Google’s dictionary defines a ‘task’ as ‘a piece of work to be done or undertaken’, and ‘responsibility’ as ‘a thing which one is required to do as part of a job, role, or legal obligation’.
Listing tasks or responsibilities on your CV tells the person reading it nothing more than what you were required to do. It makes for a dry and dull read. It doesn’t tell them how you made a difference, what your results were, why you were an employee or supplier worth retaining.
What’s more, anyone has held that position could, in theory, list the same tasks or responsibilities. You could end up presenting a similar CV to other applicants, making it hard for the person reading your CV to understand how you are different.
By contrast, Google’s dictionary defines ‘achievement’ as ‘a thing done successfully with effort, skill, or courage’. A much more dynamic definition!
Outlining achievements (what you accomplished) rather than tasks and responsibilities (what you were required to do) will strengthen your CV, giving the reader a better understanding of your experience, skills, and future potential.
I appreciate that it can be tricky to think of what you achieved by performing a defined task, which is perhaps why some people resort to listing duties and responsibilities instead. So, I thought it might be useful to share some questions that will help you to define your achievements.
Question 1: What was your task or responsibility?
Let’s use an example.
Imagine if you were a banquet attendant at Hotel XYZ. One of your tasks might be to set up tables and chairs. If you were simply listing responsibilities on your CV, you might write ‘Set up chairs and tables for hotel events’.
So far, so boring. But how can you transform this straightforward if highly physical task into something more dynamic? Let us move to question two.
Question 2: What might have happened if you hadn’t done it?
Consider what might have happened if you hadn’t done that task at all, or hadn’t done it well.
In our example above, lots of things may have happened if you hadn’t set up the chairs and tables for the event.
Paying clients may have entered Hotel XYZ’s banquet hall and discovered an unprepared venue with insufficient seating.
As a result, they may have been late to sit down for their meal, throwing the event timetable into disarray. The caterers, who planned on serving dinner at an agreed time, may have needed a plan B. Catering and serving staff may be required to work extra hours to accommodate the delay, meaning more expense and less profit for the hotel. The wedding speeches may have been delayed, postponing the moment when nervous speech givers could truly relax. The band may have had a later start time than planned, and may charge clients more for a later finish or offer a shorter set.
The wedding party and their guests may not have received the service or experience they had expected Hotel XYZ to deliver. They may have got a poor impression of Hotel XYZ. They may have complained. They may have asked for a discount. They probably would have told others about their experience. They might even have left adverse reviews online, affecting Hotel XYZ’s positive rating on TripAdvisor or another review site. This adverse publicity may have put others off booking Hotel XYZ for their wedding or event. As a result, the hotel may not meet its sales target for wedding packages. Revenues may have dipped; staffing would necessarily reduce, all because you didn’t put the chairs and tables out on time!
I acknowledge this is an extreme representation, but it goes to show that all actions have a reaction, and tasks and responsibilities have a consequence, for your employer and their clients. Let’s move on to question three.
Question 3: What benefit did you achieve by doing it?
For every answer outlined in response to question two, consider the opposite situation. This will help clarify the benefits you delivered by performing your task.
Looking at the answers above, it seems like by doing my job well, I have most likely helped Hotel XYZ to meet and exceed its clients’ expectations, thereby ensuring their satisfaction, avoiding any negative feedback on- or offline, and maintaining its overall reputation. My actions also helped Hotel XYZ to protect its profit margins by ensuring weddings and other events ran to time, avoiding unplanned costs.
Having identified the benefits you delivered, you can use them to craft achievement-focused bullets for use on your CV. Here are some examples:
- Positioned Hotel XYZ to achieve and maintain an average 4.5/5 TripAdvisor bubble rating by ensuring timely, accurate set up of weddings and events
- Facilitated cost-effective and quality delivery of hotel events by ensuring timely set-up of chairs, tables, and equipment for each booking
- Helped Hotel XYZ to secure 50 new wedding bookings for 2020 by working as a team to deliver a high-quality wedding experience for 2019 clients
You can read more about how to create strong bullet points here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-write-bullet-proof-cv-bullets-lis-mcguire/.
If your CV features tasks and responsibilities, use these three questions to turn them into attention-grabbing bullets that will intrigue your target reader to find out more.
When you are considering a career change, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the unknown quantity of what may lie ahead. You may be attracted to a particular career path or industry, but feel hesitant about committing to the journey when you are uncertain about the terrain.
It’s natural to feel indecisive and a little afraid when making any kind of change, but these are feelings we need to overcome to avoid getting and staying stuck.
