It's How You Say It: Use of Language
Posted by The Editors on June 15, 2011
When it comes to resume writing, there is a specific use of language to keep in mind. For those of you who may feel insecure about your writing-fear not. Using language effectively in a resume is challenging, but by keeping a few basic rules and principles in mind, any literate person can do it.
You'll never fit everything you want to say onto a one- or two-page resume. That means that you need to carefully select what you're going to say, but also be conscientious of how you say it. In a format such as a resume with limited space, you need to choose powerful, effective words that will get your message across immediately. You need to be as specific as possible, leaving no room for questions in a recruiter's mind. And you need to be concise and get to your point quickly. Distill everything you want to say into a selection of carefully chosen words, sentences, and bullet points, so that someone reading your resume can see your accomplishments at a moment's glance, and most importantly, be impressed by them. Careful, concise, powerful language is the only way to achieve this goal.
So let's begin with the basic principles to keep in mind as you're crafting your resume statements.
Keep it Simple, Silly
When it comes to crafting your resume statements, less is more. Keep in mind that you're trying to make your resume as readable as possible by keeping it visually simple with plenty of white space to ease the eyes down the page. Blocks of text and complex, meandering sentences confound scanning for essential information and will only frustrate a recruiter, causing them to set your resume aside and move on to the next one. So keep your sentences simple and make only one carefully chosen point with each one.
This example sentence is trying to say too much:
Gained new accounts by developing and maintaining relationships with key decision makers in various markets generating $1.7 million revenue in the form of online subscriptions.
It works much better when broken out into two shorter points:
Increased client base by 20% in the community college, university, and vocational school markets.
Generated $1.7 million in revenue through new accounts.
With the goal of crafting simple, clear resume statements, avoid bloated language at all costs. Don't try to impress recruiters with two-bit words and trendy business jargon. Your statements and achievements should be well chosen enough to speak for themselves, without relying on fancy rhetoric to boost their value. Even entry-level candidates with little work experience can craft impressive resume statements based on non-work activities or achievements. That's why what you choose to prioritize and state in your resume is so important.
This sentence needs an antacid:
Strategized and enacted superior implementation systems and procedures to leverage increased results of positive residential client base feedback, instituting a resulting increase of 100%.
The straightforward approach is usually much more impressive:
Developed streamlined in-home installation process reducing customer complaints by half.
Never use general terms to describe your experience or achievements. After all, you're trying to stand out from all the other candidates, not blend in with them. Be as concrete and specific as you can in all of your statements. Use numbers and hard facts wherever possible. Don't say, "managed many important client accounts," say, "managed 30 accounts averaging more than $200k each." In order to evaluate your qualifications for a specific job, the recruiter needs a clear picture of what you've actually done. She needs to be able to visualize your accomplishments. Using fuzzy descriptors such as "some," "many," and "very" will not accomplish this.
This statement is pretty vague:
Logged daily customer inquiries and forwarded them to appropriate personnel.
Watch how adding a little detail can turn a basic responsibility into an achievement:
Maintained company's customer-focused reputation by processing 30-40 detailed inquiries daily, managing inquiry routing and prioritization.
Use the Active Voice
Yes, you've heard this before, especially you seniors. Never saw the purpose? Well, being able to craft a powerful resume is one of the benefits of mastering the active voice. Not only is the active voice more effective and forceful, making you the direct subject of your statements, rather than the object (who is having something done to it), but using the active voice also avoids excessive wordiness and helps to keep statements brief, clear, and simple.
This statement makes it sound as if the candidate just stumbled onto a promotion:
Selected as interim supervisor for 10-12 employees.
A simple rewording of the statement gives the candidate much more credit for the activity:
Managed 10-12 employees as summer interim supervisor.
Write in the First Person
Your resume is a direct statement from you to a recruiter or potential employer. Therefore, all of your statements need to be written from the first person point-of-view. Using first-person statements also helps ensure the active voice. In the name of saving space and preventing wordiness, however, remove the "I" from your statements.
This summary statement is still clear, even without the "I":
Marketing professional with 7 years experience; specialize in research and strategy development for government- and privately funded organizations; earned community service award through accomplishments in nonprofit fund-raising.
Remove Articles and Helping Verbs
To further tighten your resume writing, remove any articles (a, an, the) and helping verbs (have, had, may, might, and forms of "to be": am, is, are, was, were) from your resume statements. These extra words can be assumed by the reader, and this is standard resume protocol.
All of the helping verbs make this statement too long:
Assisted the faculty of the Engineering Department with its research for publications in academic journals.
This revision is much slicker:
Assisted Engineering Department with research published in various academic journals.
Keep Track of Tense
Make sure to describe your past duties and achievements in the past tense, and your present duties and achievements in the present tense. For example, if you're listing your accomplishments at your current job, describe those in the present, immediate sense, not the past sense. Illogical use of tense is confusing, and just plain sloppy. Some job seekers hold two jobs simultaneously or hold an occasional long-term side job along with their full-time job. If you still hold the job, list that in the present tense as well.
This example keeps track of proper verb tense from a past to a present job:
Nov. 2003-present Account Manager, Millburg Group
- Manage sales incentive program comprising 200 retailers with 300+ employee participants.
- Oversee marketing strategy for agency's biggest client (Krandle Motors); helped client achieve 2 consecutive years of record new product sales.
- Develop program marketing materials; 20% new client acquisition by second quarter of 2005.
Aug. 2000-Feb. 2003 Marketing Manager, Special Programs, LockSpeed Marketing Group
- Managed creation, production, and implementation of new client incentive program; new clients included 12 Fortune 500 corporations.
- Helped sales force achieve 35% higher sales volume through support tools, methodologies, and proposals.
- Implemented corporate PR strategies, increasing publicity by 20% and securing multiple industry awards, including Best Creative Agency in Southern California.
Proofread, and Proofread Again
Typos, misspellings, and grammar errors are death on your resume or cover letter. You can never proofread either one too many times. Once you've written up a final draft of your resume, proofread it. Then set it aside for a time (a few hours or days) and proofread it again. Then send it to a few friends and have them proof it. Then proofread it again...you get the picture.