Shining a new light on your core skills, our weekly column from various Irish newspapers

Q: I read everywhere that you need to know your strengths, and that only through knowing them can a candidate highlight them in their CV. It sounds grand and dandy: but I just can’t find the language to express mine. I ran my own business for 20 years. It was very successful and even limped on for a few years after the famous big bang. I did everything in the business. But the sector is dead in the water, and I don’t have a clue how to use that experience in my CV. Any advice would be welcome. (KL, email).

A: You’re not alone, KL. Many people face similar difficulties. In my experience, people tend not to reflect on their own experiences in a broad way – they look solely at the work they carried out, and struggle to see what bigger story it tells.

Find yourself nodding to some of the following phrases and you could have fresh language and insights for your CV:

I am a good verbal communicator.

I am good written communicator.

I have good interpersonal skills.

I have real ability in the area of managing people.

I can solve problems with workarounds and fresh approaches.

I have good numeracy skills.

I evaluate and analyse information easily.

I have strong IT skills.

I negotiate effectively.

I can influence others.

I have a commitment to learning new things.

I enjoy the challenge of developing new business.

I am a good salesperson.

I give good customer support.

I control quality well – nothing goes out the door without me ensuring it is ready to go.

I understand business.

I manage projects well.

I manage my own time well.

I know how to prioritise projects.

I am good at improving the process.

What you should notice about the list above is that is focuses not on hard skills – be they plastering, book-keeping or teaching – but on the personal competencies and behaviours that ride above those. All of the above are needed in a wide variety of industries, and by identifying the ones you possess, you should be able to put them in front of an employer in your CV.

Strive to be as concrete as you can. If you say you ‘negotiate effectively’, add proof. “Evidence of my negotiation skills lies in the fact that I was the lead person in negotiating an annual deal with {ABC Ltd}.”

Accompany all claims with proof. Anyone can say “I enjoy the challenge of developing new business.” It’s the person who can coolly add evidence from the past who really makes an impression.

It’s galling to see good candidates under-sell themselves by not putting in the relevant evidence. This is quite common. If you want the employer to know that you manage projects well, tell them just that, and list some projects that you managed well.

If you’re in the same boat as KL, this might be a time for some self-assessment. To help you along, we have two pieces of resource material that might interest you – a Core Competency Inventory and an IT Skills Inventory. To obtain both, email with ‘inventories’ in the subject line. Not alone will these help you identify strengths, they will also help you to identify weaknesses or shortcomings that you can set about resolving.

Sli Nua Careers ( have offices in Galway, Dublin, Limerick, and Ballinrobe, Co. Mayo. Their services include CV preparation, interview training and career direction. For more details, visit