How do you make yourself stand out in a job application, interview, or university personal statement? One great method is to use powerful ACTION verbs!! Let’s discover the benefits of action verbs in today’s episode of Thinking in English!

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How do you make yourself stand out in a job application, interview, or university personal statement?

For the most popular opportunities, recruiters and schools will be looking through hundreds, maybe even thousands, of different documents. How can you catch their attention, show all of your experience and talents clearly, and write a winning application? 

Last week, in part 1 of this series, I tried to show you all how using advanced adjectives can help you to describe your qualities and skills succinctly and effectively. Most people rely on boring descriptive terms and phrases, or completely overused clichés and jargon, as they think such vocabulary can make them seem more intelligent or professional. 

Thousands of applicants will talk about how they are passionate, hard-working, or committed. But a CV or Resume is a short document, only a few hundred words – you need to carefully and thoughtfully select the best adjectives to use in your applications. A great choice of adjectives will make your application memorable, compelling, and attractive; a bad choice of adjectives may make your application boring, repetitive, and confusing. 

Make sure you check out last week’s episodes – it will be linked in the description of the podcast and on the blog – for a more detailed discussion of adjectives and some examples. One thing I tried to make clear last week, however, is that adjectives alone are not enough! 

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SHOW, don’t tell!

Adjectives are a way of describing yourself – which is certainly necessary in an application. But just using describing words is not going to help you stand out. Rather than telling companies or universities why you are valuable, why your experience is excellent, or why you’re an outstanding candidate, I think you need to SHOW them. 

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Think about it this way. I’m a tall person – I’m a little under 190cm tall. Do you believe me? I’ve just told you I’m tall – but do you have any proof? Have I given you any reason to trust my claim, other than my own words? Well, what if I showed you some evidence – maybe a picture, medical records, or publicly available document? If I showed you some evidence, you would have more reason to believe me. 

When you are writing resumes or applications, or you are sitting in an interview, remember this advice: Instead of just saying you are hardworking, show everyone that you are hardworking. Taking myself as an example, maybe I could write a sentence like this – “As well as founding Thinking in English, drafting each topic, and crafting every episode, I researched Japanese immigration and multiculturalism at a top university, delivered regular English classes online, and strived to sharpen my language skills.” I have shown that I am hardworking by providing examples, instead of just saying I am hardworking. 

What are ACTION verbs?

The key is to combine well chosen adjectives with ACTION verbs!  Action verbs are simply words that describe an action – and by choosing strong action verbs you can effectively demonstrate your accomplishments, skills, and experience! In the example sentence I just wrote about myself – action verbs included founded, drafted, crafted, researched, delivered, strived, and sharpened. 

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Why should you use action verbs?  Well, the simple answer is that they are a powerful tool to help you avoid weak, overused, and boring language. When writing an English language application, you need to make yourself sound as strong and important as possible. I know some languages tend to use the passive voice, or third person, in such situations as it can seem more polite or humble. But in English writing, it can come off as a little weak to do so – instead of saying “my project was a great success,” try saying “I spearheaded a highly successful project.”

So action verbs will make you sound confident and they will clearly emphasise your points. Moreover, powerful action verbs are far more interesting than boring overused terms and phrases. You want to present yourself as an outstanding candidate in your applications – so start using outstanding vocabulary! 

Let me give you some examples, 

Weak sentence “The computer club I started at university gained about 50 members. We held events for students interested in computers.”

Stronger sentence“I founded a popular computer club at university, which capitalised on an untapped area of student interest, and I actively facilitated events, collaborated with other clubs, and generated a membership of over 50 individuals.”

Weak sentence“I made some helpful suggestions to my boss which eventually caused changes in company policy”

Stronger sentence – “I influenced company policy, coordinated closely with senior colleagues, and eventually inspired material change”

There are literally hundreds of different action verbs out there. Now, I’ll introduce a few action verbs that I think will be most useful for all people and situations! However, when it comes to writing your applications, make sure you check online or in dictionaries for words that are relevant to you – different action verbs are useful for creative jobs, financial jobs, managerial jobs, or academic opportunities! Actually, I’ll leave a link here to a list of 195 different action verbs – check it out if you’re interested! 

