Your CV has a bigger problem than over-use of buzzwords

 
Elena Shalneva
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are you an entrepreneurial global citizen who only ever advises on complex transactions? Time to rethink your outlook (Source: Getty)

When list of common LinkedIn buzzwords was published on these pages on Wednesday, it prompted me to read through the profiles of my extended network.

After an uninspiring two hours, many of my conclusions matched those of LinkedIn. The use of the word “leadership”, for example. People work for “leading companies” and study at “leading universities”. They describe themselves as “entrepreneurial leaders” and “innovative leaders”. If LinkedIn is something to go by, the professional world is comprised of outstanding companies and brilliant people.

Another word is “strategic”. As in “strategic goals” and “strategic products”. But also “strategic collation of press coverage” and “strategic launch parties”.

A few obvious contenders surprisingly did not make it onto LinkedIn’s list. Such as “complex”, which is particularly popular with bankers, who only ever advise on “complex” transactions. Also “deep”, as in “deep expertise” or “deeply committed”.

But, as far as buzzwords are concerned, “global” leads the way. Who is not global these days? Someone in my network who, as far as I know, only speaks English, describes himself as a “global citizen”. He adds that “an open mind, total professionalism and respect for others invariably yields success”. I wish it were so easy.

Here my contact probably did what LinkedIn describes as adding “some personality to your language”. You have to be careful here, otherwise you might end up sounding like this: “XXX is an inspirational and tireless specialist with over 15 years experience as an innovative leader. XXX is passionate about return on expectation…” No-one has told him how ridiculous he sounds.

In this abundance of over-the-top descriptions, those CVs with only the dates and job titles stood out for me. And most of the time, dates and job titles were enough. For example, do you really need to explain what a talent development director does? Furthermore, the fact that this person had made it from a talent executive to a talent director in fewer than six years tells me that he is very good indeed.

But what struck me most about reading through people’s profiles was not so much the buzzwords as the sheer banality with which we tend to present ourselves. A typical advisory CV normally reads like this: “I work for these types of clients, on these types of mandates, in these industries and these geographies. My recent mandates included…”

First, CVs that are structured as lists are tedious to read. Second, they are not credible. A lawyer lists 16 countries as her areas of geographic expertise. Does the fact that she did one deal in Bulgaria 11 years ago really make her a Bulgarian expert? But crucially, such CVs make us anonymous, because everyone else says exactly the same thing. For example, an IBD associate at Morgan Stanley would work on the same type of deals as her counterpart at Goldman Sachs.

The trick to a good CV is figuring out our differentiation. A friend writes that before he became a lawyer in a magic circle law firm, he was an investment banker, arranging exactly the type of transactions that he now advises on. You can see his edge straightaway. A management consultant writes that she grew up in five countries, is fluent in six languages and is entirely international in her approach.

Finding our professional differentiation and describing it well is extremely difficult. It is also a constant process, as differentiation evolves over time. But it is worth the effort.

Having written all this, I had a look at my own LinkedIn profile. It was done many years ago in a rush and never since revisited. Please don’t turn to it for tips.

Elena Shalneva is a communications consultant and non-executive director

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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