Application spring clean: Phrases to avoid

Posted in: Advice, Applications, Tips & Hints

With winter dragging on, I’ve been thinking about spring cleaning. Getting rid of what we don’t need, making space for what we do, and letting our space shine. This got me thinking about how we can clean up and declutter our job applications to improve clarity, readability, and the overall impression made.

Read on to find out what phrases to axe from your applications. As always, these are just examples, so use your own discretion and come to a drop-in session if you’re not sure.

Was responsible for…

Technically speaking, I am responsible for cleaning my kitchen. But just because I’m responsible for it doesn’t mean I actually do it. Now, I’m not saying you don’t clean your kitchen, or undertake the responsibilities on your CV. But the problem with ‘responsible for’ is it doesn’t tell the reader anything about the action you took. It only tells them that it was your responsibility.

Put yourself in the centre of the action. Instead of ‘I am responsible for cleaning my kitchen’, I could say ‘I set calendar reminders to deep clean my kitchen every month’, or ‘I clean one thing in my kitchen while waiting for the kettle to boil’. Do you see how these two examples still show how I take responsibility, without falling back on vague statements like ‘responsible for’? I’d encourage you to do the same in your applications. Find examples that demonstrate your work ethic, instead of simply claiming this.

Had the opportunity to…

I see this a lot on cover letters and personal statements, though it can crop up on CVs too. It’s similar to ‘responsible for’ in the sense that, technically, having an opportunity doesn’t necessarily mean that you took it! But employers aren’t daft – they’ll know, or at least assume, that you’re talking about an opportunity for a reason. The real issue with this phrase is that, again, it’s passive – it puts the focus on the opportunity rather than the action you took.

Leading with the opportunity itself adds clutter to your application, and you could get the point quicker by leading with your behaviour. For example, ‘I had the opportunity to network with a range of cleaning professionals’ could simply become ‘I networked with a range of cleaning professionals’. This is frontloading: placing the most important information at the beginning of your sentence or paragraph, so that the reader immediately knows where you are taking them in the text. In my view, it’s not the opportunity that matters – it’s what you did when you took it.

Had to/was required to…

Are you picking up on a theme here? Telling an employer you ‘had to’ do something uses the passive voice. It also risks sounding negative or unenthusiastic. Of course, you can still be positive and enthusiastic about a mandatory task, but you’ll convey this more effectively by focusing on your initiative. Whether it’s ‘I had to used VLOOKUPs to identify multiple values’, or ‘I was required to washed my own pots after dinner’, you can easily sound more action-driven by scrapping a few words.

As a team, we…

It’s not always possible to avoid using ‘we’ altogether. However, you should avoid downplaying your contribution within a team. In my cleaning example, my husband and I work together to achieve a shared goal. We’d never clean the oven together, simultaneously, because what would be the point? Hopefully this demonstrates how every act of teamwork is made up of unique, individual actions. Focus on what you did, because this is what the employer is most interested in.

I hope this helps streamline your applications, or even your writing technique in general. Find more application support in our Get Started guide.

Posted in: Advice, Applications, Tips & Hints


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