Are you showing the right “attitude” on your CV?

A positive attitude will get you hired quicker than the right skills and experience, the recruitment company Reed found in a survey of 1000 employers.

Six traits (commitment, honesty, trustworthiness, adaptability, accountability and loyalty) are key for employers. These findings echo previous research showing that new hires are most likely to fail within the first year if they lack the crucial (non-technical) skills of “coachability” (ability to accept and implement feedback); emotional intelligence, motivation and temperament.

Often skills and experience are easier to convey than soft skills or attributes, so here are some suggestions for how you can portray a positive attitude in your CV and covering letter.

Exude commitment

The recent Careers Talk podcast on breaking into web development underlined the importance of a proactive approach. James Coglan said that involvement in side projects gets you known to others in the industry.

Be clear on what motivates you for the role or company and tailor your application. Identify examples of commitment; whether that’s a long-standing interest in your field, or volunteering experience, for example. Employers like to see what makes you tick and why you’re interested in them, so find a way to bring these two aspects together.

Be scrupulously honest

Never embellish your CV or make claims you can’t justify. If you were part of a team, say so – not just to avoid being “found out”, but to prove how well you work with others.

Highlight initiatives

In his book “Learning to Leap: a guide to being more employable” David Shindler refers to what the Confederation of British Industry calls a ‘can do’ approach: being proactive, enthusiastic and committed. He advises job seekers to demonstrate “a readiness to take part, an openness to new ideas and a drive to make those ideas happen.”

Research indicates that certain “signals” make a candidate attractive to an employer, including academic grades, extra-curricular activities, leadership positions and work experience. So even if you’ve only been involved in student societies, emphasise where you managed change or adopted a flexible approach to solve a problem or see a project through to completion. Detail what you did, how you did it, and what you learned from the experience.

Inspire trust

Employers want reassurance that you’ll stay in the job and do your best.

Never bad-mouth previous employers. It makes you look unprofessional and may raise doubts as to how you manage conflict or criticism. You don’t need to explain why you left a job in either your CV or covering letter, but prepare to deal with questions like this at interview.

Group temporary jobs by theme, or by recruitment agency if appropriate. Focus on how these roles gave you skills or experience-building opportunities, and show how these are relevant. You also need to convince an employer that you consider the role you’re applying for as more than just a stop-gap. This is hard if it appears to be a lower-skilled role. Emphasise a track record of repeat work, longevity or promotion, as for example, “called three years in a row for seasonal work”, or “worked throughout the first and second years as a waiter, becoming the longest-serving shift leader”. Include employer testimonials that portray you as a reliable and valued employee.

Choose CV format and language carefully

Functional CVs are often advised to highlight skills over experience, but they can be sketchy on employment history: precisely the information employers want. Don’t just list skills or work history information: use story-telling techniques to add depth and detail.

Avoid repeating words from the job ad like “enthusiasm” or “passion”. Instead, find examples that illustrate your commitment to hard work – which is often what the description means.

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