10 Verbalising your future

Employers are often more interested in what you have done, rather than what you just know. Your actions are a key part of your story we discussed in section 8.7.8. A simple technique for emphasising the action in your stories is to lead descriptions of your PROJECTS, EDUCATION and EXPERIENCE with carefully chosen verbs, see section 8.8.5 for examples.

10.1 Your actions define your impact

Your actions define your impact, see figure 10.1. What stories can you tell of your actions to date? What verbs best describe how you achieved a result or had an impact? What was the context, action, result and evidence (CARE) we discussed in section 8.7.8 of each (short) story?

What action have you taken and what stories can you tell about the results and your impact? What are the best verbs for highlighting your actions? Your actions define your impact by Visual Thinkery is licensed under CC-BY-ND via Angela Maiers

Figure 10.1: What action have you taken and what stories can you tell about the results and your impact? What are the best verbs for highlighting your actions? Your actions define your impact by Visual Thinkery is licensed under CC-BY-ND via Angela Maiers

By leading with verbs you will highlight what you have actually done and how you did it, rather than what you know. It also helps you cut down on repetitive personal pronouns: I, me, my etc. See the verbs first section 8.8.5 of chapter 8 debugging your future.

Your future is bright, your future needs verbalising, so let’s start verbalising your future.

10.2 What you will learn

By the end of this chapter you will be able to:

  1. Emphasise your actions when describing your education, projects and experience on your CV
  2. Reflect on
    • what skills you already have
    • what skills you need to develop
  3. Demonstrate those skills explicitly and quickly in job applications

10.3 Breakpoints

Let’s pause here. Insert a breakpoint in your code and slowly step through it so we can examine the current values of your variables and parameters.

* PAUSE ⏸️

Quickly scan your CV, covering letter or application form for VERBS:

  • Where are the verbs?
    • buried deep in long sections of prose? OR
    • prominently leading descriptions of your activities?
  • Have you over-used certain verbs (like worked or assisted for example) or been repetitive (like over-using developed see alternatives in section 10.5)
  • How can you increase the variety of verbs you have used (without exaggerating or lying)?
  • Which verbs are stronger than others and why?
  • Are there any categories of verbs you can’t provide evidence for, such as leadership (see section 10.6) or influencing (see section 10.11)?
    • What activities or projects could you do that would help you develop these missing skills?
* RESUME ▶️

We’ve classified the verbs you might use on your CV into sets below:

  • 👩‍👩‍👧‍👦 Team verbs: section 10.4
  • 🛠 Engineering verbs: section 10.5
  • 💡 Leadership verbs: section 10.6
  • 📈 Improving verbs: section 10.7
  • 🧪 Scientific verbs: section 10.8
  • 🏆 Winning verbs: section 10.9
  • 📆 Organising verbs: section 10.10
  • 💪 Influencing verbs: section 10.11
  • 🐹 Weasel verbs: section 10.12
  • 💩 Bullshit verbs: section 10.13
  • 🤖 AI verbs: section 10.14
  • 😶 Missing verbs: section 10.15

10.4 Team verbs

Some verbs to demonstrate how you have worked and communicated with others in a team, see figure 10.2

What kinds of teams have you been a part of? What role did you play in the team? How did your team work make the dream work? Employers will want to know the details, so spell it out for them explicitly using carefully chosen verbs to describe the different roles and responsibilities you’ve taken while working towards common goals. CC BY picture of a team pushing a vehicle out the mud by Clear Path International on Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/9f4Y adapted using the Wikipedia App 👩‍👩‍👧‍👦

Figure 10.2: What kinds of teams have you been a part of? What role did you play in the team? How did your team work make the dream work? Employers will want to know the details, so spell it out for them explicitly using carefully chosen verbs to describe the different roles and responsibilities you’ve taken while working towards common goals. CC BY picture of a team pushing a vehicle out the mud by Clear Path International on Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/9f4Y adapted using the Wikipedia App 👩‍👩‍👧‍👦

  • administered
  • advised
  • advocated if you campaigned or lobbied for something to happen
  • assisted
  • attended …but show outcomes
  • briefed
  • coached
  • consulted either as giver or receiver
  • collaborated
  • communicated
  • contributed
  • discussed
  • encouraged
  • explained
  • instructed (if you helped others)
  • interviewed
  • organised
  • performed
  • presented
  • recommended
  • recruited you persuaded people to join you
  • served e.g. customer service or serving a community
  • shadowed e.g. work shadowing
  • suggested
  • volunteered

10.5 Engineering verbs

There’s no shortage of verbs to describe your engineering skills, see figure 10.3.

