This post is by Brenda Greene, who manages Resume Synergy, a resume consulting business, and Helen Cunningham. They are co-authors of “The Business Style Handbook, An A-to-Z Guide for Effective Writing on the Job.”
Resumes have a style of their own. That’s because space is at a premium. You have two pages to detail your work history, so you have to make every word count. Here are some guidelines for the next time you craft a resume.
- Active verbs: You want to come across as a doer, so make sure you use active verbs in the present or simple past tense. (For your current job, use the present tense; for prior positions, use past tense.) Examples of active verbs are: manage, organize, analyze, enhance, perform, update, maintain, advise, investigate, oversee, write, research, balance, conduct, reconcile. Avoid the phrase: Responsible for. Use dynamic words that show you actively created positive results for your past employers.
- Consistency: When you cross your t’s and dot your i’s, it tells the hiring manager that you pay attention to detail, so don’t capitalize the word Manager in one instance and lowercase it in another. Likewise, don’t boldface your title in one entry and write it without bold in another. Hiring managers often get hundreds of resumes and to sort through that pile quickly, they look for reasons to disqualify you. A sloppy presentation can knock you out of the running – even if you are highly qualified.
- Vocabulary: Keywords are essential. What are they? They are the words in a job posting that describe your skills and qualifications. It’s all about search in the digital age, so make sure the right keywords appear in your resume. In fact, parse the job posting for all the keywords. If you don’t match up skill-for-skill, qualification-for-qualification, there’s a good chance you won’t get an interview. To make the first cut, go through your resume to make sure those keywords are there — provided, of course, that you actually have these skills.
- Format: A chronological resume in a simple format is preferred, especially now that resumes are transmitted electronically. Special characters and indents may get garbled on the other end, so stick to a flush-left format with standard bullets. If you want to emphasize or highlight something, use boldface – just don’t overuse it because it’s difficult to read. Make it easy for the hiring manager to review your resume. If the typeface is too small or there’s not enough white space, you’re not going to get a second look.
- Punctuation: Avoid personal pronouns, such as I and my, in resumes. Instead start your bulleted sentences with active verbs. The personal pronoun I is implied, so put a period at the end of the bulleted item because it is a complete sentence. While most stylebooks lowercase job titles, department names or degrees, that’s not the case in resumes. Capitalize these words, and make sure you are consistent.
- Career objectives: They are useful if they actually say something relevant or if you are transitioning to a different career and your work history does not reveal how you may be qualified for the job you are applying for. You can also use an objective to target a specific job by putting the title of the job you are applying for in the objective. Again it strengthens your prospects by making the hiring manager’s job a little easier.
- Accuracy: Do not fudge on a resume. Be straightforward. Nowadays everything can be checked – easily – so make sure you have the correct dates and you are not exaggerating your qualifications. Be specific and use numbers to quantify your achievements. Always highlight your promotions. If you provide a URL, such as your LinkedIn profile, check it and make sure it works. There is no room for error on resumes.