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ESSENTIAL Action Verbs

To enact

To enact means to put something into action. If you enact something, you turn an idea into a real change in policy or law. You should use enact to talk about policies and changes you enacted in previous roles!

“I enacted an anonymous application process, which was a major change in company recruitment policy, and succeeded in establishing a fairer and more representative system”

To establish

Establish can often be used in a similar way to enact. Establish has a few different meanings, including starting something that will last for a long time, or creating something in a particular way. If you have ever made a new organisation, group, or programme, you can use establish to talk about this!  

“I established a weekly meeting with senior management, which resulted in greater levels of cooperation and collaboration” 

To spearhead

If you spearhead something, you lead it: you are in charge and responsible. Often we can say that you spearhead a course of action. Use spearhead to describe what you were responsible for, programmes you have led, and initiatives you implemented!

“I spearheaded the company’s new marketing initiatives, and achieved remarkable results.”

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To accomplish

Accomplish means to finish something successful, or more simply to achieve something. You can talk about what you accomplished in previous jobs or at university. Maybe you accomplished a lot, or maybe you accomplished something specific!

“I accomplished a lot during my time in America, including spearheading the company’s growth strategy and developing my language skills”

To coordinate

If you coordinate things, you make many different or separate things work effectively as a whole. Often jobs require you to coordinate different schedules, with different departments, and with many people! 

“By coordinating my efforts with various different departments, I effectively implemented a company wide policy change”

To implement 

Implement is relatively similar to other words I’ve introduced so far – like establish or enact. To implement means to put a plan or system into operation. You can implement a new policy, implement change, or implement reforms! Implement is an excellent action verb to use when describing what you did in previous roles!

“I implemented a new social media marketing strategy, which increased sales by over 70%”

To compose

I’ve included compose here as it can be a useful alternative to the verb “write.” To compose means to produce or create music, poems, or formal writing! So, you could talk about composing emails, composing reports, or composing formal documents.

“I composed a key report that was published in numerous national newspapers”

To conceptualise

If you conceptualise something, you form an idea or principle in your mind. In a nutshell, conceptualise is a great alternative to “think,” ”picture,” or “imagine.” 

“By conceptualising a new way of processing sales, we were able revolutionise the industry”

To strategize

To strategize means to think of a detailed plan for achieving success in situations including business and industry. Strategizing involves planning, expecting, and arranging a variety of different factors. Strategize is an excellent and valuable term to use in applications and interviews!

“I believe it is important to strategize and plan for the future”

To generate

Generate is a great action verb – It means to cause something to exist. You can generate sales, generate new jobs, generate income, or generate interest and excitement! When you use generate you are suggesting that your actions actively created something new. 

“I improved the club’s ability to generate income by introducing new products”

To cultivate

Cultivate means to try and develop and improve something. It originally referred to growing crops, but cultivate now can be used to refer to your efforts to establish, develop, and improve things. You can cultivate images, relationships, and work cultures!

“I cultivated a reputation as an excellent negotiator”  

To foster

In a similar way to cultivate, foster means to encourage the development or growth of ideas or feelings. It is important for managers to create a work culture that fosters great and innovative suggestions. 

“I endeavoured to foster a culture of cooperation and collaboration in my previous role” 

To optimise

Optimise is a really useful action verb – it means to make something as good or effective as possible! You can talk about optimising a process, optimising a way of using technology, and optimising an approach. 

“I optimised the production process which increased both speed and profits” 

Final Thought

In the second part of this series on ways to write excellent applications, resumes, and university personal statements, I have tried to highlight the importance of action verbs! Using such verbs should help you to emphasise and communicate your skills to recruiters and companies. Combine action verbs with the kind of adjectives I introduced in part 1 of the series!!

Next week, in part 3, I will take a look at what you shouldn’t include in your applications and resumes. I’ve mentioned a lot about metaphors, clichés, overused terms, and business jargon – but what do I mean?

So make sure to follow the podcast and blog to ensure you don’t miss out! And 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 take 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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