How do you make yourself stand out in English job applications? How can you write the perfect English university application? How can you best describe yourself in English? Let’s learn some of the most useful vocabulary for job interviews, resumes, and university applications in today’s episode of Thinking in English!

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How To Describe Yourself in English?  

As well as running the Thinking in English podcast, I occasionally help people with job interviews and resumes, as well as applications to study at universities and graduate schools in the UK and America. I’ve probably written more applications myself since I was 18 than the majority of people: for scholarships, jobs, masters degrees and other programmes. 

One thing that most people struggle to do is write an excellent application. On average, a recruiter spends less that 10 seconds looking at your CV and resume before they decide whether to consider your application. 10 seconds…. You have such a short time to make the best impression possible – which means you need to carefully craft an application which effectively communicates your skills and values.

However, people often rely on boring adjectives and describing words in their applications, or fall into the trap of using overused cliches and metaphors. What is the problem with this? Well… you sound just like everyone else who is applying for the job, or hoping to get a place at university! What was once a powerful and imaginative way of making yourself stand out in a resume, has likely become so overused that the words and phrases have lost all meaning and uniqueness. 

A CV/Resume
How would you design your CV/resume/application? Photo by Lukas on

Actually, I recommend you all listen to the podcast I recorded last year on George Orwell’s tips for writing – he argues this exact same thing: stay away from clichés and metaphors that you have seen written in other places! I always advise people to listen to that podcast or read his essay before they try to write an application! 

Also, you probably should also brush up on the difference between academic, business, and conversational English – on which fortunately for all of you I have recorded an episode. And, you may need to take an English proficiency test, so I’ll also link to the episode I did on the difference between IELTS and TOEFL on the blog as well!!

Overused phrases, clichés, and metaphors

Let me give you some examples of overused phrases. I’ve probably read hundreds of university applications written by both native English speakers and non-native speakers over the past 7 or 8 years – and at least 80% use one of the following two sentences in their first paragraph. Let’s imagine you’re applying for an engineering degree. “I have always been passionate about engineering” “I have wanted to be an engineer for as long as I can remember”. 

While you may think these phrases sound fine to you, the recruiters and staff looking at applications for companies and universities have seen such phrases thousands of times. Such phrases don’t add anything to your application, they don’t make you stand out, and they aren’t going to help you write a successful application. After looking at such an application for 10 seconds, a recruiter is not really going to know anything about you. 

So, how can you write a successful application? Hopefully, I can help with that over the next few weeks. I’m going to introduce you to adjectives and action verbs that help improve the overall quality of your CVs and resumes, as well as tell you what not to include in applications. I think this will be a three part series of episodes, and I’ll start with a few adjectives you could use to make yourself sound more original. 

Don’t ‘tell’ people about yourself, ‘show’ them your value!

Now, I have to be honest with you before we jump into the vocabulary. While these following adjectives are extremely useful in helping to describe yourself to prospective employers, I am actually a supporter of evidence-based applications rather than descriptive applications. What do I mean? 

Well, instead of saying “I’m a proactive and self-driven person,” which is a description, I think it is better to write something like “I identified a niche in the education podcast market for advanced English learners, and over the year 2021 started and grew Thinking in English into a community of thousands of listeners.” 

When was your last job interview? Photo by cottonbro on

Instead of saying that “I am proactive and self-driven,” I demonstrated and showed that I am proactive and self-driven. It is better to show your skills to employers, rather than tell them your skills. I once had a friend who used to tell people he could speak Russian… but one day we met a Russian student at university and it turned out that friend was lying or exaggerating – he couldn’t speak with the Russian student at all. If you show you have a skill, it is much easier to believe than just telling people. 

Regardless of this, I realise that sometimes we still need to use descriptions in interviews and applications, so the following adjectives are good options to include! Perhaps you can include both adjectives and evidence in a sentence – I’ll try to provide examples of this! Part 2 on action verbs will probably come out next week, and part 3 in a fortnight (British English for two weeks!).

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Excellent Describing Vocabulary To Use In Job Interviews And Applications!


If you are ambitious you have a strong desire to be successful, achieve your goals, and progress in your career. Companies and universities usually want ambitious people in their organisation, as ambitious people are usually the ones who work the hardest and bring the most innovation!

“I have ambitious plans for developing the department, including introducing new incentives and improving team morale.”

Bilingual (or Trilingual, Multilingual, etc)

If you’re listening to this podcast, or reading this blog, it is very, very likely you are bilingual. Bilingual means you know and are able to use two different languages – for example your native language and English. Bilingual employees are often in demand – especially at international companies.

If you speak three languages, we can call you trilingual. If you speak three or more languages, we can describe you as multilingual. And if you are one of those amazing people who speaks four, five, six or even more languages, you are a polyglot. All of these terms will make you appealing to potential employers and universities!

