CVs can be a tricky balance. If you’ve been raised to downplay your successes, then selling yourself on your CV may not come naturally to you. Then, in a concentrated effort to blow your own trumpet, it can be easy to go too far the other way and come across as fake. The key is to aim for the sweet spot in the middle, listing your skills, experience and achievements honestly, but presenting them in their very best light. Here are the dos and don’ts of how to sell yourself on your CV without going overboard.
Do: Show rather than tell
Anything you write on your CV is your opinion without evidence, so it’s essential to back up statements with facts. Think about your key achievements—these could be related to income, processes, delivered services or completed projects—and then quantify these with numbers wherever you can. For example, ‘reduced purchasing costs by 48% from the previous year’ sounds concrete and competent. ‘Reduced costs more than any previous year’ sounds like boasting.
Ever worked with someone who thinks they know everything? Don’t be that person. Anyone can say they’re an excellent designer/communicator/project manager (and most people do!), so it means very little. Bragging statements won’t win you any favour with the hiring panel, so if you wouldn’t feel comfortable saying something in an interview, don’t include it on your CV.
Do: Be specific
Explain exactly what that means rather than saying ‘experienced team leader’. For example: ‘successfully managed a team of six people to exceed annual sales target by 8%.’ Or ‘responsible for £500,000 R&D budget which was never overspent.’ This gives the recruiter a better idea of your previous responsibilities and the level at which you’re currently working.
Don’t: Be vague or subjective
Being vague can cause recruiters to question if you’re being truthful or raise suspicion about what you’ve achieved. So, explain if you have a noticeable gap in your knowledge, skills or employment history. If you were part of a team that achieved something, state precisely what your role or involvement was. Don’t stuff your CV with superfluous words like ‘passionate’, ‘creative’ or ‘conscientious’. We’re not saying don’t use them, but do it sparingly. Instead, present facts so recruiters can make up their minds.
Do: Present evidence
Gather evidence for your CV by keeping notes on your performance and achievements at work throughout the year. List any awards, nominations or special recognition you’ve received and save any positive feedback or endorsements from colleagues or customers. Have you obtained relevant qualifications, training or membership in any professional bodies? Reference these to help showcase your knowledge and commitment.
Using actual data and facts and letting others speak for you is much more objective and believable than your opinion alone.
Don’t: Exaggerate or lie
Sometimes it can be tempting to exaggerate, or even lie, on a CV for a job you really want. But if it doesn’t get you immediately removed from the shortlist when recruiters spot it, it will likely get you into trouble at some point during the role. It won’t help your career in the long run and isn’t worth it. If you’re lacking something for a particular role, then rather than stretch the truth, show how you’d transfer your previous experience to this environment and fill the gap.
Do: Be authentic
Not being true to yourself is unlikely to lead to happiness and success in a job, so if you’re offered a role based on a different version of yourself, how can you be the real you while doing it? Trust in yourself and be honest about your work difficulties and how you’ve overcome them. This will show you to be humble and authentic. If you really want the job and are a good match for it, then your CV will naturally shine without you creating a false image of yourself.
Don’t: Try to be perfect
You want to present yourself as a strong candidate, but don’t try to come across as perfect. You don’t want a potential employer to think you’re arrogant, that you’d have nothing to learn in the role or that your tremendous enthusiasm to progress means you’d be looking for the next promotion after a few months. Show awareness of your strengths and weaknesses and that you’d have room to grow in the role they’re recruiting.
It can be easy to slip into overselling yourself on your CV, but remember to be specific and authentic and use facts as evidence of your skills and experience. Then you can sell yourself to recruiters without bragging.
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