Five Tips for Better Resume Writing

First the good news. You do not have to be William Shakespeare to compose a solid, well-organized, professional-looking resume. All you need are the ability to express your ideas in proper English and an understanding of how a resume should be organized and written.

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Being able to handle the basics of English — grammar, spelling, punctuation, proper word usage, and so forth — has become a critical skill in today's e-mail and facsimile-driven business environment. If you lack confidence in your ability to use English properly, think about enrolling in a writing workshop or community college course. Also, get the classic book The Elements of Style, 3rd Edition, by William Strunk and E. B. White (Allyn & Bacon, 1995).

Now the bad news. You can forget most of the rules and principles you were taught when you were writing reports and term papers in high school or college. Those principles simply do not apply to resumes. Resumes are business documents. They follow certain conventions that business people take for granted but that most English teachers would consider incorrect.

Following are five simple writing principles that apply specifically to resumes. All of them should come in handy when you begin to string words together in your resume, particularly when the time comes to describe your work history.

Avoid the first person pronoun

The pronoun I has no place in a resume — and for a logical reason: Who else would you be talking about if not yourself?

Instead of this:

I demonstrated professionalism, tact, and diplomacy while I worked with our customers in high-pressure situations.

Write this:

Demonstrated professionalism, tact, and diplomacy while working with customers in high-pressure situations.

Instead of this:

I managed a department whose chief responsibility was to oversee safety audits. I wrote all audit reports and conducted management briefings.

Write this:

Managed a department whose chief responsibility was to oversee safety audits. Wrote audit reports and conducted management briefings.

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Notice that the second version of each example begins with an action verb. Beginning most of your sentences with action verbs may not have been standard practice when you were writing term papers, but this practice is accepted and recommended in resumes.

Keep your sentences short and don't worry about fragments

Resumes call for short, crisp statements. These statements do not necessarily have to be complete sentences; you can frequently leave out the articles a, an, and the.

Instead of this:

Spent three years working on major accounts, as both a lead generator and a closer, demonstrating proven skill in organizing and managing a territory with efficiency as well as in developing customer databases.

Write this:

Spent three years working on major accounts. Generated leads and closed sales. Demonstrated proven skill in organizing and managing a territory and in developing customer databases.

Instead of this:

I was involved in the creation and implementation of statistical reports for a large metropolitan hospital, which required the use of spreadsheet software for cost analysis and, in addition, the creation of a database to track patient visits.

Write this:

Created and implemented statistical reports for large metropolitan hospital. Analyzed costs with spreadsheet software. Created database to track patient visits.

Or try a bulleted format:

 

  • Created and implemented statistical reports for large metropolitan hospital.

 

 

  • Analyzed costs with spreadsheet software.

 

 

  • Created database to track patient visits.

 

Use plain English

Don't be victimized by the myth that the bigger the word you use, the more impressed the reader will be with your intelligence. Keep things simple. Go easy on the adjectives. And be especially wary of those grammatical constructions known as nominalizations — that is, nouns that are built around verbs and become part of a bulky phrase that can just as easily be expressed in a single word. See the examples in Table 1.

Table 1 Using Plain English

Bulky Phrase

Better

Effected the solution of

Solved

Engaged in the operation of

Operated

Offered assistance in the facilitation of

Helped facilitate

Use bullet statements when appropriate

You usually have a choice when you are writing your resume to combine a series of related statements into a single paragraph or to list each sentence in that paragraph as a separate statement, each occupying its own line. There are pros and cons for each option, and sometimes you have to base your decision on the amount of information you need to get across.

Bulleted information is more readable and tends to stand out more than the same information contained within a paragraph. But bulleted information also takes up more room. Your best bet is to combine the two.

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If you decide to express information in bulleted style, keep the bulleted items brief and pay attention to parallelism. That is, try to make all the items in a sequence adhere to a similar grammatical pattern.

Examples of nonparallel statements include

 

  • Reconcile all statements for cardholders

 

 

  • Purchases are approved

 

 

  • Have experience in performing training of tellers

 

Examples of parallel statements include

 

  • Reconcile statements

 

 

  • Approve purchases for Marketing department

 

 

  • Train tellers

 

Go from general to specific

Sequence the information in a section by beginning with a general statement and following it with more specific ones.

Instead of this:

Supervised training of seven toy-making elves. Responsible for all toy-making and customer-related activities in Santa's workshop. Answered customer complaints during peak season. (Note that the second of these two sentences is more general than the first.)

Write this:

Responsible for all toy-making and customer-related activities in Santa's workshop. Supervised training of seven toy-making elves. Answered customer complaints during peak season.

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