How to list languages on your CV

How to list languages on your CV

In today’s global work environment, language skills are a draw for employers. Detailing your proficiency in desired languages can stand you apart from other similarly-qualified candidates.

When detailing languages on your CV, consider relevance to your target employer. If they have offices in the target country, and you happen to be fluent in that language, list it. On the other hand, if you are considering noting fledging language skills gained from a GCSE course studied a decade or two ago, think twice. Think about how language skills will be useful in your target role, then assess whether your skill level would equip you for that task. If it doesn’t, you may opt to leave them off, or state an intention to develop the required skills through specific training in a defined timescale. For example, if applying for a role based in Paris, stating that you have enrolled in a three-month Business French course is probably more informative than laying claim to conversational French.

If you have some language skills, but don’t wish to use up vital space on your CV, you could always save your language skills for LinkedIn, where a dedicated section is provided. LinkedIn should reflect and enhance the information provided on your CV, so it’s good to give a little more depth here.

How to Explain Language Proficiency

There isn’t a hard-and-fast rule about how to denote language skills. When listing a language on your CV you could categorise your competency as:

> Basic or beginner

> Conversational or intermediate

> Advanced or proficient

> Fluent, native, or mother tongue

You could also seek inspiration from LinkedIn, which classifies language aptitude levels as elementary proficiency, limited working proficiency, professional working proficiency, full professional proficiency, and native/bilingual proficiency.

Sell Don’t Tell

If your language skills are likely to resonate with your target employer, show them in action throughout your CV. If your languages will be really important to your next role, you could highlight your skills in your profile section by describing yourself as ‘fluent’, ‘multi-lingual’, or ‘bi-lingual’, for example. In your Experience section, give examples of your language skills in action, bringing them to life. For example, you could detail cost savings achieved through negotiations with German-speaking suppliers, or explain how you attracted 10 new prospects at an international trade show.

Honesty Is the Best Policy

Don’t oversell your language skills, as this could place you in a very embarrassing situation and, what’s more, compromise your integrity. Instead, as mentioned before, show commitment to securing the necessary skillsets by listing an appropriate ongoing training course.

Five types of word you should never use on your CV

Five types of word you should never use on your CV

Although words aren’t the only ingredient you’ll use to create your CV, let’s face it, without them it is just a blank sheet of paper. Words are pretty important in this context and your choice of words plays a huge role in making your CV either weak or wow.

What’s more, there’s quite a quantity of words you’ll need to select and string together to create a compelling career document. The word count of last three CVs I have written has ranged between 878 and 1027 words. That’s a whole heap of choices.

I admit, it’s not an easy task to choose the right words, ones that can carry forward your career aspirations until you have the opportunity to speak them in person. This week’s blog outlines some groups of words you should either treat with caution or give a wide berth.

#1 Slang

I love to hear the latest word on the street, whether I learn it from my 12-year-old, witness it online, or furtively clarify a term I’ve come across in the urban dictionary. Personally, I think it’s great that the English language is constantly evolving to accommodate and describe the changing world around us. In the last year, words like ‘tekkers’, ‘bae’, and ‘clean eating’ have crept into our household vocabulary, and they make me smile, but that doesn’t mean they should ever appear in a professional communication like a CV.

Slang can confuse the reader, and may be misinterpreted. Make sure your CV is ‘on fleek’ by using clear, appropriate, and professional language. Your words should be instantly recognisable, appropriate in context, and easily understandable to anyone reading your CV.

#2 Clichés

Using clichés on your CV is lazy, and does nothing to differentiate you from other applicants. It’s boring for the recruiter to read the same trite lines over and over, and it’s a missed opportunity to build your personal brand. Instead of saying you’re a hard-working team player, think about what really stands you apart, and express that in your CV profile. Outlining your unique strengths will make your CV more appealing than stringing together overused buzzwords. Jennifer Holloway recently wrote an excellent article about the difference between strengths and skills, you can check it out here.

#3 Negative or bland wording

Your CV is your opportunity to convey your prowess, passion, and potential to your target employer. It needs to carry forward your career hopes and dreams before you can make a more interactive face-to-face or verbal impression on the hiring manager. There is absolutely no place for negative or bland language on your CV.

