10 Tips to Sharpen Your Résumé Writing
By Stephanie Clark.
I am a writing snob. I drool over a superbly written piece. It gives me heart palpitations and genuine joy. There are poets who can pen a line of poetry that remain forever in the realm of “memorable.” Take the recently departed Mary Oliver’s final two lines of her poem, The Summer Day:
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
How perfect is that string of words?
As professional résumé writers, we can hardly be poetic. The résumé has its own cadence, that of a bulleted list. Also, restricted by a business audience that would hardly appreciate the phrase “wild and precious” in a résumé, our writing must be professional, neat and tight, short and concise.
Here are my tips on achieving crisp résumé language.
Eliminate words that hold little – if any – meaning. You can safely remove the word “all,” for example. Does the phrase “Manage all aspects of a data centre operation” mean anything other than “manage data centre operations”?
Look for shorter ways to say the same thing. With our résumé real estate at a premium – most résumés run two pages – we must challenge ourselves to write tight. Consider the following bullets. The first four represent the client’s original version and the final two are my revised versions.
- One of 3 managing partners, had 6 companies in residence in the program at one time.
- Responsibilities included business development, product strategy, sales leadership, corporate direction, business planning including P&L.
- Worked as part of a team assessing potential partners as well as working directly with successful partners scaling their operations up and working with them to understand and overcoming strategic and tactical challenges.
- Potential partners were assessed on business viability, focus on forecast getting to cash flow positive and involvement of founders.
- Accountability as 1 of 3 managing partners: business development, product strategy, sales leadership, corporate direction, business planning, including P&L, and assessing partners on business viability.
- Assessed potential partners; worked directly with 6 companies in residence, scaling operations and overcoming strategic and tactical challenges; coached each founder to cash flow positive forecast.
Lead with the result. This is counter-intuitive as a narrative story builds a story arc. However, this strategy ensures that a beleaguered recruiter doesn’t miss the main point.
Compare these two bullets and decide for yourself.
- Built contracted recurring revenue to grow revenue from $0 to >$1M in 24 months.
- Grew revenue from $0 to $1M in 24 months, comprised entirely of recurring income.
The second option is easily bolded to draw attention to the critical message.
Cut it out. Really. Look for ways to minimize circumlocution and maximize space.
Worked in partnership– Partnered with
Reported directly to Manager– Reported to Manager
Contacted customers on a weekly basis– Contacted customers weekly
Successfully collected– Collected (implies success, otherwise one would write “attempted to collect”)
Eliminate redundancies. Once you know what to look for, you’ll find many of these, even in your own writing (I know I do!).
- their own unique perspective– depending on the context, this could be refined to “their unique perspective” or “his perspective”
- each of these separately– “separately” means each on its own
- quickly overwhelmed– overwhelmed is strong enough to convey the sense of urgency
In fact, adverbs are often safe to remove without loss of impact, for example:
Very important– important suffices
Truly remarkable– remarkable conveys the point well on its own
Specify. Rather than using the word “multiple,” specify the number.
Multiple branches– 7 national branches
Many customers– up to 50 customers daily
Enhance clarity by assigning the information to the appropriate result.
- Produced $7M in annual sales meeting firm goals with no additional staff despite severely shrinking market.
- Met sales goal, in spite of tanking global market, achieving $7M in annual sales without additional sales staff, an achievement not repeated by any other business unit in 2013.
Skip the semi colons and colons. Few people use these correctly. This eliminates errors on your part, as well as judgement from a recruiter who “thinks” he or she uses them correctly.
Proofread. Please take this step seriously to eliminate your sharing a client’s expensive document with regretful errors. Here are examples of typical résumé gaffes:
Manager typed incorrectly as manger
Incorrect digit in a phone number
Common name misspelled (Patterson vs Paterson, Eric vs Erik)
Fix ambiguous meaning. For example, in the phrase “designed audit procedures to test systems integrity and reliability,” is the meaning “designed audit procedures to test systems’ integrity and reliability” or “designed audit procedures to test systems, integrity, and reliability”?
This one is for you to share your favourite writing tip! Educate your colleagues with something you’ve incorporated into your own writing practice.
Our work as résumé writers may earn no devoted followers, as does good poetry, but it serves a critical role: to help people land jobs, earn a living, and sustain families. Our work deserves to be well written!