Writing an application, personal statement or CV? Phrases to avoid…

Here are some overused phrases that we see again and again on applications, personal statements and CVs that actually don’t add value to the writing. Your word count in these documents is precious! Make the most of every word you use to show you in the best light.

“I’m an out of the box thinker”.  A cliché as worn thin as a dollar bill in Cuba. Especially not to be used when trying to demonstrate what an original and creative thinker you are.

“I would relish the opportunity”.  Always be wary of using language that you wouldn’t normally use.  Someone opportunity relishing has a craven ‘eager-to-please’ quality that grates.

“From an early age.”  People use this because they want to demonstrate they have a vocation – an undoubtedly good thing.  This phrase though makes employers  worried that  you fastened on your career when you were six years old and haven’t really investigated anything else.  Consider instead what you want to have achieved by the end of a career and that will tell you what is motivating you.

“Honed these skills” – is this something to do with carpentry or metalwork? Whatever, it’s limping in only just ahead of the ‘out the box’ thinking. ‘Developed’ is better than honed. Now don’t all start using ‘developed’  because that will become a cliché as well.

“Hardworking, enthusiastic and a fast-learner” – err..you mean you don’t have enough skills or experience but you can make up for it by bouncing around the office, probably with relish?  These qualities are almost a given in today’s job applicant. Instead you need to tell employers what skills and experience you have and provide the evidence to convince them.

Consider instead how you might write simply about these qualities.  For example instead of ‘from an early age’ I sometimes encourage applicants to imagine they are at their retirement party and overhearing what their colleagues, clients and family are saying about them.  Thinking about what you want to have achieved by the end of a career will tell you what is motivating you now. Or, instead of falling back on your hardworking enthusiasm talk about your track record of what you have actually achieved and can deliver.

When I point out clichés to students they are rarely surprised. At some level they know the prose is tired and lifeless.  Don’t wait till someone points it out. Listen to that little voice in your head that is giving you a warning.

Jeff Riley
Careers Consultant
QM Careers

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