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The Bright Side: Show and tell

By Jim Bright

A CV is no place for false modesty. Don't sell yourself short, writes Jim Bright.

Matthew , a teacher from Neutral Bay, Sydney, writes: "Despite my full registration and range of experience, I haven't been able to gain an interview." Matthew details a varied and extensive career history, including periods out of teaching, and is also concerned that he does not possess a bachelor degree (he didn't need this when he entered teaching).

Looking at his CV, one area in which he undersells himself is in the presentation of his achievements. The following extracts illustrate this:

"Maintained/improved AIM/NAPLAN results against national standards."

This statement is equivocal. Which is it? Did Matthew improve or merely maintain standards? The vagueness of this statement undermines confidence in the claim. Matthew should be more precise and provide numbers and percentage improvements. If he can't remember, he should estimate and use terms such as "improved in excess of".

He says he "Initiated and implemented a kitchen garden program as a focus for year 3 and year 4. Students participated in weekly scheduled lessons to design and develop a kitchen garden. Units included learning about parts of the plant, measuring growth rates, seasonal produce, mulching and fertilising, organic gardening, design of planting beds, scarecrows and food miles. We visited the Royal Botanic Gardens education unit and the market to learn more about growing our own food and how different cultural groups prepare foods."

Here is an example of an applicant assuming the reader will appreciate the achievement buried in the detail. However, a harsh reader looking for reasons to narrow down a shortlist will not extend the benefit of the doubt. Nowhere in the description is there any statement about outcomes, evaluations, impact, feedback or value-adding.

To be cynical, I could add "badly" after "implemented a kitchen garden program" because Matthew does not shut down that possibility by providing evidence or at least a statement about the effectiveness of the program.

The following paragraph suffers from the same problem. "Presented 'Aboriginal studies' in-service to students and staff (years 2-6). Drawing on personal experience from living and working in Aboriginal communities, my personal collection of artefacts and paintings, collected texts, indigenous music and a prepared PowerPoint presentation, I provided a 90-minute introduction to a unit of work 'Indigenous Australia'."

Instead, Matthew might want to write something such as: "Presented Aboriginal studies to students and staff. My extensive experience and knowledge of indigenous culture contributed to outstanding feedback from both students and staff. As a result of my initiative in offering this program, I was asked to repeat it and roll it out for students the following year."

Assuming Matthew has such achievements, he needs to spell them out to the recruitment panel and not rely on panel members reading between the lines. A recruiter asked to make assumptions is unlikely to give Matthew the benefit of the doubt.

Ways to spell out achievements include making claims about the outcomes and results of your efforts. Preferably you should include tangible information - names, dates, numbers, dollars and percentages.

Matthew is making the mistake common to many job hunters in leaving the work history and achievements to speak for themselves. It is a misguided policy, driven perhaps by modesty, or perhaps by laziness in failing to make an effort to understand how the reader will react to his claim for a position.

The applicant's job is to eliminate doubt in the recruiter's mind that they are ideal for the role. This means ruling out alternative interpretations of achievements by being direct and unambiguous in cataloguing experiences that increase the fit between you and the job.

Jim Bright is professor of career education and development at ACU and a partner at Bright and Associates, a career management consultancy. Email marked clearly "FOR PUBLICATION" to

Published: 22 October 2011

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