Banging your own drum - present your skills in a CV

How often have you heard the phrase ‘banging your own drum’ or ‘blowing your own trumpet’ when applied to writing a CV? It is well known that when faced with the prospect of having to sell yourself on paper, it doesn’t come easily to many of us. There are few cases where you will need to do so more convincingly than in your CV.

The truth is that your CV is more than just a list of jobs, dates and qualifications. It is supposed to be a summary of your career and achievements to date, as well as acting as a sales document in your job search. It needs to promote you as well as list the relevant facts. It is your shop window – and YOU are the product. Well, whenever you are selling a product, and you wish to display it in the shop window, you must dress it up a little bit.

It is tricky to get the balance right when describing skills. The most common fear is that too much may turn the employer off. On the other hand, if your skills are too vague, they will be unconvincing. So how much ‘dressing up’ is enough, without going over the top? How do you promote yourself without sounding conceited, or worse still, too good to be true? Yes, employers will see through it if you overdo it, but inevitably some self-promotion is necessary. There are ways you can approach this without laying it on too thick.

Contents of the skills summary

The skills section requires a lot of thought and deserves to be a dedicated and distinct section in your CV, as opposed to just an extension of the profile. What do you call this section? I prefer ‘Personal Skills’ or ‘Skills and Attributes’, to emphasise that we are focusing on your abilities and personal aptitudes. Remember, this is about you and your personal strengths, the things you are naturally good at. It is NOT about experience or training. For this reason, avoid including things like IT skills and languages. Those are learned or acquired skills and belong elsewhere in the CV.

You have probably heard that it is best to tailor your CV to the role you are applying for. Well, this is the bit you can tailor. The rest of the CV is based on facts: names, dates, places, qualifications, and things which do not change. With the skills section you can be a little more creative, and this is where you can match it to the employer’s requirements.

Create a list of skills which describe your best strengths and abilities and present them as a list of bullet points. 5 or 6 bullets is enough. But don’t just list random, generic sentences like: ‘Excellent communication and interpersonal skills.’  This is just so vague and unsubstantiated and tells the employer nothing about why you think this is one of your strengths and where perhaps you developed this. Compare that to: ‘Excellent communication and interpersonal skills acquired through experience of working closely with project clients, partners and other stakeholders.’  This provides some background to where you may have acquired or developed this skill.

Other examples you can use here are: ‘Excellent organisation and time management developed from experience of leading and coordinating a wide range of complex software development projects’, or ‘Leadership skills demonstrated in managing and directing a team of up to 10 field service engineers as an Engineering Service Manager’, etc.

You can draw examples from your work, studies or extracurricular activities. The trick is to ensure that you can describe the skill and give the justification within one sentence. Remember: one bullet, one sentence. If you can stick to this general rule, you can create a concise and coherent sales pitch for your CV which should help to sell you and get you to that all important interview.

Next time, we will look at the best way to present your work experience in your CV.

Peter Panayotou is the Founder and Senior Consultant at The Write Stuff
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