Using the Right Words to Take Your CV from Ordinary to Extraordinary

The Best Words for Your CV

Time really is money, and when it comes to approaching employers with your CV, you need to make a powerful impression in as few words as possible. When reading what amounts to a summary of who you are as an employee, the words you use matter, so it pays to make sure that you’re writing with conviction. Here are some ways that the language on your CV might be sabotaging your job hunt – and how to fix it.

Switch from passive to active voice

Any occupation is all about what you do. While an employer might care about who you are as a person, it makes sense that their primary interest is in what you’re actually capable of in the workplace. Reflect this in a CV that focuses on strong verbs in active tense. When you say “the accounts were maintained…” or simply listing “account maintenance” as a skill, you make yourself invisible.

Instead, make yourself the subject of the sentence and focus on what you were responsible for. Rather say, “I maintained accounts”. This puts you, and your skills, front and centre.

Switch weak verbs for strong ones

Your CV is not just a dispassionate list of all the things you’ve done. It’s a sales letter, and you are the product. Picture this: two applicants have identical skills and histories, but one says they “formulated a marketing programme that integrated new policies and launched the company as a top 10 performer in the province”, and the other says they were “responsible for marketing”.

Get rid of weak-sounding verbs like “managed”, “was responsible for” or even weaker ones like “did” and “made”. Go for verbs that are vivid and descriptive – clarified, expanded, initiated, inspired, investigated, informed, monitored – all these verbs give employers an idea of what you can do, and will make it easier for them to picture you actually doing it for them. Find a thesaurus and weed out those ineffectual verbs.

Switch out vague words for specific ones

Chances are, your employer won’t be impressed by vague and potentially useless sounding skills like “effective communication”. Details will draw the reader in. Examples support your statements and give you credibility.


A good format is to list your skills using strong verbs, then use the most powerful and convincing example of where you used those skills in the past. Show how you solved a problem, or what you learnt. Give the employer a “before” and “after”, with you as the special ingredient. Another good tip is to use industry-specific jargon. This can be an effective way to communicate your competence quickly as well as save space.

Swap timid language for confident language

The way that you speak, write and communicate tells other people a lot about how you work. If you doubt your skill, have low self esteem or don’t enjoy your work, it will come through in the way you express yourself – and employers will notice. Employers want to hire someone with autonomy, and they need to trust that they can leave a task to you and that you will do it properly. Therefore, putting forward an image that’s timid, shy, uncertain and unconfident can damage a potential employer’s faith in you.

Get rid of mousy sounding words like “possibly”, “maybe” and “sorry”. Say what you say with confidence. Don’t start a cover letter with phrases like “if you wouldn’t mind” and “I hope” and “I would really appreciate”. This is submissive language and tells people that you are not confident in what you have to offer. Be friendly and direct, instead.
Have you ever had an intuition about someone? Have you ever had a strong gut feel about a person’s character that later turned out to be accurate? Often times, we are communicating plenty of information that we may not even be aware of, but others nevertheless respond to it. Employers are human and will unconsciously respond to the language you use. Take the time to “read between the lines” of your CV and make sure that your message is confident and flattering.