Getting the ‘Tone’ Right in your CV

If you are inexperienced at writing your CV, then you have probably given little attention to the tone of your writing.

This refers to the kind of ‘voice’ that the reader will hear in their head as they read your document. The kind of tone you use will be determined by why you are writing a CV and who will be reading it.

The tone itself comes down to the words and phrases you use, as well as how you structure your sentences. You need to use a tone that makes the reader feel like meeting you, rather than putting them off.

Here, we look at the factors that contribute to achieving the correct tone for CV writing.

What is a Positive Tone?

First and foremost, everything about your CV should be positive.

This is no place for negatives, so do not criticise former employers or draw attention to areas that you are not experienced in.

Generally speaking, you always need to sound professional and confident. This means being emphatic, showing commitment and an interest in furthering the employer’s goals.

This should always be backed up with solid achievements from your past experience.

If you can find this optimum balance, based in the language and phrasing you use to convey genuine potential, then the employer will be encouraged to read on and shortlist your application.

Use of Pronouns

When considering the language that you use, the most important thing is to get the pronouns right.

Writing in the ‘first person’ means always starting sentences with the word ‘I’. Do not do this in your CV, as it does not look professional.

Writing in the ‘third person’ means saying ‘he’ or ‘she’ when talking about yourself. That is not right, either, as it sounds pretentious.

The best approach is to simply state the facts that you wish to communicate, without using a pronoun at all. Start the sentence with a verb instead.

For example, “Developed and executed an action plan” rather than “I developed and executed an action plan”.

Show Commitment

It’s likely that the person reading your CV is committed to their work and they will want to see the same motivation in you.

This means showing that you have passion and drive, without sounding as if you will be hard to manage.

Communicating passion for your work needs to be done carefully, or you will risk sounding enthusiastic but naive. That would not sound professional.

Do not use words such as ‘love’ or ‘excited’, as they sound immature in this context. This is emotion of the wrong kind and will serve to repel the employer.

Instead, use words such as focus and dedication, while backing all statements up with achievements from your solid experience.

Don’t be Self-Important

You need to use professional language to convey the fact that you are used to and can handle responsibility.

However, you have to be careful not to sound pompous or self-important. Look at sample CVs to see which terms are used to describe personal attributes or achievements.

Get this wrong and you risk sounding arrogant or self-aggrandising.

This is particularly important when describing your leadership skills, as it’s very easy to claim a bit too much when trying to sell oneself via a CV.

Avoid superlatives such as ‘best’, ‘greatest’ and ‘leading’, unless they are a direct quote from someone else’s praise about you.

Rather, make simple statements and back them up with achievements that say even more.

Exhibit Quiet Confidence

Under-confidence is as off-putting to an employer as over-confidence. It will make them think that your experience is weak.

However, if you sound too confident when describing your career background and capabilities, you risk sounding boastful or even arrogant.

They are less likely to believe everything you write and will question it more, because they will suspect you are exaggerating. Few people admire over-confidence.

The trick is to write with a sense of authority, making it clear through the use of correct language that you know your area.

Do not over-hype your achievements, because if they are solid the employer will see that for themselves. On the other hand, do not undersell yourself either.

Highlight all your strengths without going over the top.

Using Positive Language

Your language should be 100% positive, in line with the positive content of your CV.

State what you accomplished in clear, matter of fact language, allowing your confidence to show through the use of positive action verbs and, to a certain extent, adjectives.

If you are unsure about the effect your language creates, ask a friend or, better still, somebody who knows the area of work you are seeking work in, to review it.

It is always far easier for someone else to spot where a word creates a misleading impression.

Example CVs

If you feel daunted at the prospect of finding the right tone, take a look at examples CVs on our CV service website to see how we write a CV.

If you’d like assistance with your CV, please take a look at our professional CV service.

Kindest regards,

Paul Bradley.

Managing Director.

Bradley CVs Ltd.

6 responses to “Getting the ‘Tone’ Right in your CV”

  1. Thank You Paul, I found this info most helpful. It was only last night I was thinking of the ‘tone’ of my CV and I found this in my inbox this morning. I have been writing copious amounts of notes in the last few weeks, borrowing library books and surfing the net to help me with my ‘finished article’.
    I haven’t started it yet, but I think I’m now ready to.

  2. Good article, but what if you’ve had different jobs and are embarking on a career change? And what if you’re a a graduate and your previous employment history has nothing at all to do with the job you’re applying for? What would be the ‘right tone’ for such a CV?

  3. Hi Everton,

    You need to bring out the transferable skills and experience from the various jobs that you’ve had and relate them to the job that you are applying for.

    If you’re really struggling with your CV, you might want to check out our professional CV service. We handle these sort of problems everyday.

    Kind regards,

    Paul Bradley.
    Bradley CVs Ltd.