Archive for the ‘Resume Writing’ Category

How Strategic Are Your Resume & Cover Letter?

Friday, February 1st, 2013

A prospective client with ten years of experience as a PE Teacher and Coach sent me her resume with a note that she’s tired of the long hours and is thinking of looking in a field outside of education. But she’s not sure.

The resume, which read more like a cross between an essay and a biography, began like this: “I am looking for an opportunity that will allow me more time for my family in whatever field I choose.”

Try for just a minute to think of yourself as the school administrator or Hiring Manager who’s reading this. You have a couple of openings and thousands of resumes that you must peruse while attending to the many and very demanding functions of your job. You have a budget and a strict timeframe and you simply cannot afford to hire the wrong person.

Now read that second paragraph again, Mr./Ms. Hiring Manager. The person who sent it to you begins by telling you what she wants from you. For you, on the other hand, it’s crunch time. You do not care what she wants from you. You want to know what she can do for you, and if she doesn’t tell you that very quickly you will be moving on to the next applicant.

This is a problem I encounter over and over again on resumes and cover letters, as well as elevator speeches, interview strategies, and Internet biographies. Many job seekers have a fixed idea of what they want from an employer but fail to convey what they can deliver for the employer. Since this is the primary information every employer is seeking when reviewing a candidate’s history, anything that begins by addressing the applicant’s requirements is likely to fall on very deaf ears. Applicants often compound the confusion by failing to present themselves as a good fit for job openings.

To avoid these pitfalls, YOU MUST BE STRATEGIC. Research companies that interest you, network with friends and colleagues, and when you hear of an opening for which you’d like to apply, all of your communication should specifically target that position.

The above teacher continued in her resume: “I love to teach but I would also be interested in a position in another field. I have a passion for learning. I think ‘teacher’ defines me best.”

To an education administrator on the lookout for a PE teacher who can also coach the girls’ basketball team, this is going to be very confusing. Does the applicant want to be a teacher / coach or not? Again, put yourself in the Hiring Manager’s shoes. You simply do not have time to figure out what to do with this person, so you move on, and she misses out on a potential job opportunity.

Do not say, “I’m a teacher at heart and that’s what I do best” if you’re applying for something outside of education. Instead, define a clear segue between the job you’re doing now and the job for which you’re applying. And do not say “…in whatever field I choose” if you are looking for a teaching position (or any position, for that matter). It signals to an employer that your job search has no clarity, focus, or strategy, and you will not be viewed as a serious candidate.

For example, if you’re a teacher but you’d like to supervise a customer service team, stress your experience working with multidisciplinary teams of teachers, administrators, counselors, and therapists. Talk about the challenge of managing a classroom and give examples of how effective you’ve been in keeping students on task. You can handle demanding parents and intransigent students seamlessly. You are a natural for a position in customer service!

Of course, you can turn this around: Ten years in direct customer service, including seven years as a CSR supervisor, have been the perfect foundation for a career as a teacher . . .

No one who is or might be hiring, or who may know of someone who’s hiring, should ever talk to you or read your resume and cover letter and be left to wonder what in the world you’re looking to do with yourself. Simply put, an applicant who fails to define his or her job target and related qualifications will not hold anyone’s attention past the first paragraph. Career counseling

Be clear and focused. Be strategic in your job search communication.

~ Anne Follis, Certified Professional Resume Writer

© Copyright 2013, Anne Follis. All rights reserved.

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A Simple Suggestion: How Reduce the Chance of Your Resume Getting Lost in the Haystack

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

I get a lot of resumes by e-mail, and I find it interesting that nearly every resume file sent to me has the name “resume.”

I know to the senders it makes perfect sense. After all, it’s their resume that they created on their computer and it’s probably the only resume in their computer. It’s quite simple in their minds: “I don’t want to lose my resume, so I’ll name it ‘resume.'” Makes perfect sense . . .

Unless you’re the employer on the receiving end of dozens to hundreds to thousands of resumes. And they’re all named “resume”?!

So let’s say you’ve spoken with an employer and he or she has jotted down your name and asked you to send your resume. Of course, you sit down at your computer, write an email, attach your resume file named “resume,” and send it out immediately.

It may very well wind up in a database of files, most of which are named “resume.” Do you see where I’m going with this? If someone wants your resume, they won’t know where to begin and probably don’t have the time to look through every resume to find it.

Name your resume after yourself: last name first, period or dash, and your first name, as in “follis.anne” or “follis-anne.” If you have a common name, you might also include a middle name or initial, as in “smith.john.harrison.”

That way you have made it very easy for anyone who is looking specifically for your resume to find it. In addition to the fact that people love it when we make things easy for them, you increase your chance of standing out from the pack.

~ Anne Follis, Certified Professional Resume Writer

©Copyright 2012, Anne Follis. All rights reserved.

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Power Pack Your Resume With These Verbs & Phrases

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

You wouldn’t slouch during an interview, would you? Passive language on your resume is verbal slouching. If you’re having trouble finding exactly the right words, below are some sample verbs and other strong words and phrases that will help:

When you’re the one who got the ball rolling on a new project or procedure:

(“Harnessed the contributions of crossfunctional team members into a collaborative and client focused powerhouse, boosting the number of accounts by 40% within just six months.”)
originated / originated and developed
(“Managed both internal and external communications while driving multiple marketing projects to successfully raise the company’s profile and increase revenues.”)
recruit (“Recruited to create a new position and develop the entire [administrative / warehouse / operations / HR… ] infrastructure from the ground up.”)
transformed [$5 million of machinery and 10,000 square feet of space from a liability to a profitable asset by re-engineering production processes.]

