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The art of CVs. Avoid the cliches!

Updated: Jan 13, 2022

A study of CVs highlighted the most used words by candidates. It underlined a key thing I emphasise to clients; as a journalist you are encouraged to avoid cliche, so why not do the same in your applications and in your CV? This study picked out the following words/phrases as the most common: motivated, initiative, social, organised, friendly, leader, experienced, hard working, outgoing, driven.

Let’s take ‘leader’ as the first example. If you are indeed a leader your CV and ‘experience’ will demonstrate that. So you don’t have to say it. And this is a recurring theme for Cvs and applictaions more broadly. When working on a CV I encourage the client to pick out examples of work (at any stage, school, university and in the work place) to show that you can do something. Media is all about demonstrable skills, so it is not enough just to say you are a leader. Demonstrate it.

The key thing to also bear in mind, is that no one ever says the opposite to things like ‘team player’ or the likes of 'driven, friendly and motivated'. Including them is almost pointless. If you are a team player, then once again, demonstrate it.

Outgoing is a strange inclusion in this list. What people are trying to achieve by saying this baffles me. I don’t really know what it means or what it adds. If someone is very outgoing there maybe some value for certain jobs but generally it’s not a particular strength for jobs.

The word on that list which should be avoided by recent graduates in particular is 'experienced'. You are not experienced in very much at all in your early twenties and you certainly won’t be an experienced journalist. I suggest a minimum of ten years work before you start using that word in applications.

‘Social’ came third in the list above with the researchers arguing that people are keen to highlight that they can get on with others but I don’t think that’s the case at all. I imagine it’s more to do with social media. And if you are applying for a job in the media then talking about social media is crucial. Rather than use the generic term 'social media' though, be specific. Highlight what platforms you use and how you do that as a journalist. Show how you can use Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok for content, but also demonstrate how you understand the audience for each is different and what that means for content. If you’ve published stories on these platforms, it will add value to the application.

Adding demonstrable skills to an application and CV makes you more interesting and will lead to better interviews and conversations with potential employers. I always say to clients “if you can’t make yourself interesting on paper then what does that say for your writing skills generally”. But people find it hard to write about themselves. Therefore asking others for help and guidance makes sense. Always get someone else to look over your CV, to check for mistakes and to see if you are under valuing yourself and your skills. Most of all though, avoid the cliches and demonstrate those skills! Good luck with your applications.


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