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.

Tip One

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”?

Tip Two

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.

Revised to:

  • 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.

Tip Three

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.

Tip Four

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”)

Tip Five

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

Tip Six

Specify. Rather than using the word “multiple,” specify the number.

Multiple branches– 7 national branches

Many customers– up to 50 customers daily

Tip Seven

Enhance clarity by assigning the information to the appropriate result.

Before:

  • Produced $7M in annual sales meeting firm goals with no additional staff despite severely shrinking market.

After:

  • 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.

Tip Eight

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.

Tip Nine

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”?

Tip Ten

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!

Photo by Trey Gibson on Unsplash

Comments

  1. Excellent article Stephanie. This past Friday I was working with an individual pointing out #1, 9 and 6.

    For Tip 10 I would recommend that people stop using anywhere from 4 to 6 lines to provide contact information. Get it down to 3 lines max. Those extra lines will probably be of more value in another section.

  2. Thank you Jude. Each little, seemingly insignificant step contributes to producing a document that distinguishes its owner from the multitude of applicants!

    I agree with your idea for a step 10. That’s a whole lotta confusing contact possibilities for a recruiter to sift through!

  3. Thank you for sharing very unique points, Stephanie.

  4. Great article, concise and informative, which is precisely what a resume should be! So many solid suggestions. Loved the point about colons and semicolons. I find they also tend to be eyeball distractors, cluttering the visual field.

    If I had a tip, it would be around proofreading. I use a, somewhat obsessive, multipronged approach. The first is – trying to get it right the first time. Going back to correct errors can eat up a lot of time.

    Then – a careful, methodical visual scan of the document. Followed by a jaunt to an online grammar checker. Spellcheck is a decent first filter for obvious mistakes but it doesn’t catch everything!

    Grammarly is my go-to. It will alert to some of the intentional “errors” that are commonplace on resumes, i.e. fragment sentences. So, I just dismiss those suggested edits and make use of the applicable ones. It also helps curb my comma-happy tendencies!

    Then I print it out – even Grammarly isn’t perfect (where’s the trust Grammarly??) Typos that I would absolutely swear weren’t there will swim out of the document towards my eyes in a way that has me on the phone to my optometrist for a vision check.

    After all of that – it’s back to the the eyeballs. Mine, my client’s, and any assundry folk in the general area who seem like detail oriented types (I work in an ESC setting). I make it like an Easter egg hunt – find a typo and win a prize! The added bonus here is the potential for other perspectives on the document. I try to stay in a “the best idea wins” place.

    Last step – go away and come back. I take an eyeball break from the document to refresh and then go through it one more time. I think of this proofreading process as pushing the document through finer and finer sieves, until only the document, in its “purest” and most convincing state, remains.

    Engaging in this (arguably, semi-obsessive) process affords me fewer nights waking up in a cold sweat convinced that I have ruined my client’s chances for gainful employment for eternity. Totally worth it 🙂

    • Hi Leah,

      Love your comment – spirited! Good point on colons and semi-colons sometimes feeling like “clutter.” And I, too, have a tendency to add commas, willy-nilly, as I write!

      Your proofreading process is comprehensive, that’s for sure. Few take all these steps and yet all who sell any kind of writing service should absolutely be obsessive about details.

      Thank you for your great Tip #10!

  5. Thank you Stephanie. I like the idea of leading with the results instead of the other way around. I facilitate resume writing workshops and we train to customize and align resumes so this will be harder to do for people that are new to accomplishment based resume writing. However, the more advanced folks will be able to master it. As a former reader of resumes, I would welcome this strategy.

    • Gail, even your newbies could learn quickly, I think, as it’s all in the selection of verb. Challenging oneself to select a less-used verb could stimulate an accomplishment story. In the list of verbs below, you’ll see how an accomplishment story is bound to follow!
      accelerated
      anchored
      authored
      catalogued
      clarified
      endorsed
      prepared
      redesigned

      Follow up on any of these with a “why” and you’ve got an accomplishment. For example, “Clarified 10 steps in writing a job description to streamline this process; reduced time to finished product by ~20%.”

      And then, to lead with the result, simply invert the sentence, as so, “Reduced time to complete writing a job description by 20% by clarifying 10 essential steps, which facilitated corporate goal to create 60 job descriptions.”

      This could be written from many perspectives. The bullet could lead with the accomplishment focused on facilitating the achievement of a corporate goal rather than saving time. It all depends on what the job seeker wants to emphasize!

      Thank you for your comment!

  6. I found this article, the comments and replies very helpful. Thanks to all.

    • Hello Yasmin,

      That’s wonderful! I have to agree that the comments pretty much built a richer understanding of the topic, didn’t they? Thank you for sharing your appreciation! – Stephanie

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