You may feel compelled to explain a negative situation on your CV, but lengthy explanations of adverse circumstances can talk you out of an interview before you’ve even begun. Keep your CV positive, keep any explanations short and simple, and instead use your CV as it should be used – to showcase your positive traits and experience.

A lack of career confidence can sometimes seep onto a CV, resulting in a shy, restrained, and unassuming presentation that is unlikely to inspire or interest anyone reading it. Fear of bragging can also inhibit CV language choices. The results make an uninspiring read.

A negative or bland CV is not worth the paper it’s written on. This is your career, you’ve worked it, you’ve achieved it, now you need to use it to move forward. Be confident and own your history and achievements, and narrate your message in an assured and buoyant way.

#4 Words you don’t understand

When writing your CV, it can be tempting to up-level your language. It’s a bit like using your ‘telephone voice’ when answering your business line, your intention is to make a positive first impression. However, tread with caution. You don’t want to use words that you don’t fully understand, or ones that actually weaken your authenticity. Keep it real by using words you are comfortable speaking as well as writing.

#5 Words the reader won’t understand

It may seem natural to select words from your verbal vocabulary, but do check that your language is commonly recognised before hitting the send button. You may not give a second thought to including words you use in everyday speech, but are they real words and do they mean what you think they mean? Now’s the time to check. In speech, people often use words out of context, so it’s worth taking the time to check their legitimacy, relevance, and accepted meaning.

Enlist the help of several reviewers to check that your words make total sense. If your review panel questions one of your words, consider switching it for a more common term.

Acronyms fall under this category. Acronyms can easily become part of your day-to-day language at work, and it’s easy to assume that others outside your current circle will understand their meaning. If you really need to use acronyms on your CV, take time to explain them first, e.g. Management Information (MI), then you can confidently abbreviate all subsequent mentions.

Should you drop your career back story?

Should you drop your career back story?

Everyone has a back story, right? But, does the recruiter or hiring manager need to read about it on your CV?

It depends.

When you are starting out, your CV will be made up of any experience you can lay your hands on. This initial experience is the foundation you build your career on. Every grain of practice and know-how is mustered on your CV, forming the bedrock for your future career. “Look, here’s where I come from”, your CV might say. “This is why you should hire me.”

Whether you present an internship, work experience, graduate scheme, or part-time role held whilst completing your education on your CV, it helps to build a picture of dedication and progression. These experiences might be your step one of the ladder, showing how you are ready for step two or three.

Throughout my GCSEs, A Levels, and degree, I took on a plethora of part-time roles, from bartender to mushroom picker to cleaner at a psychiatric hospital, and more – too many to list. I’m proud of my early work history, and each role was valuable in its own way. They are my back story and the backbone of my early CVs. But should they be on my CV now? Hell, no.

The problem I have is that sometimes, years down the line, professionals are still allocating too much attention to their step one, when they have climbed five, 10, or 15 more steps since. In this scenario, their step one can take up valuable CV space and actually distract from the relevant skills and experience they are showcasing to attain their next big role.

Nowadays, it’s common practice to detail the last 10 to 15 years of work history on your CV. After all, what you’ve done in the last decade, or decade and a half, will probably define you better than what you did at the very start of your career. The exception would be if you are seeking to change career or industry, and need to draw on your oldest experience to make your case.

Here are some signs you need to edit your back story on your CV:

You now have a string of meaty roles to add, all of which support your career target. Make sure you don’t compromise roles that are actually likely to pique interest and secure you an interview, just in the interest of keeping a part-time role you worked whilst studying.

Your back story no longer adds anything to your case. Putting yourself in the reader’s shoes, ask yourself ‘So what?’ about your back story. If it doesn’t support your case for employment, cut it out.

Your back story is a distraction. If your back story distracts from your current professional persona and message, or compromises your credibility, then ditch it. Consider if your next employer needs to know about it to hire you. If not, it no longer deserves a space on your CV.

You keep getting calls about more junior roles. If this is the case, your back story is shouting louder than your current career story, and needs to go.

You have run out of space. Keeping to two pages is challenging at the best of times, more so when your career history spans 15 years or more.

It’s also worth remembering that paring down your back story once may not be enough. Your career stories need to be edited, constantly, to make sure you are presenting the most powerful and compelling evidence to support your next step. Showing steps one, two, and three of your ladder in detail is no use if five, six, and seven are sketchily outlined, and you’re hoping to move to step eight. For example, to select me as your CV writer, you don’t really need to know about my first proper job in the mail order department of Frank Smythson Ltd. I bet you’d much rather read about what I can do for you or view testimonials from others who have used my service.