What verbs can you use to describe your application of science and mathematics in order to engineer software and hardware? CC BY-SA Beam engine picture by Nicolás Pérez on Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/9g4y adapted using the Wikipedia app 🛠

Figure 10.3: What verbs can you use to describe your application of science and mathematics in order to engineer software and hardware? CC BY-SA Beam engine picture by Nicolás Pérez on Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/9g4y adapted using the Wikipedia app 🛠

Verbs you could use to demonstrate your engineering skills:

  • adapted e.g. new features
  • added e.g. new features
  • analysed e.g. the requirements
  • applied e.g. the appliance of science
  • architected
  • assigned e.g. bugs to team members
  • automated e.g. builds and tests etc
  • built
  • branched e.g. git
  • configured
  • designed e.g. greenfield software development
  • cloned e.g. git
  • debugged most software engineering is debugging your own, and other people’s code
  • developed
  • deployed
  • documented
  • engineered
  • exploited not a person but a feature
  • fixed e.g. bugs
  • gathered e.g. requirements
  • implemented e.g. your favourite algorithm
  • installed
  • integrated e.g. different systems
  • made
  • merged e.g. git
  • migrated
  • modified
  • optmised you improved the performance of something
  • refactored
  • solved
  • specified
  • upgraded
  • tested

10.6 Leadership verbs

How can you convince your reader you are actively developing your leadership skills? Are you a manipulative Machiavellian ruler or are you capable of a more empathetic and inclusive approach, see figure 10.4?

What kind of leader do you want to be? Do you want to be loved or feared? Neither or both? The diplomat Niccolò Machiavelli argued that it is best to be feared if you can’t be loved. Thankfully many other kinds of leadership are available, with a wide range of verbs to describe them: mentored, motivated, demonstrated, facilitated, and supervised etc. Public domain image of a portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito on Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/5FCv and adapted using the Wikipedia app 💡

Figure 10.4: What kind of leader do you want to be? Do you want to be loved or feared? Neither or both? The diplomat Niccolò Machiavelli argued that it is best to be feared if you can’t be loved. Thankfully many other kinds of leadership are available, with a wide range of verbs to describe them: mentored, motivated, demonstrated, facilitated, and supervised etc. Public domain image of a portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito on Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/5FCv and adapted using the Wikipedia app 💡

Verbs you could use to demonstrate your leadership:

  • accelerated not just hardware acceleration but people too!
  • argued e.g. persuasive reasoning, either spoken or written
  • deputised because sometimes you have follow, you can’t always be a leader
  • demonstrated
  • enabled
  • established
  • created
  • decided you’ve had the power to make (or influence) decision making
  • devised
  • directed
  • influenced see section 10.11
  • facilitated
  • founded or co-founded you started something from scratch
  • guided
  • hosted
  • initiated
  • introduced
  • invented
  • launched
  • led
  • managed
  • mentored if you’ve helped develop others by sharing your skills and knowledge
  • motivated
  • supervised
  • transformed you changed something for the better

10.7 Improving verbs

Have you improved something by changing or adding something, see figure 10.5? That something could be a service, a product, a process or even people, including yourself.

Quantifying any improvements you have made will convince your reader that you’ve made something better in a measureable way. CC BY-SA image of cartoon guy by Free Clip Art on Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/9g5z adapted using the Wikipedia app 📈

Figure 10.5: Quantifying any improvements you have made will convince your reader that you’ve made something better in a measureable way. CC BY-SA image of cartoon guy by Free Clip Art on Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/9g5z adapted using the Wikipedia app 📈

Verbs that demonstrate how you have improved a situation by taking responsibility for something:

  • delivered
  • completed if you finished something
  • edited
  • enhanced
  • generated
  • increased make sure you quantify it, see section 8.7.8
  • learned describe what you have learned
  • refined
  • resolved a conflict or conflicts
  • saved money, time, resources etc
  • validated you proved something

10.8 Scientific verbs

We’re all scientists deep down and we all use scientific skills and knowledge in our daily life, see figure 10.6.

Computer Science isn’t a natural science, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t natural to have some verbs to demonstrate your scientific skills. CC BY-SA image of the Carina Nebula by T. Preibisch and the European Southern Observatory (ESO) on Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/9cVA adapted using the Wikipedia app 🧪

Figure 10.6: Computer Science isn’t a natural science, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t natural to have some verbs to demonstrate your scientific skills. CC BY-SA image of the Carina Nebula by T. Preibisch and the European Southern Observatory (ESO) on Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/9cVA adapted using the Wikipedia app 🧪

Some verbs you could use to describe your scientific skills and knowledge include:

  • assessed
  • calculated
  • discovered
  • estimated
  • evaluated
  • experimented
  • identified
  • interpreted
  • investigated
  • measured
  • modelled in a computational or mathematical sense
  • observed
  • predicted
  • proved
  • quantified for example in benchmarking
  • researched
  • reviewed
  • studied we are all students at the School of Hard Knocks
  • tested

