CV sins: clichés

You know that bit on pretty much every reality TV show ever where the contestants are asked what it means to them to win and they witter on about passion, hunger, dreams, giving 110%, and how cooking/dancing/singing/baking/whatever is their life? You switch off don't you, because it all sounds the same and doesn't really tell you anything.

A CV riddled with clichés can have the same effect on a recruiter. They switch off and your cv ends up at the bottom of the pile. So what are the most over-used words and phrases on CVs?

A 2013 survey by Foosle showed that expressions such as ‘hard working,’ ‘motivated’ or ‘a team player’ are now so ubiquitous on CVs that they are effectively meaningless and tell you nothing about the real skills or attributes of the candidate. Ditto able to work independently or as part of a team.

Jeremy Clarke, recruitment manager, cautions against anything in a profile statement that is unsubstantiated by fact. For example, "I am honest, reliable and enthusiastic". That may well be the case but how can a recruiter judge the truth of it? As they teach you in creative writing – show don't tell. Your enthusiasm for the profession could be more clearly demonstrated by talking about your professional activities or groups you're part of.

Another well-worn phrase is excellent communicator. Suzanne Wheatley, recruitment manager, says "I always like the 'dynamic communicators' who can barely string a sentence together in person". It is important, if you describe yourself as a good communicator, that your CV, covering letter and interview technique reflect this.

Gemma Wood, recruitment administrator, says one of her chief bugbears is an applicant listing "socialising and going out with friends" among their interests. "Who doesn't like socialising and going out with their friends? It's so generic that it's pointless including it."

Recruitment consultant Donald Lickley has a warning about context  "'Duties' as a heading or in current/recent jobs bullet points makes my heart sink, as does 'Work Experience' as a heading. I guess this is about aspiration. If you’ve got any kind of ambition to get a more interesting job, you need 'Responsibilities', and I sincerely hope that your last 'work experience' was when you were 15."

To be fair to reality TV show competitors, they don't necessarily have a lot of say as to how they are portrayed by programme editors. But as a job-seeker, you are in complete control of the impression you give prospective employers via your CV. Remember to tailor your CV to each vacancy you apply for. Avoid clichés, be honest, be specific about your achievements and back it all up with facts.

– Fiona Wheeler

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