So, how can we reduce this uncertainty and overcome our fears? We need to take control of the situation. One way to increase confidence is to master the unknown by gathering and using information.
One approach to consider is an informational interview. This powerful tool can give you the information and insight you need to make an informed and appropriate career decision.
What is an informational interview?
An informational interview is a fantastic source of data that can help you to decide and validate your next career move. An exploratory meeting with someone who is already in your target role or industry, it allows you to hear about the role straight from the horse’s mouth.
The purpose of this exercise isn’t to secure a job. Your aim is to find out as much as you can about a potential career path, before committing to it. An informational interview with the right person can be a valuable shortcut, fast-tracking your knowledge and helping you to decide if you are setting off on the right path.
How to arrange an informational interview
To make the most of the experience, cherry pick the person you’d like to interview. Perhaps you already know someone who is working in your desired role or industry. If so, call them up and ask for an hour of their time.
If the person you’d like to talk to isn’t in your immediate network, now is the time to get to know them. Find them on LinkedIn, and send a personalised invitation, giving some background on your situation and outlining your interest in their work. Explain that you’d love to sit with them for 30 minutes or an hour, when their schedule permits, to understand more about their role. Offer to buy them a coffee, and make it as easy as possible for them to accept your invitation by flexing to their schedule and location. This may mean meeting at their office, or near a client site; be prepared to travel.
If there’s no immediate response, follow up with a telephone call a week later. If you have sent an email in advance, they are likely to have read your message and will understand why you are calling.
Preparing for your meeting
Once the date is in the diary, you can begin to prepare for your informational interview. The key to making the most of your airtime is to ask great questions. Start off by brainstorming everything you could possibly want to know about the person’s role, industry, and career. You can then begin to whittle down your question list.
The time you have secured is precious, and you won’t want to waste it by asking obvious questions, so spend time researching online before the interview. Revisit your contact’s LinkedIn profile and company web pages. Google their name and job title for recent news and even set up a Google Alert to stay abreast of new stories. The questions that remain unanswered, after you’ve mined the internet, can stay on your list for the interview.
The questions you ask should be insightful, demonstrating keen interest in and motivation for your target career. Ultimately, the answers you seek will give you a competitive edge over other candidates, an inside understanding of the industry you wish to join.
If you get stuck, think about what it is that this person can tell you, that you can’t glean from other sources. Often, it will be their story, their experiences, and their challenges that will provide the most insight. Here are some example questions, that will hopefully trigger some of your own:
- How did you first get into this?
- What part of your role do you feel has the biggest impact?
- What is the most important part of your role?
- What’s the most enjoyable part of your job?
- What is your biggest career achievement to date?
- How do you measure success in your role?
- What are the most important relationships for your role?
- If you had more hours in your day, what would you do more of?
- How has your role or industry changed since you started?
- How do you maintain and refresh your professional skillset?
- What advice would you give to a newcomer to the role or industry?
It can be useful to order your questions, allowing you to develop the conversation in a logical and progressive way. Also, be careful not to break rapport by asking potentially intrusive questions too early.
Making the most of your moment
On the day of the interview, you could arrive early and base yourself nearby to run over your questions. Ideally, you’ll aim for a free-flowing conversation, rather than a stilted Q&A session, but it’s still handy to keep your list of questions close as an aide-memoire. Taking copious notes in the interview will make it hard to give your full attention, so instead immerse yourself in the experience and listen actively and attentively with all your senses. You can capture the gold dust soon after.
Capture the gold dust
After the interview, find a quiet space – in your parked car, on the train, or in a café – and jot down what you have learned. Take a notebook and pen with you for this purpose, and spend as long as you need to capture your findings. You might start with broad subject headings, then flesh out the content as your conversation comes flooding back. If you prefer, record yourself using your phone, you can always transcribe it later.
It’s well worth taking the time to do this. You may think you’ll remember the conversation, but over time it’s likely that you will forget. Also, as you learn more about your target role, you can revisit your notes and uncover new gems of information that you can access with new understanding.
Follow up with a thank you
After the interview, follow up with a thank you. The person you interviewed has been kind enough to send the ladder back down, and this deserves recognition and thanks. Saying that, simple and sincere is the best approach, rather than gushing, over-the-top gratitude. You can write a thank you email, a LinkedIn message, or even post a handwritten note – a good way to stand out.
