Striking the right tone in a CV
By Mary O’Brien, Career Coach, Sli Nua Careers (Claremorris)
Q: I’ve been here two weeks writing my CV. Starting, stopping, going away, getting a second opinion, restarting, and getting more opinions, and now I feel like I’m almost back to where I started. My problem is I can’t find what I would deem to an appropriate tone for my CV. If I big it up too much, I feel self-conscious; if I dumb it down too much, I feel as if I am under-selling myself. Woe is me. What are thoughts on what might be an appropriate tone? (JT, email)
A: This is a very interesting question because the reality is we cannot use our speaking voice when writing formal documents – and this can cause some of the problems you mention.
When we pull it back – or dumb it down, as you say – we are asking too much of the recruiter or the employer. Hiding your best stuff means that the recruiter must reach certain conclusions without compelling evidence – and in an economy where there is significant competition for jobs, recruiters might just not bother. They have more CVs in the e-pile and other candidates who won’t obscure their good qualities, experience and talents.
When you go too far with the formal approach, it can appear cold, impersonal, unnatural and even false.
The first thing to accept is that you must alter your style in some way to move away from your day-to-day speaking voice. The trick is not to so dramatically alter it that it ceases to be you. Rather you should aim for a professional and thoughtful summary of what you have done in your career to date, what skills you possess, what attributes you embody, and, perhaps more subtly, what you intend to do in the future.
So while you would not be likely to say down the pub tonight that “I possess outstanding communication skills”, you might deem that to be something you would include your CV. The phrase “I adhere to the maxim that a job worth doing is worth doing well” is another that might struggle to escape your lips in an informal setting, but it might still make it into your CV.
In your case JT, I would incline more towards the formal end. Don’t over-cook it. But it’s time now to make a decision. Sign it off for now and let it off out into the world to do its job. Sever the apron strings.
It is only by sending out your CV, and getting feedback in the form of interview calls, or not, that you learn whether or not your CV is doing the business.
Whichever way you go, I would strongly urge you to back up any claims in your CV with firm evidence. So you say you have excellent communication skills: prove it. When did you show them? Did you do presentations in your last job? Were you selected to represent the company at a major conference? Did you persuade colleagues, customers, Government agencies or others with the power of your communications?
Claims you make must be substantiated or else they run the risk of being empty – and, in that case, they will die on the paper.
Mary O’Brien-Killeen is a Career Coach with Sli Nua Careers in Claremorris, Co. Mayo.
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