Whether you are studying Engineering, Marketing or Social Work, language is the most powerful tool at your disposal when you are applying for jobs. It can make or break your chances of success, so choose your words wisely! In this blog, we’ll look at how you can use language effectively on your application, CV or cover letter.
#1: Use keywords
If your CV or cover letter is going through an applicant tracking system, using keywords is crucial. An ATS is coded to recognise certain words, so if the person specification says ‘teamwork’, this is the word you need to use. If you are applying online, especially for big-name employers, there is no guarantee a human will see your application first. Don’t get caught out at this stage.
#2: The importance of framing
Why should the employer care? I know that sounds harsh. Hear me out. You might be surprised how much relevant experience you have, but it’s important to frame it properly. Go back through your CV or cover letter and ask yourself, ‘Does this tell the employer why they should hire me?’
Phrases like ‘cash handling’ are great if you know you will be handling cash in your next job. But if it’s not in the job description, you should focus instead on what is. Suppose you’re applying to a proofreading role, where instead of cash handling, they are looking for attention to detail. If, as part of your cash handling duties, you’ve had to carefully count a customer’s change, you’ve paid attention to detail. Frame it like this and you can make it fit.
#3: Shout about yourself
If you are writing about teamwork, you need to place the emphasis on what you did and why you are the right person for the job. Not ‘we’, ‘us’, or ‘the team’. Some people struggle with this because it feels big-headed. But if you are honest and fair about your achievements, it will work in your favour. Focus on your own contribution and how this informed positive results.
#4: Avoid ‘had to’
Telling an employer you ‘had to’ do something can sound like you didn’t want to do it. Even if this is the case – we all have likes and dislikes at work – you should avoid using a negative tone when discussing what you were asked, expected, or required to do. Simply tell the employer what you did, what skills you used or developed, and quantify the result. Focus on the action itself not the fact you were told to do it. ‘Responsible for’ and ‘required to’ should also be avoided.
#5: Use the active voice
You might have heard of ‘the active voice’, or been reprimanded for using its archenemy, the passive voice, in your writing! There are times when using the passive voice is necessary, but writing your CV is not one of them. Take a look at this example:
- The project was completed in a timely manner with successful results.
This is known as the passive voice because the project is having something done to it. Also, the focus is on the project itself, not on the person who completed it successfully. This sounds archaic and clunky, and it doesn’t say anything about you.
- I completed the project in a timely manner with successful results.
Bingo! We’re using the active voice. But we can improve this further.
- By completing the project in a timely manner, I received a Recognising Excellence Award for my organisational skills, which saw a 50% increase in report views.
Obviously you will use your own tasks, skills and achievements here, but hopefully this illustrates how using specific language improves your applications.
If you feel you need in-depth advice on the use of language in your CV or cover letter, book an Applications Advice Appointment on MyFuture.