How to describe your key skills on your CV – Part 1

Whether you have lots of work experience or none at all doesn’t matter as much as knowing how to describe your skills and experience on your CV. This blog shows you how.

Over the years, I have helped countless numbers of graduates create CVs that have helped them get job interviews. I’ve done this by helping them learn how to describe their key skills and achievements on their CV.

In this blog I explain how in finer detail.

The advice I share below will give you a good idea of how to create an achievement based CV that describes your soft skills and experience to employers, even if you have little or no work experience.

It shows how graduates have been able to extract and describe the key skills and experience they have gained aside from paid work, so at university and through hobbies and interests.

CV Tip 1: Attitude

Attitude comes right at the top of any job application. Right skills/right attitude will win over right skills/wrong attitude any day.

We all know that. So, showing the right attitude on your CV is important, and you want to do more than just say, “I have a good attitude.” You want to show it.

There are several ways to demonstrate the right attitude but whichever way you choose make sure you show proof that you have it. List activities like travelling, fundraising and participation in sports and group work.

Working since your teens can work well in your favour too, even if the jobs weren’t related to the job you’re applying for now.

Employers will ‘read between the lines’ and see a self-starter, someone with initiative and a good work ethic.

Three further scenarios that can quickly tell an employer that you have the right attitude are working in a pressured, busy or deadline-driven environment.

It makes your claim to be resilient, determined or positive stronger and more persuasive. If you can work in any of these kinds of environments then you’re probably the sort that can keep your cool.

CV Tip 2: It’s not what you say but the way that you say it

Use of descriptive terms can be a winner. I remember once coming across a CV where the graduate spoke of ‘getting pleasure from a job well done’. This leaves a good impression on the mind of the employer.

This is clearly a candidate who takes pride in his work and likes to get results. He is also likely to be the type of person who can self-manage and motivate himself.

I also worked with a graduate who described her organisation skills as not just ‘good’ but ‘meticulous’. She also said that she had ‘happily’ participated in teamwork at university and work.

This gives us the impression that she enjoys working in teams and doesn’t do it under duress.

So, use words, verbs and phrases that conjure up the right image.

“I scrutinise data” and “I love to spot themes, patterns and connections in data” can add clout to a sentence that says you can think analytically and problem solve.

Describe your skills in such a way that the employer can ‘see’ the skill at work: ‘I scrutinised in-depth reports to spot interconnections’. Perhaps you researched, analysed and interpreted data to write reports.

Whichever way, it shows how you used these skills effectively to gather, think through and present information.

Explaining why you scrutinized the data makes your case even more convincing and shows that you fully understand how to apply this skill.

CV Tip 3: Hobbies and interests

Hobbies and interests such as sports and club memberships aren’t just for fun.

They can also stand as proof you have what it takes to do a job well. For example, many graduates raise money to finance their own expeditions and this tells us a lot about their mindset and attitude.

If you’ve done this then you’re likely to be seen as enterprising, determined and a person who can solve his/her own problems.

Playing a sport can help you develop teamwork and resilience.

It can also help a person develop attributes such as emotional intelligence, perception, tenacity, fairness and healthy competitiveness. Whether you developed these skills from the Scouts, Under 18’s Soccer Club or in a professional environment, they can still count.

The key is to extract and describe these in such detail that they come alive. You want to avoid being vague and general so that the employer can get a good picture of you doing what you claim to have done. Giving details show that you know what you are talking about.

Look out for more CV tips in part 2 of How to describe your key skills and achievements on your CV! 

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An unforgettable lesson from segregated America about how to get ahead

Are you an ambitious graduate in your first job wondering how to get ahead? Perhaps you’ve been eyeing up that lucrative job position, the one that would cause your career to skyrocket and pay you what you know you’re truly worth. Trouble is, although you’re more than capable, you’re not getting a look in from the boss.

You may believe that your career progression is all down to that mean boss who doesn’t notice how hard you’ve been working; but it isn’t. You hold more power over where the career ladder takes you than you may realise.

The graduate who understands this will get the job. And I’d like to explain why with a unforgettable lesson from segregated America that will help you to get ahead in even the bleakest of circumstances.

How to get ahead

Our lesson is taken from the movie Hidden Figures. Sorry to spoil it for you if you’ve not seen it yet. Hidden Figures is set in 1950s and 60s America and based on the true story of three African American women. They worked at NASA as part of a team of human computers (mathematicians) who calculated the coordinates that launched astronaut John Glenn into orbit.

Our three main characters are Katherine Johnson (Taraji P Henson), the maths wiz whose calculations were directly responsible for the success of the mission; Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), whose impressive display of reason and persuasion led to her becoming the first of her gender and race to study at a segregated school so she could qualify as an engineer; and last, but not least, Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer), the overlooked acting supervisor I’d like to focus on in our lesson.

All three have work ethics that are great examples of the teamwork, integrity, communication and perseverance you’ll need if you are to progress in your career but Dorothy’s story will teach you something about how to progress your career even if you’re being deliberately overlooked.

Be observant

Dorothy worked as supervisor for the team of women mathematicians working in the basement at NASA but was blatantly denied both the title and the pay packet to reflect it. What does Dorothy do? She doesn’t wine (much) or complain (for very long) but is observant. She learns that the company is planning to install a new International Business Machine (IBM), which will eventually take their jobs. However, Dorothy also knows that first, someone will need to program it. So, she visits the library to borrow a book on computer programing.

Remember, this movie is set at a time when both women and African Americans experienced blatant discrimination so Dorothy was facing the kind of obstacles I’m guessing few of us reading this post have to deal with. Even borrowing the book was risky because it was in a section of the library off limits to her as a black woman. She could have held this up as reasons why she couldn’t get ahead and stayed put, but she didn’t.

Learn with the future in mind

This is where we see ingenuity at is best. Dorothy reads up on this new language of the future, trains her team and then solves a programing problem that had had NASA’s IBM operators baffled. They notice that Dorothy has a way with the machine and, well, when the need arises for someone who can program the IBM well guess who is called?

It doesn’t end there. Later, when others express a desire to learn how to program the IBM and Dorothy is asked if she will teach them she coolly replies: “That would be the decision of the supervisor.” Well, of course, she’s been overlooked for that position and so there is no supervisor to give the go ahead.

A few days later Dorothy is handed a letter promoting her to the position of supervisor. She gets the job.

The moral of the story

The story brilliantly illustrates how to look ahead, perceive what skills will be in demand in the future, and then go about acquiring them. Then, when the opportunity arises you will be in the right position to walk into it.

It reminds us that the way to get ahead is not to sit back and wait for something to happen but to make things happen for yourself. If you want a better job, you need to prepare the way for the better job to come to you. It doesn’t come by chance.

Having shared this lesson, I have homework for you. I’d like you to answer the following question: What can you do today, right now, to help improve your career prospects for tomorrow?