“If you wish to persuade me, you must think my thoughts, feel my feelings, and speak my words.” Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 BC – 43 BC)

Most CVs have to do one job – get you invited to interview; the exception being where you are a ‘shoo-in’ for the interview, in which case your CV’s job is to set the agenda for the forthcoming interview. As such, a CV is a sales document, pure and simple. But I reckon you need to balance the ‘Selling’ with a degree of ‘Telling.’

1. Tone. Badly-produced CVs inevitably stray too far down the Telling road, listing what are essentially a series of job descriptions. But I have also encountered CVs that are all Sell, no Tell. I can see where these people are coming from – they have to get all the good stuff across and they have limited space, so they ruthlessly edit out anything that doesn’t make me raise my eyebrows.

I tend to slightly moderate this ‘accomplishments all the way’ approach, as it grates on the eye and can turn the reader off. A balanced approach – a little delineation of the scope and progression of your role, balanced with a goodly chunk of accomplishment / contribution language has served my clients better.

2. Vocabulary. Collating the really shiny points about yourself is actually quite difficult for the majority of people. You need to cast your net wide and look for structured feedback from everyone – colleagues, old bosses, previous subordinates, customers, competitors, suppliers, teachers, family and friends. Once you have got some material from a close friend or two, you can develop a framework to seek info under the same headings from the others.

Human beings are notoriously baaaad at being objective about themselves. So collate feedback on the good and bad stuff about you from your network. Then you have to learn not to be afraid to use the kind of language that advertisers use. (If my mother saw what is written on my CV, she would clip me around the ear.)

3. Start from the end. What is the difference between a CV that goes straight onto the shortlist and a CV that ends up lining this employer’s bin? Operative phrase in that sentence: THIS EMPLOYER. Well, there’s a old adage from Madison Avenue which pretty much sums this up:


“If I see the world through John Smith’s eyes, I can sell John Smith what John Smith buys.”

(Cicero was a little more understated.) Gaining that level of insight for each application is doggone hard work, but researching at this level dramatically increases your chances of succeeding. Find the person who is going to be your line manager on Linkedin. If you know about the speech that he or she gave at the Widgeting Conference in Melbourne last year, and found a couple of shots of it on Flickr and picked up the live blog comments on an old feed – well then you can use language that has a much better chance of triggering a response from that line manager.

Get some names and get to work – who are these people and what makes them tick?