Or, how to craft killer resumes and cover letters that people can understand
I’m not a professional resume writer. I don’t even play one on TV. Nevertheless, as a professional writer and active job-search candidate, I’ve learned a few things about how to craft killer resumes and cover letters, beginning with our vernacular… that’s a fancy word for the language or dialect spoken by ordinary people in a particular country or region.
How we obfuscate the English language
One reason why recruiters and hiring managers have caved into Applicant Tracking Software (ATS) is having to wade through hundreds of resumes that use trite, lifeless terms like utilize, monetize and re-contextualize. Words we never speak or write in our common conversations with other people.
So, why DO people say things in their cover letters like, “Pursuant to company guidelines, I strategically utilized parsimonious approaches for procuring and transporting igneous caffeinated beverages for personnel currently engaged by my employer.” Or, in other words, “I bought cheap coffee for our staff.”
Somewhere along the line, we’ve been taught that using big words was key to impressing prospective employers, making us look smarter than we actually are. In the face of the 47,000 words we use in a day, we still think it’s necessary to mine mundane words harvested from complex job descriptions, in hopes that our resume will miraculously bubble-up to the top of the slush pile. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Studying the problem
The classic 2005 study, Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly published by Princeton University, studied the difference between students that used simple, common words versus those who used more complex terms. They found that using simple vocabulary significantly improved readers’ comprehension.
Another troubling trend that’s managed to seep into business-speak is using euphemisms, or the substitution of a mild, indirect, or vague expression or thought to take the place of simple, descriptive ideas. Using an excerpt from my earlier article, Putting Lipstick on a Pig, I gave the example of an email from a supervisor to his underling:
“I got your email and wanted to let you know that you’re on my radar. This time of year, I usually don’t have the bandwidth to circle back around with all hands on deck; especially when there’s an 800 pound gorilla in the room. But that’s par for the course. I want to take time to run your idea up the flagpole to see who salutes, before you spend time getting your ducks in a row. While I understand that your idea has legs, I think it’s important to slowly move the needle forward by putting on the record to see who dances.”
The bottom line is avoid using euphemisms in both your verbal and written communication — even when the chips are down. So, how should you draw attention to your resume and cover letters?
Choosing your words carefully
The key to insuring that your resume and cover letters are getting read is to use descriptive, actionable words that inject enthusiasm into your message. Good examples include:
Make no mistake; it’s still important to use the skills of professional resume writers if you feel uncomfortable putting words to paper: the thoughts running around in your head. The information you need convey to convince prospective employers that they should hire you, above all the other applicants.
Mark Twain said, The difference between the almost right word and the right word is the difference between a lightning bug and lightning. When speaking and writing to employers and fellow employees, use common language. Avoid the temptation to appear intellectual. Instead, become a student of the English language by expanding your vocabulary. If you’re not sure how to do this, search for qualified, professional resume writers and communication specialists.