Why you should be wary of jargon on your CV

Young businesswoman has a serious expression on her face while discussing a document with a female colleague.
Your CV is the first thing an employer or recruiter is likely to see when going through applications. Photo: Getty

Writing a CV isn’t an easy task. Not only do you need to highlight your experience in a concise way, you also need to showcase your skills, abilities and qualifications without writing an essay.

When you really want a job, it can be tempting to delve into a thesaurus to jazz up your resume and try to impress an employer. But being too verbose and using too much unnecessary jargon can actually hinder your chances of landing an interview.

Your CV is the first thing an employer or recruiter is likely to see when going through applications, so getting it right is essential if you want to get a foot in the door.

“Even though your CV is the most important part of your application, the time a recruiter or potential employer spends on it is incredibly short,” says Will Capper, HR expert and founder of job search engine DirectlyApply.

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“You are not the only candidate that is after this position so your recruiter will want to be able to quickly scan your resume for specifications that match their requirements.”

In its 2018 eye-tracking study, Ladders Inc found that the time recruiters spend on the initial screen of a resume is 7.4 seconds, up from an average of six seconds in 2012. So if they can’t immediately see that you’ll be the correct candidate within a quick scan of your CV, you risk being turned down for a job.

“This can especially become the case if you ramble on about specific job terms that your employer might not be familiar with or bothered about,” Capper says.

Long and complicated words and sentences might look impressive and make you sound like you know what you’re talking about, but the key lies in simplicity.

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“The usage of clear and plain language which is to the point will be much more effective than going on about things such as ‘synergy’ and ‘core competency’. The longer and more passive you write about your skills and achievements, the less impact they’ll have on the reader,” he explains.

And remember, the first person who sees your CV may be HR or recruitment, not someone directly linked to the role. 

“Chances are, they don’t really know specifics when it comes down to the position you are applying for, and therefore won’t know the even more specific terminology that comes with it,” says Capper.

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“The main things to avoid here are words specific to the role, the company and your industry. A good way to make sure your resume will be understood by a wide audience is to have your layman friend proofread your resume before sending it in.”

It’s also helpful to remember that different phrases can have different meanings, depending on who is reading your CV. If it’s someone unfamiliar with your industry, the acronyms you use could have a completely different meaning to them.

“For example, to you, it might make sense that DTP means ‘Desktop Publishing’, but someone else might assume it stands for Department of Transport,” Capper says. “If you must use them, make sure to spell out any abbreviations when they appear for the first time to avoid being criticised.”

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That isn’t to say you shouldn’t include jargon that is relevant to the job you are applying for and only stick to standard vocabulary. Instead, it’s all about balance.

“The key is to know what words to use and when, and not to overdo it. Employers will value it when they are assured you, a potential employee, really do know what you’re talking about,” Capper says. “Don’t oversimplify where it’s not necessary but at the same time ensure you only use clear-cut terminology to avoid sounding over-complicated.”

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