Regularly revisit the story you tell and make sure you are starting it off at the right place to effectively showcase your career crescendo, the pinnacle of your career, which shows your suitability, qualification, and readiness for your target role. Think about what the recruiter or hiring manager needs to see to take positive action, then present that on your CV.

Saying this, I do realise that some people are unwilling to shut down their back story, as they feel it gives meaningful context to their career and achievements. If you feel that your back story helps to frame who you are, then why not allude to it in your CV’s profile, or in the generous 2,000-character Summary section on LinkedIn. This Summary is the perfect place to give more context, and gives you the space you need to present your who, why, what, when, and how.

Photo on your UK CV? Yes or no?

Photo on your UK CV? Yes or no?

I would estimate that one in every 20 CVs I review features a photo of the subject. These CVs are often from new or recent graduates, and picture them wearing a full mortar board and gown. I can see the logic – after all nothing says ‘graduate’ like the iconic mortar board. Also, it may be one of the few photos possessed that’s not a selfie, a group shot, or snapped after happy hour at the student union.

Even professionals can fall prey to the temptation of including a photo on their CV. If their company has splashed out on some corporate headshots, or they’ve been snapped looking smart at a wedding, it can seem like a logical and genius idea to use the flattering image in a professional context, but here’s why they shouldn’t.

In the UK, photos are not a standard CV feature, so I wouldn’t recommend including a photo unless it has been specifically requested, or you work in an industry where photos are the norm, such as modelling or television. If you’re seeking a role in front of the camera, then include a photo, otherwise leave it off.

Featuring a photo as part of your presentation can make recruiters uneasy, opening up concerns about age, race, disability, or gender discrimination, to name but a few. It could be seen to compromise the fair and non-discriminatory nature of the recruitment process.

It could also distract the recruiter from the skills and achievements showcased on your CV, which present your case for employment. In this professional context, it’s better to be judged on your experience than your face.

It may even cause a negative first impression, if the reader makes a snap judgement that you must be vain or self-absorbed.

It’s a slightly contrary topic, because a photo is a key requirement for your LinkedIn profile, which is arguably one of the first places recruiters will go to research you. However, I’d say it’s best to follow best practice in this case, and leave a photo off your CV, whilst making sure an engaging and professional photo is a key feature of your LinkedIn presence and other social media profiles.

Here’s a cautionary photo-related tale, warning of the perils of being remembered for the wrong reasons.

Over the course of my career, I have seen thousands of CVs; long ones, short ones, intentionally funny ones, unintentionally funny ones, ones that have made me sit up and take notice, and ones that have made me slump in my seat and sigh. Yet one CV sticks in my mind as the weirdest one I ever saw.

The candidate in question was a young and ambitious graduate (as I was saying!) seeking an entry-level role to get her career off the ground. Nothing new there. But what really stood out was the photo she included on her CV. The photo portrayed the individual in full riding regalia including hat, jodhpurs, boots, and crop (though my memory and vivid imagination might have embellished that last bit). She had posed for the camera in a very formal dining room, positioned against a cabinet of glassware.

The choice of photo was just so bizarre. The job she was applying for did not require this dress code; it was based in an office rather than an equestrian venue. I found it incomprehensible, and it raised so many more questions than it answered.

Why would this individual send such a photo?

What message was she trying to portray?

Was I missing something?

In hindsight, I imagine she was trying to portray herself as someone dedicated to her sport, with all the values that keen sportsmen and women hold dear, and which translate well into a working environment. She looked keen, clean and presentable, she was smartly dressed (even if it was a peculiar choice given the scenario), and had obviously spent some time trying to get her photo just right. But it just didn’t work. It was confusing.

Years later, it’s the photo that sticks in my mind, not the individual’s name or skillsets. I have often wondered what happened to this applicant, but I am sure she has gone on to have a very successful career, perhaps in show jumping.

To recap, do splash out on some professional headshots. You’ll be needing those for LinkedIn and your other online profiles. Don’t, however, be tempted to include your avatar on your CV.

