Top Tips for Résumé Writing and Editing
Ernest Hemingway is misquoted to have said “write drunk, edit sober.” In fact, it’s believed that the quote actually originated with American editor and writer, Peter De Vries. If there’s any value to this idea, it’s that your writing can be fast, but editing has to be slow and careful. As a résumé writer, you may have been following your employer’s style sheet or have created your own. As a writer and copyeditor, I’ve developed tactics and strategies that work to make my clients’ documents effective and readable. In this article, I offer my top tips for résumé writing and editing. While everyone has their own style and preferences, these tips have proven successful for me and my clients.
Header and Contact Information
Do not put critical information in a text box as it may not be read by an Applicant Tracking System (ATS).
Remove the street address for privacy and/or to avoid bias. Only use the city, province, and postal code. If a client is relocating or open to relocation, indicate this in the header, along with the current location (consult the client for their preference). Here are a couple of examples:
- Vancouver, BC/Relocating to Ottawa, ON • 111-111-1111 • email@example.com • linkedin.com/client
- Winnipeg, MB/Open to relocation, preferably to ON • 111-111-1111 • firstname.lastname@example.org
Encourage clients to customize their public profile URL on LinkedIn. LinkedIn Help offers easy-to-follow instructions on their website.
Dates and Abbreviations
Use K, M, and B for thousands, millions, and billions ($10K, $15M, $1B). Be consistent if you choose to use MM and BB or if the client asks for edits based on their preference.
Remove employment and education dates if older than 10-15 years, as a general rule. However, consider each client’s case individually. There may be strategic reasons for keeping older employment and education history on a résumé.
A common practice is to remove months in employment entries, in favor of years only.
Spell out names of an education degree in full: Master of Science in Computer Engineering, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON. Once the degree has been spelled out in full, it’s fine to use the abbreviation if the degree is mentioned subsequently.
Remove, edit, or spell out company-specific jargon and/or acronyms. Spell out acronyms in full the first time they are used.
Compound Words, Hyphenation, and Spelling Conventions
As per Demian Farnworth on Copyblogger, “A compound word is simply a word that is formed from two or more other words. Typically, the new combination of words creates a new or broader meaning. Compound words often produce writing mistakes because it’s easy to forget if they’re spelled as one word or two words. If they aren’t double-checked (see what I did there?) by an editor, they can lead to glaring errors.”
“Multimillion-dollar” is a compound adjective that comes up a lot in executive résumés. It has one hyphen, per The Chicago Manual of Style. Résumés are often full of compound adjectives that should be hyphenated. If unsure, check the spelling in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
Bullet Points and Clarity
Edit bullet points for clarity and precision; aim for no more than 2 lines per bullet point. If a bullet point is longer, break it into the main bullet point and a sub-point; use different graphic symbols for the main and sub-point:
- Catalyzed a culture shift from the ground up; introduced messaging to help the teams achieve sales goals and put in place a fully automated appointment-setting platform.
- The platform increased conversion rates from 25% to 42%.
Check the lines for widow words. Tighten the text spacing to fit such words into the previous line: in Word, go to Format > Font > Advanced > Character Spacing > Spacing > select Condensed > by 0.1 point or 0.2 points.
Always use a serial comma (sometimes called the Oxford comma) for clarity: Developed strategic sales plans, pricing packages, and sales practices across all divisions.
Format and Readability
Use full pages only; half pages do not look professional. If necessary, use spacing and visual elements (text boxes with quotes, graphs to illustrate quantitative growth, boxes to highlight awards) to stretch the text across the résumé to fill two pages.
Additional information that does not fit easily onto the résumé (patents, technical skills, extensive lists of additional training, publications, presentations, etc.) can be added as an addendum, in which case partially-filled pages are acceptable.
Make sure that the font size is consistent across all résumé sections and on the cover letter. Fonts smaller than 10.5 are not good for readability.
Use enough white space to make résumés easy to skim. Lighten up longer blocks of text and crowded sections with lists, a different color, or an occasional text box.
Consider a formal language register vs. informal: mutually beneficial solutions vs. win-win solutions. Of course, different situations and people may call for a unique and specific choice of register, so consider each client’s case strategically.
Check verb tenses for accuracy and consistency: lead vs. led is a common misspelling in past-tense entries.
In the top third of the resume, highlight the most significant achievements, awards, and testimonials to showcase the client’s differentiators. Place the most important information at the beginning and the end of a paragraph for impact (those are top places for visibility when readers skim).
Avoid generic terms and phrases: responsible for, responsibilities included, hired to, detail-oriented, goal-focused, results-driven, attention to detail, top performer, self-motivated, successfully managed, etc. Replace them with high-impact language that highlights your client’s specific achievements. Lead with an action and/or quantifiable result.
Consider learning about plain language writing to cut unnecessary words and clichés:
- successfully architected and won business proposals of over $10 million vs. won $10M+ in new revenue with compelling business proposals
- for the purpose of vs. for
- leveraged the ability to consolidate processes vs. consolidated processes
- made recommendations vs. recommended
- achieved cost savings vs. saved costs
When you edit, keep résumé reading practices in mind. For initial résumé screens, readers do not read every line; they skim. They mostly focus on the career summary, job titles, quantifiable results, the first few words of each line, and graphic elements. Front-load the paragraphs and bullets with significant, relevant accomplishments and choose specific, varied verbs for better impact.
Proofreading from paper or via a tool like Grammarly is a good way to see the résumé text in a different light and spot dangling lines, typos, or inconsistencies. Try using a text-to-speech reader, too. This tool is really good at helping to catch typos and repeat or missing words.
If you want to enhance and sharpen your résumé writing skills, consider signing up for CPC’s Advanced Résumé Development certificate course. You’ll learn advanced strategic principles and technical practices that will make your clients’ résumés stand out from the crowd. This is a very popular course and registration is full for the one remaining class of 2021. Be sure to check the course schedule for 2022 and sign up soon to secure your spot!
Tanya Mykhaylychenko is a résumé writer and copyeditor with a background in university teaching. She is a member of ACES: The Society for Editing and Career Professionals of Canada. To learn more about Tanya’s practice, please visit her website or connect with her on LinkedIn.