Make your CV strong by using the right words

Add some BAM, POW and WHOOSH with these action words for your CV.

Back in 2015, Microsoft reported that humans now have shorter attention spans than goldfish. Whether you believe the controversial research or not, we’re sure you’ll agree that it can be super easy to get distracted. Especially if what you’re trying to focus on doesn’t grab your attention straight away.

It’s the same story for recruiters and hiring managers. If they open a CV and can’t immediately see why the applicant could be right for their position – well, chances are, they’ll move on to the next candidate. And they typically make this choice within just six seconds.

But, never fear. We’re here to explain how you can craft an action-packed application. The first step? Knowing what action verbs are and how you can use them to make an impact. Read on to discover the best kind of words to use in a CV.

Choose action words for CV success

Bam. Pow. Whoosh. What do words like that make you think of? Power? Success? Results? Whilst we don’t suggest dotting your CV with the kind of words you’d see in comics, we do suggest turning to their action-packed counterparts: verbs.

Like they teach you in school, ‘Verbs are doing words’; they come in pretty handy when you’re writing your CV because you can use them to show off all the things you’ve done. And what is your CV if not a record of everything you’ve accomplished?

Think about it: Would you rather write a CV that simply explains how long you worked on certain projects for, or a CV that demonstrates how you took charge, hit targets and achieved something?

We thought so. So here’s a list of popular action verbs that might come in handy next time you redo your CV:

Enhance Mediate Adapt
Streamline Reduce Attain
Build Collaborate Solve
Prove Create Secure
Organise Improve Demonstrate

Of course, some action verbs do better than others at communicating types of skills. For instance, some helpful CV action verbs that convey analytical skills include:

Analyse Verify Evaluate
Examine Project Formulate

Some action verbs that show off communication skills include:

Express Influence Present
Moderate Negotiate Inform

Leadership skills can be conveyed with action verbs like these:

Manage Administer Develop
Lead Oversee Review

Finally, these action words are helpful for portraying creative skills:

Design Visualise Shape
Conceptualise Institute Brainstorm

Active verbs versus passive verbs

Now let’s take it up a notch. If using verbs helps you show off what you’ve done, choosing active sentence structures over passive ones will help you add that additional ‘wow’ factor.

Both passive and active sentences use verbs, but in active sentences, the subject of the sentence is the thing that ‘does’ the action. In passive sentences, the subject is the thing that has the action done to them. Here are two ways of writing the same sentence:

Passive: The project was completed before the deadline and the targets were exceeded.

Active: I completed the project before the deadline and exceeded my targets.

Which one do you think makes the writer sound better? Let’s look at another example:

Passive: The profit margins were increased by 10%.

Active: I increased the profit margins by 10%.

So, active or passive ‒ which one would you rather be? In the world of work, you can either sit passively while things happen to you, or you can make the most of situation, take action and take charge of your career like the superhero you are. The choice is yours.

Your CV, starring you

So, what does using action words for CV writing say about you? Well, it says a lot of things, including that:

  • You take ownership of your achievements
  • You’re confident in your abilities
  • You’re proactive (this one’s particularly pertinent if you’re applying for a leadership position)

It also shows how fantastic your attention to detail is. A well-written CV can speak volumes about your communication and organisational skills in general.

In short, what you say about yourself in your CV will ‘tell’ potential employers what you’re like. But using action verbs and active sentences will help you ‘show’ them what kind of person you are. It’s a little bit sneaky, a little bit subliminal, but it 100 per cent works.

Tips and tricks

Once you’ve gotten to grips with using action verbs and active sentences, there are a few more steps you can take to make sure your CV makes an impact.

For instance, you could try browsing relevant job adverts to see what kind of words are being used. Chances are, if industry recruiters spot the same kind of terms and phrases in your CV, they’ll think you’re a better applicant for the job because you fit the field. That’s why it’s essential to customise your CV for each listing you submit for. This strategy can also ensure that you make it past the applicant tracking system, a kind of recruiting software that scans CVs for specific terms that denote qualification for a job and eliminates candidates who aren’t up to par.

You should also try to stay away from the obvious, boring clichés. So what if you ‘work well in a team’ or always ‘complete your work on time’? Everybody does that – or they should, at least.

Finally, check your whole CV for repetition. Those action verbs might start to lose their meaning if you use them again and again. Use the verb list we included above, or simply Google ‘action words for CV [enter career field here]’.

So, now that you’ve learnt all about the power of verbs and active phrases, it’s time for those CV writing muscles to be flexed.

Only joking.

It’s time to flex those CV writing muscles.