Getting the tone right in your CV

It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.

CV writing serviceEverybody understands the truth in this. If you are speaking with someone you subconsciously read more into their body language than the words coming out of their mouth. Folded arms, raised eyebrows, opened mouths, a slight smile. These are all gestures we are innately tuned to as social beings.

When we combine body language and intonation in a voice we can have quite different meanings for the same words or phrases. For instance, “get out of it” could mean

  • ‘go away now before I harm you’ (serious face, clenched fist)
  • ‘really, tell me more?’ (disbelieving yet inquisitive face)
  • ‘I’m going to drink myself into a stupor’ (cupped hand to face mimicking drink to mouth)

Boring and monotone

It is very easy to deflate a reader by using long sentences that seem to take an age to make a point and then when you get to the end of the sentence the point isn’t very well made anyway so the reader thinks ‘this isn’t inspiring me’ and gently nods off. Vary the length of sentences. This is equivalent to a good radio presenter raising and lowering their pitch. Use impact words. ‘Transformed’ sounds better than ‘improved’.  ‘Assisted’ sounds more professional than ‘helped’.

It’s all me, me, me

I won sales person of the month every month for 14 years. I negotiated the best deal ever in the company. I secured all the clients. IN FACT I DID EVERYTHING AND I WANT TO SHOUT IT AS LOUD AS I CAN. Mr arrogant could be more of a turnoff than Mr mono tone.  And it’s one very good reason for writing a CV in third person: It stops you saying ‘I’ all the time. A significant fact or achievement will stand on its own. In fact, rather than superfluous words give it some white space around it – that will really help it stand out.

So what is the right tone of voice for a CV?

On the one hand you want to stand out. Yet you don’t want to look too ‘individual’. You want to sound professional yet also friendly and approachable. You want to generate enthusiasm without going over the top. You can do all these things by getting the tone right in your CV.


There should be nothing negative in a CV. It should exude optimism and confidence. Use positive action words. And use different words to describe similar activities to vary the language.


Demonstrate good use of English. Never use slang words or phrases. Always speak positively about previous employers. Make sure your CV looks professional with no errors and consistent formatting throughout.


Come across as naturally friendly, approachable and likeable. These traits are as important for a CEO as well as a customer service executive. So write openly and give a flavour of your personality. Don’t be fooled into being too corporate.


Show intent. There should be a clear focus in everything. Each point should deliver a message. Each message should have impact. There should be a logical sequence in how points are presented. Keep a lively pace throughout.

It is not surprising that employers read a lot into the tone of a CV. It is seen as a reflection of your personality. The use of particular words or phrases. Sentence construction. Presentation and formatting. These are just a few of the elements that make up how you define yourself. Follow the four Ps above and you will be well on your way to getting the tone for your CV pitch perfect.

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