Connect and nurture the relationship
Now you’ve forged or warmed up this relevant connection, be sure to nurture it. Invite the person to connect via LinkedIn, follow their updates, and keep in touch. Maintain a professional relationship and demonstrate interest, but avoid stalker-like intensity.
Reflect on the experience
After a couple of days, think back on your experience. Read over your notes, and engage in a free-writing exercise to capture what you gained from it. This will help you to assimilate your learning, and to map out next steps. Are you any closer to making your decision? What else do you want or need to know? Who might you want to interview next to meet your information needs?
Informational interviews are a practical way to understand more about a target role and industry, and can help you to make an informed and confident next step. Use them in conjunction with networking, independent research, and professional training to develop your knowledge, skills, and connections, ready for your next career move.
A recent survey from Match.com reported that while 71% of the 5,000 single respondents were judging potential dates on their teeth, 69% were fretting about their grammar. Dating or not, your punctuation and grammar can invite a positive or negative first impression, especially when it comes to presenting your CV.
Spelling mistakes and grammatical errors can send your CV straight to the bin, so if you want that job, you have to get it right. It’s not enough to rely on the spelling and grammar check in Microsoft Word; you need to be 100% confident that your spelling, punctuation, and grammar makes the grade. So, let’s explore some of the key punctuation and grammar rules and how they work in the context of your CV.
Punctuation brings order to our words, helping the reader to decipher our intended meaning. Imagine a CV with no punctuation to show where sentences begin, end, pause, or change track. It would be an incoherent mess. Saying that, over-punctuating a CV can deliver the same result. This guidance should help you to punctuate your words effectively so that your CV is clear and easy to read.
Full stops are used to mark the end of a sentence. On your CV, you can use full stops at the end of sentences in your Profile. Some people like to use full stops at the end of their bullets under Experience; however, I prefer to leave them open. Also, I wouldn’t bother using full stops after brief bits of information in your Key Skills, Education, or Additional Information sections, for example.
When it comes to full stops, there are two distinct schools of thought – put a one-character space after the full stop, or add two. A recent article on the Cult of Pedagogy website explained why two spaces after a full stop used to be the norm but are no longer best practice. Believe it or not, adding two spaces after a full stop may lead the person reading your CV to make assumptions about your age (apparently nothing says over 40 like two spaces!).
Some people like to add full stops after each initial of an acronym, e.g. Management Information (M.I.). I prefer to present the acronym without full stops, e.g. Management Information (MI), as it looks cleaner. The only exception would be if the job advert requested a qualification or skill set listed as an acronym with full stops, e.g., M.B.A. In this case, I’d recommend presenting the term in the same way on your CV to make it through any automated sift. In this case, present acronyms in a consistent way throughout your CV.
The comma is used to separate items in a list or to separate clauses within a sentence. That’s simple enough. However, before writing your CV, you’ll need to decide whether you will adopt the Oxford comma, also known as the serial comma. Those who favour the Oxford comma will add a final comma before the word ‘and’ to separate items in a list, to clarify their meaning. I love to eat jelly, ice cream, sweets and bacon could read that the individual enjoys sweets and bacon together. Using the Oxford comma clarifies that these are separate items: I love to eat jelly, ice cream, sweets, and bacon. Whether you decide to adopt the Oxford comma or not, be sure to use commas consistently on your CV.
Colons can be used to introduce an explanation or a list e.g. IT Skills: Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint; Sage Line 50; Adobe Photoshop.
Colons can also be used to link two related clauses, with the second clause explaining the first. Here, it can be used in place of a semi-colon.
A semi-colon can be used to join two distinct yet related main clauses, each of which can stand alone as a sentence in its own right. Semi-colons apply when a full stop is overkill, but a simple comma is too light to separate the two parts of your sentence. The semi-colon can be used in place of and. Here’s an example:
Trebled number of graduate hires in 2009; developed and retained talent by implementing structured and progressive training programmes.
Semi-colons can also be used to make sense of complex lists, where commas separate grouped items, such as the eggs in this sentence:
The breakfast choices included sausages; bacon; beans; poached, fried, and scrambled eggs; mushrooms; and toast.
Semi-colons can be a grey area, so if you do use them on your CV, use them confidently and accurately, or not at all.
Hyphens connect two words together to make a new word. They can be used in compound adjectives that modify a noun, as in results-focused manager.
Hyphens are also useful when you are using two adjectives to describe the same base word e.g. short- and long-term projects.
Apostrophes can be used to indicate ownership (e.g. Jane’s CV) or to replace omitted letters in a word (e.g. it’s instead of it is or I’d instead or I would).
