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Let’s face it: You’ll never fit everything you’d like to say onto a one- or two-page resume. That means you need to choose powerful, effective words that deliver your message quickly and concisely. Your goal is to condense everything you need to say into a few carefully chosen words and bullet-pointed sentences that are easy to scan. Here’s how to use language to help accomplish this goal.
1. Keep It Brief
Less is more when it comes to writing your resume statements. Big blocks of text composed of meandering sentences make it hard to pick out essential information. Remember, if you can’t scan your resume in 30 seconds, neither can a legal recruiter or hiring manager. So write sentences that are short and simple, and that develop a single carefully targeted point.
2. Be Specific
Never use general terms to describe your experience or achievements. After all, you’re trying to stand out from all the other candidates, not blend in with them. Use concrete and specific language, and use numbers and hard facts wherever possible. Instead of “managed many important client accounts,” try “managed 30 accounts averaging more than $200,000 each.”
3. Use The Active Voice
To craft a powerful resume, write it using active voice. Active voice makes you the actor of your statements instead of a passive bystander. Moreover, using active voice prevents excessive wordiness and helps to keep your statements brief, clear, and simple.
This statement casts the applicant in a passive light, making it seem as if the promotion just happened:
Selected as interim supervisor for 10–12 employees. (i.e., Somebody else did the selecting.)
Rewriting in active voice gives the candidate much more credit for the activity:
Managed 10–12 employees as summer interim supervisor. (i.e., The candidate did the managing.)
4. Write In The First Person
Your resume is a direct message from you to a potential employer. Therefore, you need to write your achievement statements from the first person point-of-view. To save space and prevent wordiness, however, it’s okay to remove the “I” from your statements.
This statement of qualifications is still clear, even without the “I”:
Lawyer with 10+ years’ experience; negotiate with opposing parties to avoid litigation, reach resolution, and achieve the goals of the corporation.
5. Remove Unnecessary Words
To further tighten your resume text, remove articles (a, an, the), helping verbs (have, had, may, might), forms of “to be” (am, is, are, was, were), and pronouns (its, their) from your resume statements. These extra words will be assumed by the reader.
6. Keep Track Of Tense
Make sure to describe your past duties and achievements in the past tense, and your present duties and achievements in the present tense. For example, if you’re listing activities at your current job, describe them in the present tense. However, when describing accomplishments that you have completed in your current job, you may use past tense. Inconsistent use of tense is confusing and just plain sloppy. Some job seekers hold two jobs simultaneously or hold an occasional long-term side job along with a full-time job. If you still hold the job, list that in the present tense as well.
7. Check You’re Spelling
One typo wouldn’t disqualify a candidate, but several typos probably would. On the other hand, any typo is a good enough reason to nix a candidate and, depending on the reader’s mood and level of patience, a typo might be just the excuse needed to whittle down that pile. Use your spellchecker, but also be sure to proofread carefully—spellcheckers won’t catch homonyms (there vs. their) or misused contractions (your vs. you’re). And the spell checker can’t catch mistakes in the names of companies. Have a friend or two proofread your resume before you send it out.
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