I or no-one at all? CV grammar and styles

Tue, 28/08/2012 - 11:41 -- nick

This is one of Richmond Solutions' excellent blogs on writing a CV. In it you will find information on how to make the grammar in your CV work for you, and what the current practice is for writing a CV. The most important points are to make it easy to read (remember, the person who reads it is likely to read many CVs every day), to check your grammar, and to be consistent throughout the CV. Richmond Solutions like using 'I' in CVs to help the reader connect with the writer.

'Like all things, CV writing goes through fashions. As a result, many people are anxious to know which style they should adopt and one of the questions that comes up most often is whether you should write in the first person, the third person or without pronouns at all.

While we would write in any of these styles (and indeed have), we know which mast we pin our colours to. Our "house style", if you like, is to write in the first person. Why? It is warmer, more personal and, done well, it should read as though you are making a presentation about yourself and your career to the reader.

Detractors say that by having to use the word "I" (and its variants) so often, you sound as though you are blowing your own trumpet. I would counter that by pointing out that by using the first person, you increase the number of rhetorical devices available to you and this in turn means you can vary your language sufficiently not to have to say "I", "my" or "me" at every turn. Also, your CV is meant to promote you and your achievements and, if it doesn't, it is unlikely to meet its objective.

I can tell that some of you still aren't convinced and are generally more comfortable with a "no pronouns" style. After all, there are no absolutes in CV writing and we know that the beauty of these things is in the eye of the beholder. However, we see many hundreds of CVs per year and a higher proportion of the ones that use the "no pronouns" style read poorly (in this I make no comment on the content, just the English). What tips would I give you if you wish to write your CV well in this style

  • Watch your grammar. The most common problem we find with CVs written without pronouns is that they are ungrammatical. You might say that the omission of pronouns makes this inevitable, but it shouldn't. Effectively, you are writing in the third person but without (s)he, his/her, him/her or your name. If you read a sentence back, mentally including pronouns where they would naturally go in and it doesn't make sense, then it needs rewriting.
  • Be consistent. Once you've decided that you're not going to include pronouns for your CV to look polished and professional, you need to stick to your guns. We sometimes receive CVs which are largely written without pronouns but in a particularly complex sentence, a stray his, her or whatever gets in. You either need to express yourself differently or choose to write the CV in another style.
  • Ensure your sentences flow. By writing without pronouns you are essentially writing in what my old history teacher called "note form". The result may be that the sentences are quite short and "staccato" (using the term in its musical sense) and in turn, it can make the document quite jarring to read. To overcome this problem, think about how you can vary the length and rhythm of your sentences to make the CV attractive to read.

The bottom line with whatever style you choose for your CV it needs to be accurate and well-written. This is not a question of formal or informal – smart business English is the order of the day. It is worth remembering that the number one reason for people rejecting a CV without so much as a second glance is poor spelling and grammar and so it doesn't matter how fantastic the content is if you get that wrong. And let us not forget, the easiest way to persuade someone to read on, is to give them something that they enjoy reading!

Heidi Nicholson

Via Richmond Solutions