Resume writing is a fine art and yet, too many job candidates are haphazard in their approach. As a result, they find themselves sending out piles of resumes that yield few (if any) quality responses.
One common issue has to do with word selection. Whether you realize it or not, resumes require a different kind of writing. There are standard conventions that must be respected. When they’re not, you end up looking ill-informed and amateurish. Recruiters and hiring managers are notoriously unforgiving. Even if your experience and skills are indeed an ideal match for the role, it’s likely that no one will ever realize that. Your resume will be tossed aside within seconds.
Most people already know to avoid any words that relate to potentially controversial topics, such as religion or politics, and anything that refers directly to a protected class, like age, race, nationality or gender. But there’s more to it than that. Here are five key categories to avoid.
Standard resume convention dictates that you should not use pronouns on your resume, including the first-person pronoun “I”. Instead, you should use what I call a “disembodied first-person voice.” For example:
- Do not write: “I increased profitability by 40 percent in the first year after I was hired”
- Write this instead: “Increased profitability by 40 percent within one year”
Many professionals don’t “agree” with this approach, but it’s not debatable. This is how resumes are written and ignoring the rule simply because you don’t like it is counterproductive.
Likewise, avoid other pronouns like “we,” “him” and “her.” For example:
- Do not write: “We helped him set goals for our team”
- Write this instead: “Helped leadership establish team goals”
Articles are words such as “a,” “an” and “the.” These words are unnecessary in most cases; they just take up space and add visual clutter.
- Do not write: “Built a new organizational system for the finance department”
- Write this instead: “Built new organizational system for finance department”
Cliches are words or terms that are overused and can be viewed as relatively meaningless. The dictionary definition says they “betray a lack of original thought.” If you want your resume to stand out and show that you’re a unique, valuable asset for the organization, avoid cliches as much as possible.
Common cliches include: outside the box, go-getter, best of breed, thought leadership, etc. Instead of using such phrases, start citing specific accomplishments that demonstrate the traits you’re trying to highlight.
- Do not write: “Outside-the-box problem-solver”
- Write this instead: “Designed solution for expense reporting procedure resulting in 25 percent reduction in errors”
Don’t use multiple words where one will do just fine. Once again, this just wastes space and creates unnecessary clutter, making your resume harder to read. For example:
- Do not write: “due to the fact that” or “in addition to” or “as well as”
- Write this instead: “because” or “and”
Often, people use these phrases because they sound more professional and pleasing to the ear when read aloud. Remember that your resume is being skimmed; it’s not usually being read word-for-word.
Finally, avoid nonspecific terms such as “very,” “lots” or “many.” Wherever possible, identify specifics. These general words are too vague and can come off as fabricated or lazy. Even if you can’t assign numbers to everything, you can still use more concrete language by providing estimates.
- Do not write: “Saved the company a lot of money”
- Write this instead: “Saved organization $4,500 in wasted materials annually”
- Or write: “Saved organization thousands in wasted materials annually”
Resume writing is unlike almost any other form of writing. While these rules might seem counterintuitive or even silly, they ensure you’re making the right impression. By following them, you help make your resume easy to read. Instead of focusing on the writing, the recruiter or hiring manager will be able to focus on the content. In the end, that’s really what matters most.