Written by: Sarah Pallett
Published on: 12 Feb 2020

CVs. Image: mohamed Hassan

Image: mohamed Hassan / Pixabay

We all know that a CV and cover letter are an essential – although rather frustrating – aspect of finding a job.

To talk about yourself, and condense everything you want to say into a small word count – plus finding the right balance between selling yourself and your skills without coming on too strong – is super tough.

Some forget the aim of a CV is to get an interview, not to get the job, so you need to show just enough of your skills so that the business wants to hear more, and offer an interview.

While maybe in a few years having a CV and covering letter to apply for a job could become obsolete, right now they are still used in the employment process and by the majority of recruiters, so it is important to take your time to do them well.

As an employer who has trawled through 1000s of resumés in my career, I cannot tell you the delight you feel when you come across one where someone has not only taken the time to craft it for the actual job, but they have used compelling language and real life examples that perfectly demonstrate their skills and personality.

Let's be honest, anyone can say they are motivated, results-driven and a team player – and most will use those buzzwords – but these words by themselves carry little meaning.

As an employer, if they are reading the 20th CV that claims those characteristics, how do you stand out from the crowd, show supporting evidence and get noticed for the right reasons?

First thing you must do, is read and analyse the job spec and description – this gives you everything you need to know about what they are looking for, and you must weave their words into your application.

You should tailor your CV and covering letter for each job, regardless of whether it is a similar role and profession. Remember, many job sites and recruiters now use keyword algorithms to deem if your application matches the job description, so make sure they are seamlessly woven into your application.

Important things to consider

Get to the point quicker: don’t have long sentences that don’t go anywhere or make any valid point.

Only claim what you can back up: if you claim to be team-focused and leadership material, it is likely in interview you will be asked to discuss a time where you had to lead a team and exactly what you did to create a culture of success. Unless you did it, don’t claim it.

Mentioning skills that are not in the job description: remember you have limited space; once at interview you can expand, but at this stage only focus on exactly what and who they are looking for.

Talking about hobbies or passions: we often do this to pad out the CV when we have little experience; however, it’s best to avoid this as you don’t know how a potential employer will react.

Forgetting to research: knowledge is power, so don’t forget to research the business. Use its website and social media – you have everything you need there to help you. Get a feel for the language, tone and culture that exists and mimic it.

Not streamlining or reviewing your CV: room for improvement always exists, so once you feel it is ready, sleep on it, and look again in the morning. You will be surprised how many small errors you notice or changes you want to make. Even better, get someone to proof it for you and give feedback.

Avoid these words unless backed up with hard evidence

Flexible, attention to detail, loyal, solutions-driven, team player, self-motivated, strong work ethic, multi-tasker and independent. You may be all those things, but they carry little impact without evidence. The key word here is “demonstrate” – demonstrate your skills and characteristics and focus on things you have done and the results you achieved.

Don’t just list buzzwords, as it’s likely everyone else will say the same. If they are looking for someone who is client-focused, you should give examples of times you went above and beyond for a client and how that translated into positive referrals, sales or feedback.

Focus on you role, targets and responsibilities, and use action verbs, such as developed, achieved, managed, initiated, generated, completed, planned and created, to showcase accomplishments and then highlight exactly how they affected the business, role or team.

Cultivate strong sentences, include some facts, figures and smashed targets and make the employer sit up and take notice.