10.9 Winning verbs

Have you won any prizes, trophies or other awards? You should display them with pride and tell your reader what they were given for, see section 8.7.6 and figure 10.7

There’s plenty of verbs for describing awards and honours you’ve been granted, not just trophies like this one, but any kind of award you’ve gained or been given to recognise your achievements, even the smaller ones like those described in section 19.4. CC0 public domain picture of Johan Cruyff holding the European Champion Clubs’ Cup in 1972 from the Nationaal Archief on Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/6h5t adapted using the Wikipedia App 🏆

Figure 10.7: There’s plenty of verbs for describing awards and honours you’ve been granted, not just trophies like this one, but any kind of award you’ve gained or been given to recognise your achievements, even the smaller ones like those described in section 19.4. CC0 public domain picture of Johan Cruyff holding the European Champion Clubs’ Cup in 1972 from the Nationaal Archief on Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/6h5t adapted using the Wikipedia App 🏆

Verbs for demonstrating your achievements and honours

  • achieved
  • attained
  • awarded
  • nominated
  • recommended
  • selected you were chosen for something
  • mastered
  • won

10.10 Organising verbs

Have you ever organised something? Organisation makes everything else possible, see figure 10.8.

The cells in your body are organised into collections of tissues called organs which serve a common function. What have you organ-ised? Public domain image of internal human organs by Mikael Häggström on Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/9V6x adapted using the Wikipedia app

Figure 10.8: The cells in your body are organised into collections of tissues called organs which serve a common function. What have you organ-ised? Public domain image of internal human organs by Mikael Häggström on Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/9V6x adapted using the Wikipedia app

Here some sample verbs you could use to demonstrate your organ-isational skills:

  • arranged
  • classified
  • prepared
  • scheduled
  • organised
  • planned
  • prioritised a demanding workload, how did you prioritise?
  • produced making things, not just software
  • revised

10.11 Influential verbs

How can you demonstrate any influence you’ve had, see figure 10.9?

Are you an influencer? Not just the regular influencer marketing found on social media, but are there any other kinds of influence you can demonstrate? CC BY-SA portrait of fashion influencer Chiara Ferragni by Giorgio Montersino on Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/9bDs adapted using the Wikipedia App 😎

Figure 10.9: Are you an influencer? Not just the regular influencer marketing found on social media, but are there any other kinds of influence you can demonstrate? CC BY-SA portrait of fashion influencer Chiara Ferragni by Giorgio Montersino on Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/9bDs adapted using the Wikipedia App 😎

Verbs that demonstrate how you have influenced other people:

  • authored (or co-authored)
  • bought if you’ve had purchasing power
  • campaigned
  • converted
  • convinced
  • illustrated if you have graphical skills for example
  • influenced this could include social media influencing
  • liaised
  • negotiated
  • marketed
  • mediated
  • persuaded
  • promoted
  • presented
  • publicised
  • sold an idea, product or service
  • visualised e.g. data
  • written

10.12 Weasel verbs

Some people say weasel words are too vague and ambiguous, see figure 10.10. You might think those weasely verbs tell your reader something important, but they often fail to deliver on closer inspection.

Popular in political parlance, weasel words create an impression that something specific and meaningful has been said when in fact only a vague, ambiguous or irrelevant claim has been communicated. Public domain weasel by Tkgd2007 on Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/8P2u and adapted using the Wikipedia app 🐹

Figure 10.10: Popular in political parlance, weasel words create an impression that something specific and meaningful has been said when in fact only a vague, ambiguous or irrelevant claim has been communicated. Public domain weasel by Tkgd2007 on Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/8P2u and adapted using the Wikipedia app 🐹

The following verbs are that some people say are too vague and ambiguous:

  • involved What was your role exactly?
  • joined So you became a member of something? What did your membership actually entail? Did you eagerly sign up at the freshers fair with good intentions never to return, or did you play a more active role?
  • participated be specific if you can
  • worked Most people work, can you be more specific?

So avoid using weasel words, or at least clarify what you mean with some quantication or evidence. You don’t want to risk triggering your readers sensitive detector described in section 10.13.

10.13 Bullshit verbs

We discussed the dangers of bullshit in section 8.14.2. You might think you can bullshit your readers, but you’ll probably just trigger their bullshit detector, see figure 10.11

Are you a bullshitter? Do you have any bullshitty verbs on your CV? Fair use image of the cover of Harry G. Frankfurt’s best selling little book On Bullshit (Frankfurt 2005) via Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/6Bnu adapted using the Wikipedia app

Figure 10.11: Are you a bullshitter? Do you have any bullshitty verbs on your CV? Fair use image of the cover of Harry G. Frankfurt’s best selling little book On Bullshit (Frankfurt 2005) via Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/6Bnu adapted using the Wikipedia app

Examples of potentially bullshitty verbs include:

  • delighted

  • delved some people have argued this verb is evidence that text is AI-generated. (Ardito 2024) You’d be better of saying something like investigated anyway…

  • fascinated

  • honed saying you improved something and then quantifying by how much you improved it would be much more convincing

  • imagineered Yes, imagination is a crucial part of engineering. But software imagineering? Really? C’mon!

