STOP! Remove That Word From Your CV

Many moons ago, I wrote an entire blog post about my strong dislike for a word. (It was so long ago, the post no longer exists.) That word was ‘passionate’. 

It’s a word that, to this day, has the same effect on my brain as the sound of nails being slowly drawn down a chalk board.

It’s not so much the word itself that bothers me as how much it is overused, to the point its meaning has become diluted. And it seems that, all these years later, I’m not the only one it’s rubbing up the wrong way. 

Our survey says

An online resource for job-hunters, Resume.io, consulted 562 hiring managers across several popular industries in the UK, to discover the words they most dislike seeing on CVs. It then analysed CVs from its database to find out how frequently those words were used.

‘Passionate’ appeared in sixth place in the list, with over 4,000 appearances on the CVs analysed, and over 50% of recruiters saying it was a turn-off.

Top of the no-no list though was ‘best’, disliked by 76% of recruiters who felt it indicates a strong ego and sense of self-importance, closely followed by ‘motivated’ (71%), ‘dedicated’ (69%) and ‘proven’ (65%).

So what’s the alternative?

Maybe you’re reading this thinking, “Hold on…I’ve got a number of those words on my CV. What should I do?” Well, as I’m a generous gal, I’m offering you these three alternatives:

1. Remove the word entirely

There are different schools of thought for what makes a good CV, but the one I follow was taught to me by founder of The CV House, Janet Moran. I’ve worked with her on a number of occasions and one of the overriding things I’ve learnt is a CV should be entirely objective, not subjective.

How that works in practice is to remove any adjectives that are simply your take on how you do something, but aren’t backed up by fact or examples. For instance, if you say you’re ‘passionate about accounting’ how are you proving that? By including a photo of you in a tight embrace with a tax return???

2. Find a different word

If you feel your CV won’t be complete without the odd adjective of two, at least go to the effort of finding words that aren’t the same-old/same-old everyone else is using.

I’m a huge fan of a Thesaurus and use it all the time to pep up my communications. So if you definitely want to convey your passion for your work, how about saying ‘I get a buzz from…’ or ‘I get energised by…’ or ‘I have a zeal for…’ (Although I’d still refer you back to my first tip when it comes to writing stuff like that on a CV.)

3. Use your personal statement wisely

As I said, there are different schools of thought for CVs, one of which says you should start with a personal statement. But what usually happens is people write a string of adjectives about the sort of worker they are, all of which are subjective (I refer you once again to my first tip.)

That said, it is a good idea to provide a summary at the start of your CV so that, if a recruiter reads nothing more than that first paragraph, they’ve got a handle on what you have to offer.

The way to do that effectively and avoid turning off the reader is to write a paragraph setting out your career history in its most stripped back form. As an example, when Janet wrote my CV, here’s how she précised my career:

Author, specialist coach and experienced public speaker on the subject of personal branding, backed by a corporate career in PR/media relations within financial services, healthcare and utilities. Working with FTSE 100 companies and high street brands, both in the UK and Europe, delivering one-to-one, plus workshops and webinars.

There you have it. All you need to know about my 30+ years of work in two sentences. And not a single ‘passionate’, ‘motivated’ or ‘dedicated’ in sight.

What words get you gritting your teeth when you see them on a CV or elsewhere? Or do you think being subjective on a CV works? As ever, there’s a comment box waiting below for you to give it some love and attention by sharing your views. Thank you!

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2 responses to “STOP! Remove That Word From Your CV”

  1. Tony O says:

    A great read, thank you Jennifer. Top of my CV clichee list is “excellent”. If anyone puts that on their CV- and they are fortunate to get past the initial screen even with that- then in interview I always ask them how they came to that conclusion. Are they the best in the world or the best person on their street at whatever they are claiming? Totally agree that you ought not to place a value judgement on your own work, you should let the reader do that. Thanks for the prompts about personal statements too, a useful reminder for me to take my own advice.

    • Jennifer Holloway says:

      Ooh yes…excellent is a good one to avoid. As for taking one’s own advice, well, we’re all guilty of forgetting to do so from time to time! 🙂

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