The misused apostrophe is one of the most prevalent CV errors, with job hunters often confusing its (belonging to it) and it’s (replacing it is), or adding an unnecessary apostrophe at the end of a plural word.
An unnecessary or missing apostrophe could indicate slack attention to detail or a poor grasp of punctuation, so it’s worth checking and triple checking before hitting the send button.
Brackets can indicate additional information which, if left out, leaves a grammatically complete sentence. In the context of a CV, brackets are most often used with acronyms.
When using acronyms, explain them in full first e.g. Management Information (MI), including the abbreviation in brackets after the name. Following this, you can confidently abbreviate all subsequent mentions. I’d only bother using brackets in this way if the term appears frequently in your CV. If not, just use the term without the acronyms.
Slashes, also referred to as forward slashes, can be used in the abbreviated versions of words like without (w/o) or care of (c/o). No space is required before or after the slash.
Slashes can also be used in an either/or scenario, where the reader can choose between the two presented words. For example, I’d like a burger and/or sausage. Again, no space is required before or after the slash.
However, on a CV, a slash is sometimes used between two important terms, such as job titles (e.g. business analyst/project manager). Unfortunately, CV screening technology can’t always read and interpret the terms separated by the slash (e.g. analyst/project) as two words. In this case, it’s best to add a space before and after the forward slash.
Once again, consistency is key, so adopt the same rule for all slashes on your CV.
The words you use on your CV can dramatically impact how you are perceived, so select and use them with care. Here are some word classes that merit particular attention when writing your CV:
Common and proper nouns
Proper nouns name specific people, places, or things e.g. Susan, Kent, Bosch, and do need a capital letter.
Common nouns identify people, places, or things e.g. women, cities, boxes. They are not specific and do not need to be capitalised.
On CVs, I often see inconsistent and incorrect capitalisation of common nouns. Candidates will capitalise words they consider important, and this can be distracting. Also, capitalised words are harder to read than lower case, as they break the reader’s flow. If in doubt, use an online tool like Grammarly to check your use of capitals.
One area that often causes confusion when it comes to capitalisation is job titles. Many people capitalise job titles on their CV. In fact, you only need to capitalise job titles that are used as part of a name, positioned directly before or directly after the subject’s name. So, you’d write Professor Plum or Harold Plum, Professor as a title, but when noting a job title without a name, lower case is fine. For example, you can use lower case for the job titles of your direct reports, e.g. Led a team of 15 business analysts.
Pick a style and use it consistently throughout your CV. The exception to this would be in your CV section headings or job role headings under Experience, where you can capitalise each word, or use uppercase for the whole title as a formatting tactic to draw the reader’s attention.
Verbs are used to describe an action, state, or feeling, and can add real oomph to your CV. Use action verbs to convey what you did and what happened, showing yourself as the main protagonist in your career stories, rather than a passive observer. Here are a few examples in action:
- Accelerated revenue growth by 50% in 12 months by segmenting target markets
- Advanced relationships with 3 top-tier prospects, positioning Company A for contracts valued at £15m
- Attracted graduate talent to grow this new team to 20 members in 2 years
- Boosted team morale through new meetings and training opportunities, with 93% of staff giving positive feedback
- Carved out a £2k saving on travel by sourcing a local conference venue
- Doubled the oil and gas client portfolio in 6 months by generating and pursuing 150 leads
- Exceeded annual sales target by 13%, recognised within the top 5% of sales staff globally
- Generated a £5m sales pipeline through online and offline networking
- Influenced board members to trial a new mentoring system, resulting in retention and promotion of 3 graduate recruits
- Retained a portfolio of 11 key clients over 5 years, growing average account revenue by 30%
Aim to uplevel your choice of verbs as you progress through your career, relegating words like managed or led to junior roles, and saving more descriptive and powerful verbs for current and recent positions.
Adverbs are used to describe the verb. They usually end in ly e.g. expertly managed, effortlessly led. When it comes to writing your CV, your aim is to convey your message in as few words as possible, so that your reader isn’t disheartened by lengthy bullets or large blocks of text. Adverbs are ‘nice to have’ rather than ‘need to have’, and don’t usually make the edit. Aim for adverb-free brevity.
Personal pronouns reference specific people or things (I, me, mine, you, yours, his, he, her, she, it, we, they, them) and can replace a noun.
Using personal pronouns on a CV is a matter of personal choice. The CV is obviously about you, as your name is there at the top, so this eliminates the need for personal pronouns. However, personal pronouns can be used in the CV Profile: I have 10 years’ experience… I am a PRINCE2 project manager, etc.
