Describing yourself on a CV

"I'm giving my CV a major re-vamp in anticipation of jumping back onto the job market to look for a more senior post. I’m confused about how to describe myself as I’ve read lots of conflicting advice. Also, I’ve looked at samples of ‘professional’ CVs but that hasn’t made things any clearer."

Andrew is right, there is a lot of conflicting advice around on how best to describe yourself on a CV.

On the plus side, there most definitely is a need to blow your own trumpet. People cannot guess that you’d be a wonderful asset to their organisation, you have to let them know.

On the other side, you most definitely have to avoid using blind-date style cheesy clichés, over-hyped superlatives and golly-wow-gee adjectives. Such things come across as shallow, meaningless and insincere. At best, you sound hysterical and desperate, at worst they make you look hollow.

Putting, ’I’m really great, pick me,’ on your CV may express a laudable sentiment but is obviously useless, yet people write, “I’m a dynamic, highly creative, world-class innovator with highly marketable skills,” all the time.

Okay, perhaps not exactly in that way, but you get the idea? The trouble is that the words have no context, no frame of reference and relate to nothing else visible about the person writing them. World-class in who’s opinion? Highly marketable skills? Not based on those statements. Dynamic? What makes them dynamic, apart from an enthusiasm for hyperbole?

I’ll tell you what, “I’m an indestructible superhero with x-ray vision and a truly titanic intellect. Oh, and I’ve got a time machine in my shed, I built it myself from old vodka bottles, tins of baked beans and a watch battery.”


So what should you do? It comes back to ‘show, don’t tell’. Leave the hyperbole aside and explain what you’ve done, add what you’ve achieved and put it into context by explaining the situation that you were in at the time.

That all says so much more about you than, ’I’m really great, pick me!’ Talk about what you’ve achieved, what you’ve made happen and what was gained (by you and others) from the experience.

Leave the reviewer to add the superlatives. “Wow, this person’s experience is excellent, we should get them in for an interview,” is where you need to end up.

A good test for anything you’ve written on your CV is to say to yourself, “Could I look the interviewer in the eye and say these things with a straight face?” If you imagine yourself making a statement would you be receiving an impressed nod from the interviewer or would they be giving it the five finger spread and lurching for a bucket?

By the way, you’re now allowed to smile with wry amusement when you read a job advert and it says, ”We’re a dynamic organisation with world-class ambitions seeking excellence in our recruits.” Shout, “Hyperbole!” but preferably not at the interview.

I hope that helps. Let me know if you need any further comment around this issue.

Good luck with your applications.