How to Avoid Law CV Cliches?


There are few things that make a worse first impression on a recruiter than a CV containing CV cliches.

As well as creating a poor impression it might be hard to recover from, you also run the risk that your CV lacks substance and evidential impact.

These factors will most likely to lead your CV onto the “No” pile.

In this article, I will explain what CV cliches are, why I advise you to avoid them, why candidates include them and what to do instead.

What are CV Cliches?

Let’s start with the dictionary definition of cliche:

a phrase that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought.

CV cliches are words or phrases overused specifically by job candidates.

Examples of cliches I most regularly read on lawyers’ CV’s are:

  • Hard-working
  • Strong communication skills
  • Team player – often expressed as something like “Work well in a team or individually”
  • Driven
  • Proven track record
  • Extensive experience
  • Experienced in…
  • Responsible for…
  • Work well under pressure
  • Motivated
  • Detail-oriented
  • Entrepreneurial
  • Work on own initiative

Such CV cliches are often most prevalent in the CV Profile section included at the top of many CV’s (otherwise called “Overview”, “Summary” or similar).

Why You Must Avoid Them

Of course, many of these CV cliches highlight desirable skills and attributes. In fact, you will regularly see them posted as specific requirements in job adverts.

The problem is candidates regurgitate them so much they have become tired and meaningless buzzwords. They are little more than white noise to recruiters and, consequently, they have become immune to them.

The truth is, many of these skills and attributes are a prerequisite. So, you don’t sell yourself by claiming to have them. For example, who wouldn’t claim to be “hard-working” or “motivated”?.

A critical problem with many of these cliches is they are vague unsubstantiated claims about skills and attributes.

With many CV’s I read, I could quite easily change the name at the top of the CV and these CV cliches would still be able to apply. They are not personalised enough and have little evidential impact.

Why do candidates include them?

There is a combination of potential factors at play here:

  • These same words and phrases are the ones that spring to mind when we seek to describe our experiences, skills and attributes.
  • We think these skills and attributes are what successful people have.
  • We assume they are what recruiters want to hear.
  • We think our use of these words alone will impress a recruiter and demonstrate you have what they are looking for. Yet, they usually have the opposite effect.
  • We use a CV template littered with cliches, as many are. Our reliance on precedents as lawyers makes us trust a template as the “right way” to draft a CV and we duplicate the cliches in them.

In my experience, the majority of us are guilty of this to a greater or lesser extent. When I review my own CV’s from my legal career I cringe as I read things like:

  • “Proven track record…”
  • “Gained considerable experience of working with…”
  • “Developed strong legal and commercial skills…”
  • “Skills developed included…”
  • “Gained a good understanding of…”

There are also certain words that are popular with candidates at a given point in time. They become overused and cliched.

Each year Linkedin publishes the top 10 most used words on their member profiles. I recommend you review the current list of Linkedin Buzzwords and proofread your CV and Linkedin profile to find these words. Pull out the thesaurus and find your own original wording to replace them with.

What To Do Instead

The antidote to CV cliches is factual evidence.

The mantra I use with my CV Relaunch clients to help them avoid most of the common cliches is this:

Demonstrate Don’t Tell”

Demonstrate your skills and attributes using examples and facts, rather than merely tell a recruiter you have them.

Instead of making vague, unsubstantiated claims about your “effective communication skills”, demonstrate them with an example from your achievements.

Recruiters need to have some factual evidence on which to base their recruitment decisions.

It’s like telling someone you have a particular physical attribute versus showing them a photo to prove it. Evidence will always trump an unsubstantiated claim.

CV Cliches Can Easily Creep In

You may think you don’t use cliches and your own CV has more substance to it. Yet, it’s rare I read a CV from my lawyer clients and not pick up some CV cliches in it.

This alone may explain why they are not being successful in their job search.

Much of my preliminary work with my CV Relaunch clients centres involves the identification of CV cliches and tired template style language. My clients and I then work together to replace it with original and achievement-based language for greater impact.

Want me to review your CV and send you a template to model?

Complete the Contact Form and I will send you a short questionnaire about your current circumstances and intended purpose for your CV.

I will then send you an initial “first impressions” review of your CV together with a template that is fit for purpose.

Want a blueprint for a winning law CV?

Make sure you check out our Essential Guide to Creating a Successful Lawyer CV.

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Matt Oliver

Matt is the founder of Law Career Plus and a former in-house lawyer (Sky Sports, London & Foxtel, Sydney). With over 12 years of experience as a career consultant & executive coach, he supports lawyers with their career development & career transitions. He does this through this website, a regular email newsletter and his one to one lawyer career coaching.

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