Third person pronouns in their full form are a definite no-no for your CV. Writing he is an exceptional manager, for example, would make you seem self-important and raise eyebrows. Instead, many people prefer to omit the pronoun but continues in the first person narrative. For example, in your profile, you could describe yourself as follows: A PRINCE2 project manager with 10 years’ retail and logistics experience. To make life easier, start off by drafting the Profile in the first person narrative, then eliminate all pronouns for a snappier read.
Adjectives are used to describe nouns e.g. challenging project, flagship store, telling you more about that noun. On a CV, adjectives can be used sparingly, but their use should be challenged to ensure the CV is as easy and quick to read as it possibly can be.
Articles (a, an, the) are used before nouns to clarify if the noun is specific (the team, the award) or unspecific (a team, an award). In any case, they add little in the context of a CV. Tighten up your CV content by eliminating articles where possible.
Homophones are words that have the same pronunciation but different spellings and meanings. Examples include: their, they’re, and there; your and you’re; hear and here; brake and break; complement and compliment; dual and duel; principal and principle; and stationary and stationery.
Be wary of homophones on your CV, as using the wrong word can make you seem slapdash and indicate you lack attention to detail.
While handy for picking up obvious errors, the spellchecker will skip straight past homophones. It won’t sea how grate you’re spelling misdemeanours are on you’re knew CV – all it will sea is that you’ve spelled every word write.
For this reason, it’s a good idea to write your CV, put it to one side overnight and read it again with fresh eyes, preferably aloud. You are more likely to see incorrect homophones and hear when a passage is clumsy or hard to read. Enlisting the help of a third party or using an online tool like Grammarly to check your CV is also a good idea.
Something that people do a lot, when writing, is accidentally switch between tenses in the same sentence. Tenses need to be used consistently on your CV, don’t muddle them. Read each sentence aloud as it will be much easier to spot a switch in tense.
Listing your results and achievements in the past tense can be more dynamic, so we typically use the past tense in Experience section bullets, even within your current employment section. Your Profile can be written in the present tense, as it describes your offering to your target employer, outlining how you can help by using your specific skills and experience.
Usually, the numbers one to ten should be written in word format, with numbers over ten written as figures. However, the two formats should not be mixed. On a CV, it can look cleaner to use figures rather than words for all numbers.
Want to Ace Your CV?
Biscuits can help all sorts of situations, from tough negotiations through to revision sessions. They bring a comfort factor to the trickiest of scenarios, geeing people up and helping them through. Writing your CV is no exception. A biscuit or two (in moderation) can boost your mojo and help you along your way.
However, the biscuit I am considering now has a unique superpower that can improve your CV. Really. It’s the all-butter mini animal biscuit. These bite-size morsels are yummy, but they can also inspire some great CV content. It’s a win-win! You can be forgiven for thinking I’ve lost my marbles at this stage, but I can explain.
When my children were small, I’d often pop a bag of animal biscuits into my bag; they were perfect for a day trip – tasty and great to share. What’s more, they provided entertainment on long car journeys or during a picnic lunch. Our game was for two snackers to draw an animal biscuit from the bag, and assess which animal would win in a fight. A bit brutal, I guess, but the kids loved it.
The animals were drawn, and the fight called. Owl versus duck. Elephant versus camel. Monkey versus elephant. And so on. Whatever mammal or bird you pulled, your task was to assess its traits and work out how it could overcome its competitor. The powers of strength, agility, flight, intelligence, and size would be named and applied to win the virtual battle. It passed the time! Fast forward a few years, and the children have grown. The game is a fond family memory, but the premise can still be applied.
When writing your CV, use animal biscuits to improve your career stories, feeding powerful bullets that show your skills and results. Imagine yourself as a contender in the animal biscuit contest. What animal are you? What are your traits and strengths? Who or what is/was your opponent? How did you apply your natural abilities and acquired experience to overcome your competitor or challenge? Was it your ability to change that won you the promotion? Did your empathic approach help you to retain a sceptical client? Did your analytical skills allow you to negotiate a better deal?
Whatever you come up against in your career, your skills and strengths help you to triumph. To quote Oprah Winfrey, “Where there is no struggle, there is no strength.”
Be sure to tell the story on your CV, show the struggle, show your strength, and help the reader to visualise the battle’s turning point and point of victory.
Want to Ace Your CV?
Download my book, Ace Your CV, Elevate Your Career, on Kindle. Click on the book to view and order: