We all know that potential employers receive hundreds, and sometimes even thousands, of applications for each position that they advertise. And before they can conduct the interviews, they have to sift through stacks of CVs, most of which are so similar that they make it difficult to select a shortlist.


As a result, employers are naturally drawn to the CVs that stand out — the ones that aren’t filled with meaningless clichés, and that differ from the norm.


So how do you write a CV that differs from the norm?

First off, remember that prospective employers will take only a few seconds to skim-read your cover letter and CV to see whether your application is worth considering at all. You therefore need to make sure that the words you use are able to capture their attention in that limited timeframe. If you’re using the same boring words as all the other applicants, your CV will likely land in the rejection pile.


Have a look at this list of words to avoid using on your CV (or LinkedIn profile), and see which words or phrases you could use instead:

Words NOT to use Examples of words and phrases to use instead
Successful Achieved all performance targets handed to me by the company, and won the company’s top salesperson award in 2017.
Managed a large, successful advertising campaign, which led to improved brand recognition and sales for the company.
Implemented a variety of new OHS measures, which led to a 5% reduction in workplace injuries.
Influential Introduced new HR policies, which resulted in a 30% increase in employee satisfaction.
Gained approval for a new IT security system, which, when implemented, reduced the risk of a data breach by 90%.
Shaped the company’s strategies on financial planning, by introducing an innovative new accounting system.
Structured Regularly organise company staff rotas.
Tasked with arranging company events.
Tasked with planning company’s employment equity measures.
Introvert Able to work independently when needed, without the supervision of a manager.
Able to focus deeply on a task.
Extrovert Sociable
Good social skills, with the ability to interact effectively with colleagues, managers, and clients across all levels of an organisation.
Humble Respectful to colleagues, managers, and clients.
Obsessive Focused on achieving my job tasks and career goals.
Dedicated to completing tasks to the best of my ability.
Take ownership of tasks from start to finish
Likeable Regularly engaged with clients to maintain good business relationships, resulting in a 50% increase in client referrals in the past year
Intelligent Able to solve problems as they arise by coming up with manageable or creative solutions.
Alert to risks and opportunities in the workplace
Team player Co-operate
Collaborated across departments to plan the company’s annual conference for three years in a row.


As you can see from the table above, it is usually a good idea to describe yourself and your abilities using verbs (doing words) where possible, rather than overused adjectives such as “successful”, “creative”, or “influential”.


Bonus tip: If you think of a word or phrase, but know for sure that almost everyone else uses it on their CVs (such as ‘passionate’), it probably isn’t a good idea to use it on your CV, or LinkedIn profile, if you want to stand out from the crowd. Rather look for a word that is not only less frequently used, but also more descriptive of your skills and achievements.


Now that you know how to write the perfect CV, click the link below for some tips you can use when writing a cover letter for your job application:  

6 Steps for writing a cover letter that will get you a job interview


Post updated by Dale Hes on 6 April 2018.