“As I am trilingual in French, Spanish, and English, I believe I would be a vital addition to your expanding European business.”

What languages can you speak? Photo by mentatdgt on


If you are competent, you are properly or sufficiently qualified, capable, or efficient. Competent people have the skills and knowledge to do something well. Maybe you are a competent programmer, a competent writer, or a competent chef. It doesn’t mean you are brilliant, but it means that you are good enough – it is useful to describe additional qualities you have which are not essential for your main role. 

“As well as writing and researching numerous articles every week, I have also become competent in social media marketing and search engine optimization” 


If you are conscientious, you are characterised by extreme care and great effort. Conscientious people put a lot of effort into their work, and also feel a responsibility to do their work fairly and carefully. A conscientious employee, for instance, wouldn’t distract co-workers, and would never let the team down!

“I am a conscientious and dedicated employee, who will undoubtedly be an asset to your company”


You just heard the word dedicated in the previous example – what does it mean? If you are dedicated you believe your work is very important and you give a lot of time and energy to doing that work. Dedicated employees make sure to always be early, go beyond their simple job role, and devote all their attention to the job!

“As a dedicated employee, I regularly volunteered for leadership and team leader positions, and often went beyond my job description by creating and designing solutions to problems”


If someone describes you as diligent, it means they think you are careful, use a lot of effort, and have perseverance in carrying out different tasks. Diligent employees are in demand and popular with companies, as they are careful and serious in completing their work, which means diligent employees rarely make mistakes!

“In my previous role, I was known as a diligent worker who only completed projects to the highest quality” 


Efficient is a great adjective to use in applications, interviews, resumes, and CVs. Efficient people are able to accomplish their purposes. Efficient people can work quickly and effectively in an organised way. If you are efficient you operate in a way that achieves your goals without waste. Efficient employees can get their work done quickly, without wasting time procrastinating, taking breaks, or spending too much effort on less important issues. Efficient can also be used to describe technology, processes, and programmes! 

“By reducing the number of meetings and simplifying the structure of the department, I was able to create an efficient and effective work environment”

Are you industrious, meticulous, entrepreneurial and dedicated? Photo by Ruslan Burlaka on


Entrepreneurial is an adjective that relates to a person who starts their own businesses, or is excellent in finding new ways to make money or create products. In general, entrepreneurial people are willing to take risks in order to make money! Often start-ups and newly founded companies like to recruit entrepreneurial employees who are willing to find new and innovative ways to expand businesses. If you have started your own business, launched your own project, or even if you sold candy at school as a child, I think we can describe you as entrepreneurial.

“After resigning from my previous role, I embraced my entrepreneurial side and founded my own education platform.”


In a nutshell, an industrious person works hard. Industrious employees are characterised by great effort and perseverance. Companies can get frustrated by lazy or slow employees, so it is important to show that you are industrious in your applications and interviews. In fact, most companies demand employees to be both competent and industrious. 

“As a dedicated, competent, and industrious employee, I was regularly commended by company executives for the quality of my work and commitment to my job!”


Are you the kind of person who takes extreme care in the details of a project or task? If so, you are meticulous! Meticulous people pay great attention to every detail and are very careful in their work. A meticulous housekeeper makes sure every centimetre of the house is completely clean; a meticulous proof-reader will find every mistake in a piece of writing; a meticulous researcher will read hundreds of articles for every report they write! 

After hours of meticulous preparation, my first book was published to critical acclaim”


Resourceful people are skilled at solving problems and making decisions by themselves. Rather than relying on others, resourceful people can use their own knowledge, skills, and imagination to solve problems. As I can’t afford to pay someone to produce my graphics for the Instagram posts I upload every week, I needed to be resourceful and use my own imagination to create designs. 

“I regularly worked independently and accomplished tasks using my own knowledge and skills, demonstrating that I am a resourceful and hard working employee”

Final Thought

In the first part of this series on ways to write excellent applications, resumes, and CVs, I have tried to provide you with some useful adjectives to help improve your vocabulary! By including such terms, you should be able to better communicate your skills, knowledge, and experience. Importantly, pay attention to the example sentences – rather than just telling people you are ‘resourceful,’ ‘dedicated,’ or ‘meticulous,’ you should show and demonstrate this through examples!

Next week, we will look at active verbs – which are perhaps even more important than adjectives in writing applications! As always, if you have any questions just reach out to me on Instagram or by the contact form on the blog! I’ll be sure to reply (especially on Instagram I usually reply straight away!). 

Have you ever had to write an application, or taken an interview in English? Let me know your experience, tips, and advice, in the comments!! 

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By Tom Wilkinson

Host and founder of Thinking in English, Tom is committed to providing quality and interesting content to all English learners. Previously a research student at a top Japanese university and with a background in English teaching, political research, and Asian languages, Tom is now working fulltime on bettering Thinking in English!

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