Are You Using the Right Tone of Voice in Your CV?

How can writing have a tone of voice? Unless you’ve been involved in marketing at some point, you may never have given much thought to this question. You may not even have realised that such a consideration existed, far less that it might be vitally important when you come to write your CV.

All writing has a tone and a personality. Whenever we read some text, we hear the words spoken aloud in our heads. Sometimes we hear it in our own voice, but often we hear it in another voice. This is what we pick up from the way the words are put together.

For example, when you read a letter from the bank about going overdrawn, you no doubt ‘hear’ the writing in a stern, authoritative tone of voice. When you read a letter from a company trying to sell you insurance, you probably hear it as a friendly tone of voice, but quite confident and well-informed.

When you write your CV, you will be giving it a tone of voice without even thinking about it. Do you have any idea what tone you are using? It might be quiet, shy and even submissive, or it might be braggish and over-confident. Have you thought that your tone might come across as uptight, or lazy, or obsessive, or boring?

None of these would help you much when it comes to gaining an interview, as all are likely to be a bit off-putting. There are certainly jobs for which one kind of personality might be more useful than another, but there is usually a fine line where it can come across as too extreme.

You want to be sure that if your personality comes across in the tone of voice of your writing, that it is one the right side of this line. 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.

Sticking to the Positives

To start at the beginning with the most fundamental aspect of any CV’s tone of voice: it needs to be positive. In general, this means never mentioning anything that is negative and never apologising or making excuses for something that you do not have or did not do.

For example, the following sentence draws attention to qualifications the candidate does not have, which negates the effect of the statement about his experience.

  • I am not a mechanical or software engineer, but I am experienced in managing both mechanical and software engineers.

As a manager, he does not need to hold the same qualifications as every member of his team. So rather than apologising, he could instead write it as follows. Introducing an adverb before the verb ‘managed’ also helps to make it more positive.

  • Effectively managed multi-function teams that included both mechanical and software engineers.

Negatives that you should also avoid include criticism of former employers. You should always sound professional and confident, which means writing in an emphatic but not arrogant tone, as in the above rewrite.

Make Good Use of Pronouns

Sounding more confident and professional can be achieved by abandoning the use of the pronoun ‘I’ in your CV. Neither should you write in the ‘third person’ (‘he’ / ‘she’), as if you were writing about someone else.

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 (action word) instead.

Here is an example of how use of the ‘I’ pronoun does not work – here it is combined with a negative statement in the CV Profile. (There is no point in stating what you are not looking for – simply do not apply for those positions!)

  • I am not seeking a network administrator position, I am a good choice for a small company that requires someone to manage product development and to administer the network.

This would be better rewritten in the following way in the Profile:

  • Excels at managing product development and network administration for small businesses.

It is straightforward and direct, sticking to the point and not waffling on.

Communicate Your Commitment

Every employer wants to see motivation, no matter what the position. They do not wish to see over-excitement or uncontrollable enthusiasm. Communicating passion for your work needs to be done carefully, or you will risk sounding enthusiastic but naïve.

For example, the following statement (taken from the person’s Profile) is dull and does nothing to communicate commitment. In fact, the candidate sounds dull and plodding, despite stating that they beat deadlines.

  • I understand how to get the best out of engineers and programmers, and bring in projects on time and under budget.

This would be better rewritten as follows, with the writing conveying more energy and life.

  • Motivates engineer and programmer teams to produce excellent results, completing projects ahead of deadlines and within budgets.

Don’t be Self-Important

Conveying responsibility is important. However, when taken too far, this can sound self-important and even pompous. This is particularly important when describing leadership skills, as it’s very easy to claim a bit too much when trying to sell yourself via a CV.

Avoid superlatives, such as ‘best’ or ‘greatest’, unless they are a direct quote from an official staff review. It is better to make simple statements and back them up with achievements that say even more.

In this example, the candidate is answering questions before they are asked.

  • Half of my job is developing interactive marketing strategies, i.e. how to help my clients achieve their business goals online. Strategy, as I define it, is about making the right choices and setting priorities among a sea of options.

This not only comes across as opinionated and self-important, but it presumes that the employer needs to be informed, as if they do not know what a strategy is. It is likely to irritate an employer!

The revised version below says the same thing, but without the pontification.

  • Supported and guided clients in achieving their business goals through interactive marketing strategies that reflected their enterprise priorities.

Let Your Words Show Quiet Confidence

Under-confidence is as off putting to an employer as over-confidence, as it suggests weak areas in experience. However, over-confidence is equally off-putting, as the employer envisages someone who talks but does not listen or accept management.

You need to write with a sense of authority, making it clear through the correct use of language that you know your area. Highlight all your strengths without going over the top, but make sure you don’t undersell yourself.

The example below shows how understatement can work against the candidate – the voice is so quiet as to be almost silent and no message is communicated.

  • Capable of imparting the required education to children by making interesting paradigms and models.

The candidate can make this sound far more positive by being a little more emphatic, without undermining the integrity of their own voice and character.

  • Inspires children to learn curriculum subjects through interesting, imaginatively conceived paradigms and models.

The candidate may be a quiet and thoughtful person, but writing with words such as ‘inspiring’, ‘interesting’ and ‘imaginatively’ shows how the application of those personal qualities can yield desirable results.

Action Plan

Taking the first steps to review your CV is easy.

  • Ask a friend or relative to read your CV. Ask that person, to tell you what kind of person they think you are based on what is written in your CV.

  • The results may be eye-opening! This is a positive step, so do not take it as personal criticism – this is only about your writing. If you feel brave, ask some other people to read it too.

  • Now start to review your CV with the person you asked to read it. Highlight all the words and phrases that you think may contribute to this impression. Can you see why they may be misinterpreting you?

  • Once you’ve identified what you need to change, you can start to rewrite your CV accordingly.

  • Remove all use of the pronoun ‘I’ from your CV.

  • Are there any negative statements in your CV? These need to go. Can you see a way to turn around statements so that they are positive instead?

Please let us know what you think by leaving your comments below.

If you need help with your CV / resume please check out our professional CV / resume writing service.

Kindest regards,

Paul Bradley.

Managing Director.
Bradley CVs Ltd.

17 responses to “Are You Using the Right Tone of Voice in Your CV?”

  1. Hi Jonah,

    I’m glad you’re enjoying our blog.

    I wish more people would continue to update and refine their CV, as you are – that’s a really good idea.

    Some people just write their CV and then don’t touch it again, then they wonder why they’re not getting as many interviews as they hoped!

    Kind regards,

    Paul Bradley.
    Bradley CVs Ltd.

  2. Dear Paul,
    Thanks for the information about CV writing, you reminded me to remove the pronoun ‘I’ on CV, but in most cases I use the pronoun ‘I’ to refer to my disability to inform the employer that I am a person with a disability.

    How can I avoid the use of ‘I’, but at the same time make sure the employer is aware of my condition?



  3. Hi Msafiri,

    It depends a little bit on your circumstances and on how you are applying for jobs. But, if you were say registered blind, you could just list this on your CV as ‘Registered blind’ (near the end of your CV).

    You could also mention your disability in your cover letter, rather than in your CV, or you can list it in both in your CV and cover letter.

    If you need the employer to make some special arrangements for you at an interview, because of your disability, I would be inclined to mention these requirements in your cover letter, near the end of the letter.

    Kind regards,

    Paul Bradley.
    Bradley CVs Ltd.