Why your CV and LinkedIn profile MUST tally

Why your CV and LinkedIn profile MUST tally

Would someone who decides to search for you on LinkedIn, having read your CV, be able to quickly identify your profile from the search results? Once they have clicked through, would they be clear and confident that the profile relates to one and the same person presented by the CV? Not sure? Log out of your LinkedIn account and conduct a search for your name, as presented on your CV.

If the above rings true, I’d recommend that you address the issue. Here’s why.

One of the very first things I will do when writing someone’s CV is to search for them on LinkedIn. I do this with the hope that I will uncover more about that person’s career history and professional focus, bringing their story to life. I’m not the only one applying this tactic. In 2014, Jobvite’s survey found that 94% of recruiters use LinkedIn as a means to source and vet potential candidates. If they didn’t find you on LinkedIn in the first place, the person looking at your CV will no doubt search for you on LinkedIn, using your presence to verify your career history and discover more about your potential fit.

Unfortunately, the candidate in question isn’t always easily identifiable in the initial search results, when they could and should be. I often resort to clicking through to countless profiles, my eyes straining to see if one of those returned is the one I’m looking for. Personally, I’m happy to persevere to find my client’s profile, but recruiters work for their clients, not jobseekers, and the time-pressured task of sourcing the right candidate won’t allow them the same approach.

It doesn’t have to be this way. If your profile uses a clear LinkedIn headline, and is complemented with an accurate industry description, then it should be quick and easy for others to identify and select your profile.

Another problem is that, having deduced which is the right profile, the information presented within hardly ever completely tallies with that on the person’s CV. Although there should be some differences between your CV and LinkedIn profile, the differences I see most often are not the ones I would recommend. Your LinkedIn profile offers the opportunity to add depth to your career history – through a personalised and detailed 2000-character summary, interactive multi-media elements, projects, and voluntary roles – aspects that you may have been unable to include on your CV. These elements offer a great opportunity for candidates to stand out on LinkedIn, supporting and advancing their case for employment. Instead, the differences I most often see are the ones that confuse the hell out of me, forcing me to ask myself if I am really looking at the right candidate.

The main culprit? Inconsistency in career timelines. As I scan between a CV and the corresponding LinkedIn profile, I’ll often notice the dates are completely different, making it difficult to understand the career timeline. However, an inconsistent career timeline is not the only distraction. Here are some of the differences, small and large, that frequently crop up:

differences in the months and years the individual started and finished their employment with a particular company;

omissions of roles included on the CV;

addition of roles NOT included on the CV;

a headline that conveys a different career specialism or target (no headline is even worse!); or

a summary section that conveys a different career specialism or target (again, no summary is even worse).

It may seem like I’m being pernickety but, believe me, these things have to tally between your CV and LinkedIn profile. If not, it’s very confusing for the person trying to marry the two. I suspect that these differences occur because the individual hasn’t created their CV and LinkedIn profile at one and the same time. In reality, they may not even have had their CV to hand when populating their LinkedIn profile, and never got round to making sure the content was aligned.

There may not seem much harm in guestimating dates and so on when filling out your LinkedIn profile for the first time but, believe me, for someone looking at your CV and LinkedIn side by side, it can be a confusing experience. More than just being confused, if the viewer is assessing your suitability for a role, they may come to some incorrect and unwelcome conclusions about you. Here’s a small list:

You are slapdash. Not taking the time to present a consistent professional image could signify you are not detail-focused. Attention to detail is a desirable trait for jobseekers, so this could definitely count against you.

You don’t care or are not serious about your job search. Serious candidates will ensure that their CV and LinkedIn profile are aligned.

You don’t understand LinkedIn. Not using LinkedIn to its full advantage may indicate that you aren’t particularly tech-savvy – that you don’t comprehend the platform’s functionality or how to use it.

These unwanted conclusions are avoidable. Head them off at the pass by taking the time to align your CV and LinkedIn profile today.   If you are keen to optimise your LinkedIn profile, and use the platform to your advantage, then why not order LinkedIn Explained?

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Curriculum Vitae of the CV

Curriculum Vitae of the CV

As a CV writer, I am naturally interested in the history of the CV, and loved reading the National Career Service’s infographic on the evolution of the CV from its early origins in 1482 to its present day. Taking the theme further, I wanted to add a little more depth to the conversation, based on my own family’s involvement with the CV. So, what do you do when you have a burning question? You ask your dad, of course.

