Contractors’ Questions: Should I copy the language in their job ad?

Contractor’s Question: In both the permanent job and contract-searching process, how much should I mimic the agent’s/client’s language if I want to succeed?

I’ve always thought that whether it’s covering letters, CV rewrites or tweaks to my LinkedIn profile, it’s good to mirror the tone, style and language of the spec or the decision-maker.

But in the last application I wrote, I just felt that throwing back to them their very corporate language would stand out as being crawling. It was management-speak overload!

In the interview however, I did use their jargonised terms and the interviewer looked like he was cringing, as was I a bit. Almost needless, to say I wasn’t successful. Please help!

Expert’s Answer: This is a good question -- style and substance are interesting aspects of an application. In terms of substance, I would make sure that you prove that you have all the skills and areas of expertise mentioned in the job spec or contract brief.

This information would appear in your CV’s opening Summary; your Key Skills section, in your three case studies that I would recommend you have on page one (focused around your biggest projects / achievements). And it would be incorporated into Career History.

In terms of using exact phrases, acronyms and jargon, you need to make sure that keywords are used in your CV to get past the recruitment software / applicant tracking systems (used by 75% of recruiters) as the ATS will have been programmed to match CVs against the job spec (that’s what they do).

If the job spec uses one phrase and you use another, the ATS will not identify the appropriateness of your application. In addition, the recruiter will want to cross-reference your experience with the job spec, so using the same terminology on your CV is going to help this process.

In terms of style, most contractors are senior, intelligent and well-qualified professionals, so a certain ‘level’ of communication is required. Our yard stick is to write a CV as you would a Degree essay or perhaps an MBA thesis. So that means using strong vocabulary and recognised business terms. An example I like to use is that “Setting KPIs” could and should be phrased on your CV as “Designing and implementing robust Performance Management capability”. It’s not trying to be ‘fancy pants’ about your experience; it’s just a question of using strong business vocabulary.

When it comes to interviews, you are best advised to revert to your natural style and range of vocabulary. If you are squirming and feeling uncomfortable then the likelihood is that you will not ‘ace’ the interview. Answering questions under pressure is a little different to writing your CV, where you have more time to think about your terminology.

In summary, match your CV to the job spec or contract brief but be more ‘yourself’ in the interview.

And you don’t mention it in your question, but if you’re seeking the highest pay you’ve ever received from an IT contract, I will be delivering a webinar for Contractor UK -- 'How to write a CV that will get you your best ever daily rate’ -- on Wednesday May 9th at 7.15pm. Although I can’t guarantee any jargon, I can promise all contractors lots more advice, including the strong business vocabulary you should be using, to get more money out of your CV. You can find our more and register here.

The expert was Matt Craven, founder of The CV & Interview Advisors, experts on helping contractors win more work at higher rates.

Saturday 5th May 2018