Home > Random Rants, The Monday Musings Column > let’s stop using power words in CVs and bid documents

let’s stop using power words in CVs and bid documents

Last week I got involved in a cyber-debate about the overuse of power words, in this case about their use in CVs, but the principle applies more widely. I have two main issues with this abuse of language; firstly that much of it is transparently nonsense (and therefore untrue) and secondly that it wastes my time.

Taking the second point first my time is wasted reading this stuff to see if there is anything intelligent in it. Most of the time there isn’t and so I have to do further work to find what I need. Regardless of whether it is a bid document or a CV my time is being abused (and my client is paying me for my time). But it is the first issue that is the most worrying for I see it as treating the audience as stupid; do people really think that we are so shallow as to be taken in by these extravagant claims?

Worryingly yes, they do and we are surrounded by them. My TV gushes at me “Coming Monday at 9, all new (insert name of any series)”, but it will be the same cast on the same set with the same sub plot lines and the same episodic plot format. All that is new is the dialogue and supporting cast, so there is a blatant untruth.  Does that matter, or is it a harmless advertising puff? Maybe it is the latter, but if so we are making lying part of everyday behaviour and that is not a good thing.

When I read that a job candidate is passionate about delivering business goals I think that is what they are being paid for and look for evidence to support that claim, but it is rarely to be found and the same will probably apply to the company whose bid document tells me that they excel at innovative ways in delivering world class service. That isn’t to say that no-one has these capabilities and attributes, but let’s just be honest here.

There are loads of people offering to help make your bid or CV stand out (and yes I am one). Given that almost every one of these documents that I see these days is riddled with power words then the obvious answer is not to use them; if I am on the receiving end then your submission will come as a breath of fresh air to me.

The aim of a CV or a bid document is to help persuade someone to choose you over the others, and that is how we got into this mess in the first place as people began to try and cram as many buzz words and phrases as possible into their pitch. Over the years that I have been around senior management teams I’ve seen some real experts at management speak at work; people who can speak for twenty minutes or more without actually saying anything. It sounds fantastic, but has all the substance of the Emperor’s new clothes and yet people bought into it, often I suspect because it sounded so good that they didn’t want to make themselves look stupid by challenging it.

These days decision makers are getting immune to it and hopefully will soon become allergic at which point the first power word encountered will trigger immediate rejection of the document. At the end of the day would you really want to work for a business that was so shallow as to actually believe in this nonsense? So come on people, stop wasting my time and everybody else’s and just use English.

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  1. January 21, 2013 at 10:56 pm

    Couldn’t agree more John. There is so much meaningless waffle, it can make politicians sound succinct. In bid documents we need to tangibly define added value, continuous improvement, innovation, etc. Meaningless management speak such as “granularity”, “stepping out of the box”, etc has driven me to distraction throughout my career.

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