July 19, 2018

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How to Improve Your Resume and Cover Letter in One Afternoon

Getting ready to write a resume or cover letter? Here's a tip - use English.

I say this because far too many job seekers succumb to the urge of filling their career documents with highfalutin gobbledygook instead of good old-fashioned English.

It's a career-wrecking mistake I refer to as a "superabundance of polysyllabic terminology," or too many big words.

Here are three examples of bafflingly bad language from actual resumes and cover letters, along with my suggestions to help you write right...and get hired faster!

  • Sentences that keep going, and going ... The following sentence, from a resume that crossed my desk last week, is just plain longwinded. As a result, employers are likely to lose interest ... and perhaps toss the whole resume.

    Here it is:

    Pioneered development of market research department, including establishment of workflow processes, department functions and database setup and network operations, resulting in capabilities of simultaneously servicing market research needs of 15 brokers.


    Read every sentence in your resume and cover letter out loud. If you find yourself gasping for breath - just try to read the above example without turning blue - put a period, dash or semicolon in there, and break the offending sentence in two. Or three.

  • The passive voice Somewhere in eighth or ninth grade English, we all learned to avoid passive language in our writing. Example: instead of, "I was served a breakfast," we learned to write, "I ate breakfast."

    Guess what? It's still a good idea.

    Active verbs add punch and clarity to everything you write ... unlike the following passive disaster, taken from another resume:

    Responsible for the implementation of company uniforms.

    With no active verb, we have to fish for meaning here. What does implementation mean, exactly? Did this person dress his co-workers every morning, like a valet? Clean and press the company uniforms? Unknown.


    Instead of being responsible for a clear implementation of writing principles (passive voice), you should write clearly (using the active voice).

  • Language not found in nature

      Perhaps it's because we feel a need to impress employers that we fill resumes and cover letters with high-sounding words we would never, ever otherwise use. All too often, the result is gibberish. And gibberish won't make the phone ring with interview offers. Here's an example sentence from a resume that crashes to the ground under the weight of too many ideas, poorly expressed:

      Trained, supervised and evaluated staff, resulting in multilateral staff achievement of work objectives.

    Multilateral staff ... work ... what? Huh?


    Again, read your resumes and cover letters out loud. Specifically, picture yourself standing next to the water cooler at work, reading what you write to your colleagues.

    Does this sound trite or childish? It's not. It can save your butt by weeding out gobbledygook before it reaches a hiring manager.

    Here's proof.

    Can you imagine any workplace, anywhere on Earth, where the following might be said in casual conversation? "Say, John, nice job on the multilateral staff achievement of work objectives."

    No. So, read your resumes and cover letters out loud before you print and mail them.

    Today's three tips have a common theme: don't write resumes and cover letters designed to impress. What you want is to be understood ... so you can get called for a job interview. So write clearly and concisely, using everyday business language that sounds like you on paper.

    Now, go out and make your own luck!

    -Kevin Donlin

    Kevin Donlin is President of Guaranteed Resumes. Since 1996, he and his team have provided resumes, cover letters and online job-search assistance to clients in all 50 states and 23 countries. Kevin has been interviewed by USA Today, CBS MarketWatch, The Wall Street Journal's National Business Employment Weekly, CBS Radio, and many others. copyright (c) by Kevin Donlin

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