  • leveraged not sure about this one, smells a bit dodgy? Perhaps I’m just getting old and cynical…

  • relished save your relish for the condiments

  • revolutionised is a bold claim, if you’re going to use it, back it up with specific evidence

  • spearheaded Really? Are you some kind of hunter-gatherer? Howabout led, managed, co-ordinated or organised? See section 10.6.

  • streamlined Something smells a bit fishy, it’s the kind of thing a politician would say

  • thrilled

It’s probably best to leave emotive verbs and bullshitty language out of your CV. You may well have been fascinated, thrilled and delighted to hone your leadership skills while spearheading an innovative project that streamlined business processes, but there are more professional (and less bullshitty) ways to describe your experience. 💩

10.14 AI verbs

While we’re on the subject of bullshit, we need to talk about bots and AI. Employers routintely use various kinds of software and AI to automatically screen your job application, see section 8.8.7. So it seems only fair for you to use ChatGPT or similar technology to help you write your applications. However, while AI can help you get started (see figure 10.12 and section 4.6.3), it won’t help you finish.

Is your CV human or robotic? While AI tools like ChatGPT can help you get started, they are of limited value when it comes to finishing and polishing your CV and other written job applications. OpenAI logo from Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/6Lat adapted using the Wikipedia App 🤖

Figure 10.12: Is your CV human or robotic? While AI tools like ChatGPT can help you get started, they are of limited value when it comes to finishing and polishing your CV and other written job applications. OpenAI logo from Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/6Lat adapted using the Wikipedia App 🤖

So make sure you personalise and humanise your writing, because it’s easy for a human reader to spot dehumanised and depersonalised CVs and covering letters that have been generated by AI. (Q. Byte 2023; Christian 2023)

10.15 Which verbs are missing?

Highlight all the verbs in your CV. Arrange them into groups of related verbs, you could either use the classification of verbs in this chapter or make your own. If you put each group of verbs on it’s own virtual “shelf”, which shelves are empty, see figure 10.13? Which verbs are missing?

You’ve shelved all the verbs on your CV into related groups. Which of your shelves are empty? Empty Shelf Syndrome by Visual Thinkery is licensed under CC-BY-ND 😶

Figure 10.13: You’ve shelved all the verbs on your CV into related groups. Which of your shelves are empty? Empty Shelf Syndrome by Visual Thinkery is licensed under CC-BY-ND 😶

Identifying the “empty shelves” on your CV can help you work out what skills you need to develop in the future. At this stage in your career, nobody should expect your shelves to be fully stacked. As well reflecting on the verbs, think about which sections need improving in the future:

  • If your EXPERIENCE shelf is looking a bit bare, see chapter 5
  • If your PROJECTS shelf is looking a bit bare, see section 8.7.5
  • If your LEADERSHIP & AWARDS shelf is looking a bit bare, see section 8.7.6

10.16 Summarising your verbs

Too long, didn’t read (TL;DR)? Here’s a summary:

Your future is bright, your future needs verbalising. Highlighting the actions you’ve taken will help you verbalise and debug your CV. Verbalising and debugging your future will help you to start coding your future.

Actions speak louder than words, or as suffragette and political activist Emmeline Pankhurst frequently said “Deeds not Words”, see figure 10.14. Your CV needs to emphasise your deeds and actions using words. Those words are verbs.

“Deeds not words” was the rallying cry of suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst. Emphasise the deeds (actions) on your CV by leading your stories with carefully chosen verbs. Public domain image of Emmeline Pankhurst by Richard Gordon Matzene restored by Adam Cuerden on Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/3bPa and adapted using the Wikipedia app (If you get the chance, you should visit the pankhurstmuseum.com on the Oxford Road in Manchester)

Figure 10.14: “Deeds not words” was the rallying cry of suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst. Emphasise the deeds (actions) on your CV by leading your stories with carefully chosen verbs. Public domain image of Emmeline Pankhurst by Richard Gordon Matzene restored by Adam Cuerden on Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/3bPa and adapted using the Wikipedia app (If you get the chance, you should visit the pankhurstmuseum.com on the Oxford Road in Manchester)

On your CV, leading descriptions of your projects, experience, leadership and awards with verbs is a simple but powerful technique that enables you to provide evidence (rather than assertion) for the skills, knowledge, competencies and capabilities you have. Choose your verbs carefully. Which verbs are missing from your CV? These verbs can help you identify gaps in your professional and personal development.

In the next part, chapter 11: Finding your Future we will investigate some job search strategies so that you can work out who and where to send your debugged CV to.