They say it takes just 3 seconds to make a first impression.
And already you’ve made your mind up about whether you’re going to read the rest of my article.
That’s about the amount of time it takes for someone to make their mind up about YOU from your CV or application letter. A couple of sentences. You have just seconds of ‘reading time’ to make the right impression, just like meeting someone for the first time.
Since speaking at the Student Radio Conference in Bradford I’ve been sent a bunch of CVs and drafts of applications, and I’ve noticed something common to the way everyone writes about themselves.
Buzzwords. Linked in differing ways, sure. But buzzwords that anyone could use about themselves.
IS THIS YOU OR SOMEONE ELSE?
Now, I am not singling anyone out here. But if you recognise any of the following phrases then that’s probably a bad thing, because so do plenty of other readers!
- I’m ambitious and passionate – I’m an enthusiastic work harder – I have good communication skills – I am driven to succeed – I have a creative personality – I work well under pressure
I’ve read CVs and applications with these buzzwords strung together slightly differently so many times that no one really stands out any more. It feels like there’s these stock phrases that we’ve all latched onto as being the key things employers want to hear, and we’re just trying to string them together and cram them all in, like if we miss one out the reader might not think we’re ‘easy to work with’ because ooops we forgot to mention it!
Who wouldn’t say that about themselves?! This is all fluff to employers. They want to hear about the real you based on your experience.
If we met face to face for the first time, you’d be saying something about yourself with your handshake and a smile, and by saying “hello, my name’s Crazy Dave, I do X, Y & Z at ABCfm.” (Shout out to anyone reading actually called Crazy Dave from ABCfm). In the same way, your CV or application letter must say something about you personally.
Here’s a good principle: Some of the best biogs I’ve seen have been on people’s Twitter profiles! They’re to the point, personal and often raise a smile. So why not try keeping your biog to just 140 characters and see what you can say about you and what you do?! Two personal sentences are better than two paragraphs of generic waffle.
So have a look right now. What does your biog/ CV/ application say about YOU? What can you say about yourself that the last person hasn’t already said? I don’t doubt that you really are ‘creative’ and ‘passionate’, but how can you prove that? Give some evidence.
MAKE AN EXAMPLE OF YOURSELF
Use examples from your experience to back up what you’re saying about yourself. “I am driven towards improved performance”. Well give an example of when you’ve increased a statistic or coached a presenter. “I have a strong ability on air”. Great, but what kind of shows have you presented, and how long for?
Examples, examples, examples. I can’t stress that enough.
If you’re ever in a position to be filling out one of the BBC’s over-ambiguous application forms, it probably won’t get read past your first answer if you haven’t given a solid example from your experience. And it’s not worth turning up to an interview without an arsenal of examples to call upon in answer to a badly phrased question…
And by the way, I’m your Number 1 culprit. My first CV started with the words “I just love radio and want to be involved in making it.” Brilliant, well done Graham, why else would you be sending in your CV?!
So y’know what I did? I completely ditched the precious ‘About Me’ section of my CV. Now, I’m sure there’s plenty of reasons why it’s definitely a good idea to include this section, and please please do come back to me with your argument for them! But I decided to just let the experience on my CV speak for itself, making sure I highlighted key parts of the job and the achievements which demonstrated all that stuff about being ‘creative’ and ‘passionate about new technology’ and whatever else…
I did a bunch of research into making a strong media CV whilst I was a Uni. If you’d like to see it please feel free to get in touch, I’m on Twitter @grahamalbans and would love to carry on the conversation!
Graham works on The Chris Evans Breakfast Show on BBC Radio 2. Graham graduated from Leeds in 2011 where he was at Leeds Student Radio, and worked in BBC Local Radio producing BBC Introducing.