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How To Rock That CV ... Without The Drama

by Erika Darics 18th June 2019

Erika Darics offers advice for graduates on how they can improve their CVs to secure the job they want

As the teaching year is coming to an end, final year students turn their attention to filling in application forms and sending off CVs. With the job market becoming increasingly fierce, the impressions people create about themselves in CVs and application forms are critical in getting an invitation to that all important interview - and hopefully, securing the job!

Making a lasting impression using merely words on an application form, or some limited design choices on a CV, is no easy task, and as social media reports of shocking or unusual CVs seem to suggest it may even be downright impossible. These documents, as both research and popular anecdotes attest, may be skim read in only a matter of seconds, so there is a very limited time to make the right impact.

But while antics like printing the CV on a pizza box may land you a job in exceptional cases, well-thought out and well-written application documents may yield a much more reliable result.

Understanding how audiences work, the purpose of your texts and nuances of language may actually be your best bet. For example, instead of thinking about your application documents as texts that simply try to show (off) your career summaries and qualifications, consider them tools for impression management. This means strategically choosing – (and leaving out!) information that may be deemed critical, or irrelevant, for certain positions. Similarly, you may want to consider the impression non-job related information may convey: sadly, this is still an area where unconscious bias of the reader may have negative consequences and lead to discrimination.
The secret lies in being mindful of the impressions the information you include may create.
The secret lies in being mindful of the impressions the information you include may create. First, select information that persuades the recruiter not to dismiss the application in the first instance, but also leaving them wanting to know more about you. Second, be mindful how you present the information. Use abstraction to turn specific experiences to more general statements about the skillset you can bring to the job. Did you, for example, have to work on a group project during your studies? Did it allow you to gain team-working skills? Did you acquire strategies for efficient communication with team members, work allocation or working to a tight deadline? Or did you, perhaps, have to deal with an uncooperative team member, which allowed you to learn about managing problematic interpersonal situations?

Consider also the words you choose when describing your previous work experiences. Using nouns instead of verbs in these descriptions have been found to capture the recruiters’ attention more (Lipovsky, 2015). Saying: “working under pressure” instead of “I had to work under pressure”, or “organisation of events” instead of “I organised events” puts the emphasis on the skills and experience and allows you to order and prioritise these experiences to best respond to the recruiters’ needs.

And while the impressions recruiters form about applicants are based on the initial application documents, hiring decisions are often influenced by the broader impressions they gain based on the information available about you online. It is therefore important to be mindful of this information: both the type you consciously and willingly share online - we call this your digital footprint - or the information that concerns you but you have no control over, or in other words your digital shadow. There is no shortage of the horror stories and professional advice online about how problems related to your digital footprint or shadow can seriously damage your future career success. To avoid this, you may do a personal “brand audit” - basically searching what is available about you online and understanding your image that is conveyed through what is accessible - or perhaps what is missing!

Putting together a rocking application is by no means an easy task, but being mindful of the impressions you (want to) create about yourself and how to do this using linguistic and design choices online and off, can certainly help you in that endeavour.
Featured image credit: Photo taken by The Creative Exchange. Available on Unsplash via the Unsplash license.