A very particular set of skills

Posted in: Advice, Applications, Tips & Hints

You might know that famous scene in Taken where Liam Neeson says, ‘What I do have are a very particular set of skills.’ Which skills do you mean, Liam? ‘Skills I have acquired over a very long career.’ Hard skills? Soft skills? Are they transferable? Are they mentioned in the job description? ‘Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you.’ Okay, now I’m definitely not offering you the job.

My point here is you are not Liam Neeson in Taken and there is no advantage to being vague on a job application. It’s not enough to just say you have the necessary skills for the job – you need to show the employer how. Consider these two examples:

  • Used various skills to assist the director with a variety of tasks.
  • Assisting the director, used interpersonal skills to negotiate a new rota, resulting in an increase in productivity across the team.

The second example only focuses on one task and one skill, but that’s okay. An employer gets nothing out of knowing you have ‘a variety’ of skills if they don’t know what those skills are.

But if everything’s already on my CV, what will I talk about at the interview?

It’s tempting to be vague on a job application to create mystery, intrigue (or, in Taken, pure, blood-chilling fear). But employers are only going to know what you tell them, and won’t spend any time pondering over what isn’t there. It’s not worth leaving something important off your CV, expecting to elaborate on it at the interview stage.

Many employers have a set list of questions which they use at interviews. So if you fail to mention something relevant, hoping you can squeeze it into the interview, you may be disappointed. Rest assured, they will have plenty of things to ask you!

You don’t have to include everything you’ve ever done on your application. A good, tailored CV should be concise but specific, drawing on the most relevant examples and explaining how they make you a good fit for the role.

But what if I’m stating the obvious?

Don’t worry. You’re not. It’s obvious to you because these are your skills. Your experiences. Your degree. The person reading your CV knows nothing about you. If your internship demonstrated your teamworking skills, it’s okay – crucial, even – for you to say this.

Some students worry that by mirroring the language on the job description, they come across as lazy or unoriginal. This simply isn’t true! Applicant tracking systems scan applications for the exact words in the job description, so by using the same terminology, you boost your chances of passing this first stage. Furthermore, recruiters sift through a lot of applications. They’d much rather see evidence of ‘teamwork’ than ‘successful collaborative efforts with peers from my department’. It makes their job a lot easier!

You could consider ‘frontloading’ the bullet points on your CV with relevant skills, or using bold to make them stand out, like this:

  • Written communication: used writing skills to regularly contribute to the Careers Service blog, which received hundreds of views and was shared on the central university Twitter account.

Now consider this example:

  • Written communication: wrote blogs, emails, etc

It’s so much better to ‘state the obvious’ than fall back on words like ‘etc’ (or ‘et cetera’). It’s vague, and implies the reader should know what you are referring to, when in fact they probably don’t. If it’s relevant, talk about it! And if it’s not relevant, take it out – don’t fall back on ‘etc’.

If you’d like feedback on your CV or cover letter, go to MyFuture to book a CV and Application Advice Appointment.

Posted in: Advice, Applications, Tips & Hints


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