A clear writing style is a major communication skill that opens doors to success, and there are many recruiters and managers who will not forgive poor spelling, punctuation and grammar.
Proofreading is something we all have to do. I've been at this for more than 30 years and when I give my columns a final proofread, I invariably catch mistakes. So, for your future's sake, don't rush this last step.
Resume Length and Readability
If you have more than a couple of years' professional experience, you can disregard the rule for keeping resumes to a maximum of two pages. It is outdated, given the realities of today's in-demand skills, the increasing complexity of most jobs, and therefore the number of words it takes to explain your skills and experience.
And don't make matters worse by trying to squeeze more info into two pages by using a small font. Busy managers simply won't look at your resume because it's too darn hard to read.
Always use a readable font and font size. Calibri and Helvetica in 11- or 12-point type are good options.
If your resume bleeds over to a new page for a line or two, a little editing can help you eliminate the extra page. If it bleeds over a quarter of a page, don't try to shorten it. Instead, increase the font size and redesign your resume to take advantage of the extra white space.
Keeping Your Edits and Writing Style Tight
While rules about resume length don't matter the way they used to, keeping every word on point helps control the length and readability. In publishing, there's a phrase many editors like: "If in doubt, cut it out." Apply this rule while using your target job deconstruction (TJD) work as a reference for the story your resume is telling. Being concise and focused on your TJD will help you tell your story best.
Written communication is so important. Because so much is at stake in a resume-writing context, here are seven editing tips:
- Replace long words with short words.
- Whenever possible, use one word where you are using two (eliminate adjectives and adverbs and use strong, active verbs).
- Don't repeat the same word over and over. Use a thesaurus to find alternate words with similar meaning—it's a life-saver when editing.
- Deal with one subject per paragraph, and keep each paragraph to seven lines maximum. This not only is easier on the reader's eyes but also aids in comprehension.
- Vary the length of your sentences to engage and keep the reader's attention.
- Keep each sentence to 25 words or less. Use two sentences if needed.
- Omit articles (like "the," "a" and "an") and personal pronouns (such as "I") to save space and increase the sense of urgency.
When you're done, set your resume aside. You need some distance from your creative efforts to gain detachment and objectivity. Leave it alone at least overnight. The next day, read your TJD document, then pick up your resume again. Now read the resume from the point of view of a recruiter and determine which parts need tweaking.
Check to see that you have a minimum of three quantifiable achievements (LinkedIn recognizes and rewards a resume with three or more quantifiable achievements with greater discoverability). List your achievements and tell what you can do, but don't tell how you do it. This creates reasons for the recruiter to invite you to interview—and that is your resume's primary goal.
Spelling and Grammar
Incorrect spelling and poor grammar are guaranteed to annoy readers and draw attention to poor written communication skills. They don't create a good first impression in your pitch to interview for a job.
Start by using spellcheck; it's not infallible, but it's better than nothing.
Also, download a free version of Grammarly, which will check your writing for grammar, meaning and clarity. Just one point: Grammarly will indicate that omitting articles and pronouns, as recommended above, is wrong, but it is accepted usage when writing resumes.
One Last Proof of Your Final Draft
Check your resume against the following points:
- Are your name, address, phone numbers and e-mail address correct?
- Is your contact information on every page?
- Is your e-mail address hyperlinked so that a reader can reach out to you instantly?
- Do you have a target job title that echoes the words and responsibilities of the job titles you collected when deconstructing the target job?
- Is your most relevant and qualifying work experience prioritized throughout the resume to correspond to the employer's needs as they have been prioritized?
- Have you avoided wasting space with unnecessarily detailed employer names and addresses?
- If you are employed, have you been discreet with the name of your current employer?
- Have you omitted any reference to reasons for leaving a particular job?
- Have you removed all references to past, current or desired salaries?
- Have you removed references to your date of availability?
Then, run spellcheck and Grammarly again as the very last thing you do.
Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR.
From big issues to small, please feel free to e-mail your queries to YourCareerQA@shrm.org. We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know.