Back in the day, my dad managed a Jobcentre. Given his line of work, you could say that he was the family’s first CV expert, so to speak. I recently quizzed him about how the CV has evolved over the past 40 years (a statement which makes him sound a lot older than he actually is). Here’s what he told me.

When were you first aware of CVs being used and how?

CVs were first used for executive posts and, as the labour market deteriorated in the 1980s, they became commonplace for job applications in other white collar fields. During this period, it was no longer as easy to simply walk from one job to the next. There was a shortage of advertised vacancies, and more people contacted employers on a speculative basis for job opportunities.

Jobseekers made speculative visits to a potential employer, hand-delivering their CV. Postage was the other main option. Fax was rarely used.

As the decade progressed, CVs became more prevalent as a means to present your skills and experience in a succinct and favourable light.

What were CVs like in the early days?

CVs in their early form listed work experience, qualifications, and interests. Lack of technology meant that many were hand-written or typed up by a friend. As the 80s progressed and unemployment rose, more and more employers requested a CV as a means to sift a high volume of applicants.

During this period, job search assistance became more readily available. Jobcentres offered literature and advice to help candidates draw up simple CVs. Individuals who had been unemployed for over 13 weeks were eligible to have job search costs (postage, fax) paid for by the Jobcentre.

How did CVs evolve during the late 1980s and 1990s?

In the 1990s, CV applications became standard practice for blue-collar and manual trades. Many jobseekers secured interviews based on their CVs, not necessarily for an advertised vacancy. A good candidate might prompt an employer to recruit and thereby save the costs of a recruiting exercise.

With the advent of new IT and communications, people became more proficient in writing a CV and more employers used the CV to sift applicants.

With the introduction of competency testing, CVs needed to be tailored to meet requested competency examples. Evolving IT made editing CVs much easier, allowing candidates to easily tailor their CVs for different applications.

Thanks, Dad, for those interesting insights.

Where his story tails off, my own story begins so I thought I’d add my own thoughts on how the CV has changed in my lifetime, and changed my life. 

When did I first use a CV?

As soon as I was old enough, at the age of 14, I applied for a Saturday job at the local shoe shop, Freeman, Hardy & Willis. I have to be honest, I can’t remember using a CV, but I think I must have had one in my hand as I made my enquiry, one day after school. This was the first in a long line of character-forming, part-time jobs, which I held throughout my secondary and tertiary education. The first time I can remember using a CV to apply for a role was for a job in a tearoom, which I secured despite oversleeping on the day of my interview! Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, I can’t recall what it was like.

I started to create a CV in earnest once I had finished my three-year degree course in May/June 1997. Looking back, this was shockingly late to start! I can remember typing my CV on an electronic word processor, which was extremely laborious, but worth the effort. I have to confess, I had hardly any experience in using computers. I had used the word processor for my degree coursework and dissertation, and never really ventured into the library at university to use a PC. My first encounter with an actual computer was on the first day of my first real, full-time job.

Anyway, I digress. I’m pretty sure I consulted some CV books to ensure my CV followed the correct protocol. Luckily for me, the first ever guide to writing CVs had been published in 1984, so there was some advice around to help me with the process. I knocked out my CV and, after a few months, secured a job.

My husband and I moved in together the following year, and invested in a Gateway computer, purchased from the shop in Covent Garden. I used this to create a better CV and secured three successive roles, having learnt to tailor my CV for different applications. I can remember using colour on my CV, a trend which has now come back to some extent in 2015.

When did I first start writing CVs for other people?

I remember helping my husband with his CV, but my CV writing ramped up at work when I was required to tailor consultants’ CVs to win new business. In my next role, I worked in bid management, writing CVs for inclusion in $multi-million sales proposals. My work involved presenting the expertise and achievements of global staff to secure high profile contracts. When I left on maternity leave in 2003, I started to form the idea that I could take these skills and use them to start my own business.

How did the CV change my life?

Writing CVs has truly changed my life by giving me a focus for my business, which I am proud to say has now been running for over a decade.

During my lifetime, I’ve witnessed the CV’s evolution from a functional document to a powerful marketing tool, which can inspire confidence, open doors, and change lives – not only mine, but those of my customers.

When did you first write or use a CV? Has your CV evolved much over the years or is it in desperate need of a refresh? If so, you know where to come! Check out my CV services here.