Now these buzzwords won’t kill your application

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Now these buzzwords won't kill your application

Last week we gave you a list of the most toe curling and cringey words you could use in a CV or Covering Letter. These were things like Passionate, dynamic and even synergy. There are ways to instantly turn off employers and make them a little bit sick in their mouths at the same time.

The main thing to take from last week's blog was that don't write anything you can't prove and don't write anything that sounds particularly pretentious. A simple approach is the Alan Sugar Test: Is this something you're likely to here from an Apprentice Candidate? If so it's probably worth reworking.

While it is always far too easy to be cynical about things like CVs and the process of trying to sell yourself to employers, we had some people asking this week "Well what do we write instead?" So in an attempt not to come across as sneering and dour about it, here are some suggestions of how to linguistically make your CV stand out.

Before we get into and specific examples it is important to remember the purpose of "what to use" and "what not to use" approach. Stuffing your CV with good words and brutally cutting words that could be deemed as cliché is not the way to approach this. You need to remember that you are not writing a CV or covering letter for you - but the reader. In the spirit of Barthe's Death of the Author, it is important to remember that the employer will make their own assumptions of what they read, even though they are trying to find out more about the author.

However, there is the need to make particular aspects of your background and achievements stand out. Sexing up particular parts of your CV and Covering Letter is important in terms of making you sound impressive and to get you to the next stage. So here's how to do it...


The doing words. Highly important to showing employers what you've done, but need to make sure these are as positive as possible but not superfluous. The key to verbs used in CVs or Covering Letters is to make them positive and active, as opposed to mundane and in some cases boring. Using more positive and action words gives employers the impression of a proactive individual and shows you to be more engaging.

To highlight some of these and give an example:

  • I had to set up an IT system for a task set by tutors at university
  • I created, designed and implemented an IT system to a specified brief as part of my modules.

The use of "created" and "implemented" reflect this proactive attitude that you can use when you're trying to show employers you are an active candidate and have plenty of enthusiasm to give. A small warning, don't go overboard with these verbs when describing your past experiences or achievements. To say you "masterminded" anything but a bank heist is not going to impress any employers.


This follows similar lines to verbs, you should try to make a positive impression. Using negative descriptions to attribute to tasks, experiences or skills won't go down well with employers - even if your time behind a bar was utterly horrific. Avoid negative descriptions and try to see the best in each experience or situation. But randomly putting a pin in a thesaurus to describe your internship as exorbitant is not going to win you any interviews.

This really relates to using the right word in the right place. Some applicants that I have personally seen have used words beyond their meaning in an attempt to sound professional or swarve. So be careful not to overstep the mark. Remember you are writing to impress not bamboozle employers with your lexical might.

Work them into great sentences

Stuffing your CV or Covering Letter with the most ambitious, enthusiastic and positive and action words as you can will not work. You need to formulate them into strong sentences. I'm not teaching you to suck eggs, but making sure that you use the building blocks of action verbs and positive adjectives will give you the chance to impress upon on employers your suitable for the job, even if the content of what you're describing might not be ideal.

An important thing to remember when crafting covering letter sentences and CV sentences is that you're not aiming for a bestseller, but rather to make the information you are presenting clean, clear and impressive. Crafting complex and dense sentences will put off employers and can often go wrong. This is a job application, not the next Ulysses.

Much of using the right language and phrasing in crafting CVs and Covering Letters is a balancing act. I know this is pretty oblique advice, but you need to try to strike the balance between impressive and clear, professional and not pretentious, active and not unbelievable. You can all string a sentence together after slaving away at university, so make sure you articulate yourself correctly for this tricky situation.

By James Howell