I still remember the CV I received a few years ago from an Engineer. He described step by step how he made a sled for his Siberian Huskies. We began thinking this Engineer was proving he could offer the technical skills that were important for the job. Then he mentioned he usually took the dogs sled racing. By now, you’re probably thinking how amazing it was. However, he started a long philosophical essay explaining how thrilled he was while watching the dogs reach Canine Nirvana.
Honestly, we didn’t know that dogs would reach a different Nirvana than us humans, and we were much happier before we knew that. Thus, I strongly advise you, if you want to make your next employer laugh as much as this Engineer made us laugh, you better be applying for a job as a comedian. You’ll probably make it far… but you won’t get the job.
How to get the interview
Yes, you want to get an interview! But do you know how many people apply to the same job as you? Probably a lot. If you really want to distinguish yourself and be remembered, the key is to stand out from the crowd, not blend in.
A CV can go a long way when trying to impress an employer. Whilst I don’t recommend you keep waving your excellent tech skills with a EuroPass CV in hand (you should know better by now), you also don’t have to exaggerate or write something meaningless that only seems to say a lot. What do I mean, you ask? Well, if you keep repeating the same buzzwords as everybody else, you’ll be one more candidate lost in the noise.
Can you imagine yourself reading the same page of the same chapter of the same book every day? Recruiters are humans, too, and they will remain unimpressed once they discover that every CV that ends up in their inbox are the exact same — including yours.
Above all, keep it simple. Think carefully on how you refer to your skills and experience. Why? Because there are ambiguous buzzwords that don’t tell anything special about you and are plainly overused.
“I’m a detail-oriented team worker with excellent communication skills.”
Clichés like this one tell nothing about yourself and are downright vague. If you use sentences composed with these buzzwords, you are only saying what anyone can say, and your CV will not make the required impact.
Instead, briefly explain how you have demonstrated that you are, for instance, “self-motivated”, with a concrete moment in your career where you have actually kept yourself motivated and why. Maybe you’ve found innovative ways to improve what you’ve been handed to do. Share that experience!
Buzz off, buzzwords!
Here are some of the buzzwords and expressions that, unfounded, will drive your CV directly to where all the others go — to the “no” pile:
1. “I think outside the box.”
And I think you should go outside, period.
2. “I’m results-oriented.”
Results are subjective. You may think you’re result-oriented, but maybe your vague results tell nothing to the employer.
3. “I’m a team player.”
Okay, and why should I let you play on my team?
4. “I’m a hard worker.”
Show me; don’t tell me.
5. “I’m a strategic thinker.”
Explain how you use the logical and creative sides of your brain, and I’ll want to meet you.
6. “I’m very dynamic.”
Tell me you have kinetic energy instead. If you talk Physics to me, I will probably want to meet you in person.
7. “I’m a self-motivated professional.”
As opposed to being what, a slacker? Tell me you’re positive and enthusiastic even at the toughest times; I will be thrilled to call you back to know why.
8. “I’m detail-oriented.”
The only detail I want is to know why you’re telling me this.
9. “I’m a proactive person.”
Just tell me how you control a situation by preparing for possible problems and you’re my hero.
10. “I’m a problem solver.”
Which problems have you solved? How and when did you solve them?
What to write instead
The rule here is “show, don’t tell”. The best way to show the qualities you point out on your CV is with actions. Use positive verbs that imply action; these are positive and powerful words which create a strong impression and give additional impact to your CV. They’re the best way to start your statements. Just look at the difference between:
“I’m a hard worker and results-oriented.”
“I migrated an entire datacenter composed of 10 servers into AWS cloud in 9 weeks.”
“I built Tinder from scratch until its launch in 10 weeks.”
See which one sounds more like an actual hard worker oriented towards results?
Also, the sentence above is in the active voice. Make sure you use it that way, as opposed to a passive, “I was responsible for migrating…”. No, you migrated. Done!
It’s also important to quantify your accomplishments. Each statement should also include numbers and time frames that quantify your impact and abilities, and that’s even more important when working in the ever-evolving tech world.
Describe your skills and big wins with verbs related to:
Achieved, Completed, Improved, Resolved, Succeeded
Collaborated, Clarified, Discussed, Joined, Involved
Advocated, Assisted, Coached, Contributed, Supported
Delegated, Led, Mentored, Organised, Prioritised
Distributed, Implemented, Maintained, Scheduled, Verified
Analysed, Determined, Gathered, Measured, Solved
Built, Created, Designed, Developed, Managed
You only have one opportunity to create a good first impression and it won’t be in the interview; it’s through your profile and CV.
Write concisely and excite the reader with relevant information. Avoid long lists; instead, tell your story and highlight how you have added value in your previous roles that will enable the recruiter to quickly identify the strategic value you can add to their own organisation.
You should inspire the recruiter to read your CV and profile. If you feel you are creative, show that shining light, personalise your statement and make believe you are not another candidate. Above all, be unique.