Getting the tone right in your CV

Written by: Neville Rose
Published on: 16 Jun 2015

As a HR professional engaged in any kind of employee relations, performance management or leadership development activity the old saying ‘it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it’ might ring very true. As sentient beings we are subconsciously tuned to understand that voice intonation and body language reveal much more about communication messages than simply the spoken word. 


Let’s take the phrase ‘get out of it’. There are two very different meanings that can be interpreted from this short collection of words:  

1. ‘Go away right now or else!’ (scrunched face, brushing away with the hand)
2. ‘Oh really, I’d like to know more?’ (disbelieving yet inquisitive face)

Whilst a CV might lack the complexity of a one-to-one conversation, you can certainly control the tone in order for your message to resonate well with the audience.

So how do I pitch myself in a CV?

Firstly, it is important to use impact words. ‘Transformed’ sounds better than ‘improved’. ‘Drove’ sounds more active than ‘participated’.  Using impact or action words gives your CV pace and energy. You can also vary the length of sentences. A very long sentence that tries to make lots of points in one and looks more like a paragraph can often leave the reader feeling exhausted and confused about what you are trying to say so they then become tired and simply move on without getting to the important bit at the end. Short sentences have power. More impact.  

The four Ps in CV writing

You want to sound professional yet also want your personality to shine through. You want to impress the reader without sounding boastful. You want to appear active without going over the top. Well the good news is that you can do all of these things by getting the tone right in your CV.


A CV should be 100% positive. There should be nothing negative or anything that can raise a question mark in the mind of the reader. You have just one opportunity with your CV. You may be surprised at how perceived issues can just melt away once you’re in front of a potential new employer and they’ve decided they like you. Make sure you get that interview first.


It goes without saying that your CV should contain no typos and be error free. As an HR professional you are very aware of how spelling mistakes in CVs leap out of the page at you. Inconsistent formatting does not look great either. Use clearly defined headings and contemporary typefaces. 


You need your CV to give a sense of personality. Too professional and you could come across as cold. No matter what level you operate at you should write openly and give a sense of who you are and what you’ll bring by way of personal qualities. Being the right cultural fit is arguably more important than having the right technical skills.  


Your CV needs to create energy. It needs to encourage the reader to keep reading on. You only have a limited time to capture their attention so use that time wisely. Make sure important information is accessible and that everything flows in a logical order. Keep the CV lively with examples of achievements throughout. 

Getting the tone right in a CV allows you to give the reader an insight into your personality. It is a chance for you to create a point of difference against all the other applicants. Presenting yourself in the right way might just make the difference when there is close competition for a job. Follow the four Ps and you should be well on your way to a pitch perfect CV.

This article is by Neville Rose, Director of CV Writers. CV Writers specialise in writing CVs for HR professionals and are the exclusive CV writing partner to People Management Jobs. In addition to CV writing, they can help with cover letters, Linkedin profile writing and interview coaching. You can also get a free CV review.