Assertive applications: How to use language to your advantage

Posted in: Advice, Applications, Tips & Hints

Tiny tweaks to your wording can have huge implications on the impression you give. Here are some tips on how to create a confident appeal in your applications.

It’s All About You

There is a strong pattern that runs through many student CVs, cover letters, and personal statements. This is the tendency to use passive language. For example, when describing your work experiences, many of you write:

• ‘This job required me to…’
• ‘My responsibilities were…’

These sentences might be factually correct but they say more about the job than about you.

Stephen King, in his non-fiction book ‘On Writing’, warns against passive verbs as the use of them implies timidity in the writer.

If you rewrite the sentence to say ‘took responsibility for…and developed my skills in’, it conjures an image of a dynamic individual embracing their responsibilities rather than those responsibilities being forced upon them.

Be Specific

To remain assertive, it is important to be clear about who you are and what you do. However, it is very easy to be vague when writing about your responsibilities.

For instance, if you write ‘I led the team effectively’, it doesn’t tell us much about what ‘effectively’ means to you or if it aligns with the employer’s understanding of effective leadership. Try backing it up with context. For example:

• Effectively led the team using clear and tactful communication. This resulted in...’

This structure creates a more impactful bullet point. By giving that extra bit of detail you’re painting a picture for the employer from which they can visualise you in the role.

Remember, when trawling through all those applications, they don’t have time to enact their imagination so instead you do the work for them.

Aesthetic Assertiveness

Going back to Stephen King’s wisdom, he urges you to step back and look at your writing. Observe the paragraphs, lines, margins etc. Is it easy on the eye? Does it reflect a clear and ordered mind?

Try printing your application out, much like the employer will probably do, and look through their eyes.

Just to assure you, I am not advising you to change your career direction to be a horror novelist as these principles can used to engage many different audiences.

A couple of further tips:

• Using the previous example again, you can see it has been broken up into two sentences. This act of breaking up the sentence makes it easier to read.

• If you feel that a bullet point can be broken up into two separate points, one on top of the other, then go for it. This will further add to the clarity of your application.

Final Word: I understand that the egocentric nature of job applications can feel counterintuitive. It seems conceited to talk about yourself like that. However, this is your golden opportunity to show off your skills and achievements. You are not showing off for the sake of it. You are simply doing what is required to move closer to your goals.

If you want more ideas on how to construct impactful sentences, read Molly’s Blog. You will find a link to our CV guide where you will be treated to a long list of action verbs that you can use.


Posted in: Advice, Applications, Tips & Hints


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