Be honest, how many of you have ever used these words and phrases in a job application: team player, proven track record, passionate, dynamic and motivated? Many rely on terms like this when writing CVs, standouts and covering letters, but you may want to stop since these are the top five words employers and recruiters find dull and obvious.

So how can you perk up your CV and covering letter by avoiding terms we all use? Listen closely to Jan Dekker, a creative director at The Writer, the writing and brand language consultancy responsible for O2’s tone of voice.

“We’ve convinced ourselves that we need to use stock phrases like ‘team player’, ‘committed’ and ‘proven track record’ but these terms make the people reading applications zone out,” he explains. “People forget that when you apply for a job you’re in competition and your covering letter and CV are in a pile recruiters have to get through in a short space of time. The purpose of the CV and application isn’t to get a job, but to get an interview. You need to make them feel you’re worth spending time on, so make yourself sound interesting,” he says.

Here are his top tips for writing a CV and covering letter that’ll get you noticed:


Read it out loud: if it doesn’t sound like you then it needs changing. Remember, you don’t have to sound formal, and if you can’t say it out loud with a straight face then change it. Make sure you sound like you as a person, not how you think you should sound. Just come across as a human being; be concise and to the point. Also, try to picture a real person when you’re writing. It’ll help you shed some that stuffiness people often bring to job applications. Some people think sounding human isn’t professional, but communicating in a professional way just means getting the point across in a clear and engaging way.


Try not to rely on adjectives. Instead, say something that shows the adjective is true. For instance, instead of ‘proficient user of Excel’, say ‘I got the school hockey club’s finances straight by putting them in a spreadsheet’. You’ll be more convincing if you can tell a story.


Don’t make your font size tiny to fit your work history onto two pages and don’t format it with massive, unreadable paragraphs. The structure can put people off before you even read it, so bear that in mind.


You may not have had a job but you may have done things that make you attractive to an employer, like run a school club or done an internship. What did those experiences teach you? You don’t need your life story from the beginning: just what you’ve learned along the way starting from now.


If you send out the same blanket application to hundreds of people, the received wisdom says you’ll get at least a few interviews. But you may not get any, which can be soul-destroying. Increase your chances by tailoring your CV and covering letter. For instance, use the personal statement to show you’ve thought about how you and what you do well are a good match for what the business does. You’ll hook your reader just by doing that. Then, keep them reading by following the other tips.

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