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The use of positive language in CVs

by Jennifer Harper

In an increasingly competitive job market, the use of positive language in your CV and personal statement can be a powerful tool in terms of getting shortlisted. Using words that demonstrate your strengths and highlight your capability for the role will have immediate impact.

In essence, clear and positive writing indicates clarity of thought and capability. Therefore, using positive language promotes your professionalism, as well as your desire to communicate effectively. 

How positive language will help you stand out

A succinct personal statement at the start of a CV that concisely demonstrates your key strengths and skills will grab attention, paving the way for more relevant bullet-pointed information in the Work Experience and Qualifications sections.

It is advisable to have a separate CV and personal statement for each job role – this allows you to be specific when demonstrating relevant key skills. Similarly, job-specific personal statements enable you to show your commitment and engagement with a particular type of role (such as highlighting policy or health and safety issues that perhaps are not as relevant in another post).

Many of today’s blue-chip companies use ‘applicant tracking systems’ to sift through online applications, putting them into order of suitability prior to review by personnel. Similarly, many job boards where applicants post their CV use tracking systems for job/industry specific terminology. The system searches for keywords, such as particular qualifications, affiliations/memberships, or action verbs.

Getting the terminology right in your CV and personal statement can make all the difference between capturing attention and securing that interview, or simply being overlooked.

Action Verbs

Action verbs demonstrate the ability and desire to succeed. These are the skills that you presently use and can exhibit through competency-based questioning at interview, such as:

  • Enhanced
  • Instigated
  • Accomplished
  • Negotiated
  • Designed
  • Facilitated

Action verbs exude positivity and responsibility. Try to avoid using ‘soft’ words such as ‘appreciate’, ‘know’, and ‘consider’ which can be self-limiting as they don’t take responsibility. Read the following two sentences – which one is more memorable?

"I consider myself to be a good team player who has helped brainstorm ideas."

"I am a motivated leader who has established a strong relationship with my team, and developed and initiated new procedures which have delivered successful results."

The first is acceptable if a bit vague, giving little away about the contribution made by the applicant. The second exhibits confidence accepts responsibility, has self-belief, and demonstrates job-specific qualities rather than generalisations.

Clues to the company's values

Of course, employers give clues as to their own company values and the kind of employee they require through the job description – take note of the ‘essential’ and ‘desirable’ qualities and/or experience and ensure you reflect their terminology in order to meet their wish-list. Exploring the company’s website and social media will give an indication of the style of language they favour.

The same is true for compiling a personal statement for a college or university application. Explore the course information, identify your relevant skills and strengths, and demonstrate your understanding through concise positive statements that offer scope for further exploration at interview.

There is a difference between positive language and ‘arrogant’ language. Be realistic. An employer will know what is achievable and will recognise wildly unrealistic claims. Remember, you need to back up and demonstrate your claims at interview, so exercise common sense. 

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