Graduate Coach Blog

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

Posted: July 31, 2017 at 8:48 pm | Author: Chris Davies

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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