How to use Language, Voice and Jargon correctly on your resumé

resume tips

A resumé is a unique document. It’s different from a letter, a report, an essay or any other form of writing. It serves a specific purpose and it’s handled a certain way.

Last week Ben wrote about “the stack”. That’s the pile your resumé will land on (or the e-mail folder it will sit in) after you submit it. He talked about making sure your resumé stands out. But how do you make sure, once you’ve got the reader’s attention, that they’ll keep reading?

First consider who your reader is. Whether it’s a small business owner, a hiring manager, an HR consultant or a government bureaucrat, they all have the same mission—to weed out the applicants they don’t want, vet the ones they might want and narrow in on the ultimate candidate.

The ultimate candidate. That’s what you want to be. Not the penultimate candidate—the second choice who didn’t make the cut. Not the antepenultimate candidate—that would be the one just below the second choice. And you certainly don’t want to be even further down the list. You want to grab their attention, keep it, and land yourself an interview.

It’s all about using the right words, but even before that, let’s talk about “voice”.

Find your voice… then lose it.

Voice in a resumé is a little bit tricky. If you use the word “I” to describe the experience you have, it comes off as a bit too personal. If you use “he” or “she” then you’re writing in third person, which is a bit silly, because ultimately, it’s about you describing yourself, (even if you did get help from someone else to craft your resumé).

The best way to avoid sounding self-promoting, or like you have multiple personalities, is to start sentences off with action words. Like I said, it’s all about using the right words.

It’s time for an example.

Let’s start with some sentence we do not like:

I developed software that streamlined processes, resulting in $5 million in savings on a project.

He fostered strong relationships with stakeholders, resulting in better engagement with the organization.

The first one sounds boastful. The second one is awkward, because he’s describing himself. Chop out the first word of either of those (and make sure there’s a heading for the section and a bullet point in front of each statement) and you’re golden.

Developed software that streamlined processes, resulting in $5 million in savings on a project.

Fostered relationships with stakeholders, resulting in better engagement with the organization.

Not only does this approach remove the unnecessary pronouns, it starts each statement with a strong action word. Verbs are you friend, because they help the reader visualize you doing the things you do.

Take time to consider what verbs create the best visual. Going back to the previous sentences, look how much weaker they become with less strong action words.

Made software that improved processes and saved $5 million on a project.

Got along well with people and formed partnerships for the organization.

One last time… it’s all about using the right words. Maybe I’m a little biased because I wordsmith for a living, but I truly believe that using the right language (or the wrong language) can make or break an opportunity.

Tread Lightly with Jargon (and Acronyms)

On a final note, don’t forget to consider jargon.

In another job I have, I could send the following e-mail to someone and they would know exactly what I mean:

“Please req PP&S for the HQ. The ACI has the new TSR, but it must be approved by the OpsO. Don’t forget an OHP. QM should have the rest of what we need. Have the CrsO and Plt Cmds review. Trg aids can go on a separate TSR, but don’t forget to touch base with LogO WRT his requirements. Please ack.”

If that sounds like gibberish to you, that makes perfect sense, because your line of work doesn’t share the same acronyms and abbreviations. But don’t fool yourself into thinking your line of work or workplace doesn’t have its own set of gibberish.

A good rule of thumb on resumés is to always spell out words and avoid acronyms, at least the first time they’re written. You may be able to get away with using some industry-specific jargon if you’re applying for a job in the same field, but the key is to be sure you know your audience. If in doubt, spell it out.

A Second Opinion

It never hurts to have someone else look over your resumé before you submit it, to make sure it makes sense to them. Be cautious though about using friends as your critics. Sometimes they’ll be highly critical, so be prepared to take in their perspective and consider their points of view. If you disagree with what they’re saying, ask yourself, will the person you’re submitting to share their viewpoint? Another risk when using a friend as a critic that that they’ll be too soft on you, not wanting to point out things that don’t make sense to them, or question why you’ve written something the way you have.

Another option, of course, is to consult with a professional. We look at a lot of resumés—good ones and no-so-good ones. We would love an opportunity to work with you as you seek to advance your career.