Wen you were the one in charge:


When you want to describe your staff leadership responsibilities:

[disciplinary and termination procedures]

When you were the one through whom it happened:

point-of-contact / lightning rod / liaison
(these aren’t verbs, but they serve the same purpose in suggesting an active role, as in “served as [or acted as] the lightning rod to employees, clientele, and the media throughout the process.”)

When you played a supportive but nonetheless important role:

assisted (weak)
supported (weak)
provided strategic support… (getting stronger…)
played a strategic role in…
played a key role in…
part of a team to…
part of a management team to…
part of an inter-disciplinary team to…
part of a multi-level (or cross-functional) team to…

instrumental (this isn’t a verb, but its use is similar in making a strong statement; as in: “instrumental in forging positive relationships with key clients, resulting in a 100% increase in sales revenues within just six months.”)

When you made a difference:

created / conceived
sold / marketed
[#1 in the district]

~ Anne Follis, Certified Professional Resume Writer

© Copyright 2010, Anne Follis. All rights reserved.

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Tips for Writing a VALUE DRIVEN RESUME

Saturday, October 16th, 2010

Employers want to know more than where you worked and what your job duties were. When they review your resume, they want to know if you are worth the investment they will have to make if they offer you a job. To put it more concisely, they want to know what VALUE you will bring to them.

Alas, most people write resumes that read like job descriptions or, worse, obituaries. Here’s an example from a resume that recently crossed my desk:

Store Manager, ABC Supercenter – Denver, CO (2002 to Present)

  • Managed retail store and supervised employees.
  • Responsible for day to day operations of the ABC Supercenter store.
  • Responsible for maximizing store sales and profitability while working ethically and modeling ABC core values.
  • Develop strategies and objectives and leading [sic] a team of Associates in executing these strategies.
  • Ensure that the store is stocked with merchandise and that all Customers are provided with excellent customer service.
  • As the Store Manager, must have a comprehensive knowledge of the business, be able to use this knowledge to formulate goals and objectives, and be capable of motivating Self, Associates and others to work as a team and accomplish these goals and objectives.
  • Capable of giving directions to Associates, Department Supervisors, and Assistant Store Managers.

How to Turn This Around & Make it Value Driven

The resume goes on with a total of 15 additional and equally mundane bullets, but you get the point. Let’s focus on the value (or lack thereof) that this resume conveys. Every employer who will receive this document already knows that a retail store manager is responsible for maximizing store sales and profitability while working ethically… etc., etc., etc. What the reader wants to know is, what difference did this store manager make in her previous position? What VALUE did she bring to her job? Below is an example of how this dull, predictable, and boring resume can be transformed into something that is value driven.

Store Manager, ABC Supercenter – Denver, CO (2002 to Present)

Recruited to this position by a corporate vice president. Oversee all operations for a 10,000 square foot retail outlet, with full P&L responsibility for budgeting, strategic planning, sales, cost controls, shrink control, inventory control, team leadership, community relations, and the direct and indirect supervision and training of up to 500 employees.

NOTE that this job description is to-the-point and QUANTIFIES the scope of her responsibility by indicating the size of the location she manages and the number of employees she oversees. It is also succinct in summarizing her overall responsibilities. Below is a bulleted list that further quantifies specific above-and-beyond achievements. In short, it demonstrates her VALUE to a prospective employer:

  • Challenge: Took over a store that wasn’t meeting budget and profit requirements. Action: Re-evaluated employees and launched a comprehensive re-staffing and re-training program at all levels. Also took the initiative to conduct hands-on staff training with selected supervisors to improve customer satisfaction. Impact: Brought the store from 15% behind to exceeding budgetary, profit, and customer service goals by as much as 40% within just six months.
  • Reduced the turnover of management personnel by 22% and mentored nine hourly personnel into management positions.
  • Selected to serve on a corporate strategic planning committee to identify areas for growth. Played a key role in selecting locations and setting up operations for three new stores. Put new store managers in place and acted as the corporate troubleshooter for any issues. All three stores exceeded expectations within the first two years.

Bullets & Metrics

Observe the strategic use of bullets. Resume writer Donald Asher has dubbed resumes written in an entirely bulleted format as “Teflon coated resumes.” By that he means that, while a bullet is designed to make something stand out, if everything is bulleted nothing stands out. Just as with Teflon, a resume that is entirely bulleted just doesn’t stick.

So for a value driven resume, write paragraphs with strong, concise job descriptions that indicate the scope of your responsibilities without getting bogged down with minutiae. Then bullet your achievements that go above and beyond the job descriptions.

And remember: QUANTIFY, QUANTIFY, QUANTIFY. If your improvements reduced turnover, indicate how much. If you saved money, tell the reader how you did it and how much you saved (percentages are usually better than dollar figures). If you implemented a program to improve customer service, give the metrics to prove it worked. If you improved processes to boost efficiency, explain what the problem was, what you did to improve things, and what the results were, including the time/money saved. If you resolved a problem, explain the difference it made to the company (i.e., “…saving a $2 million account from defecting to the competition”).

A strong, action packed, value driven document is far more likely to result in a call for an interview than a tedious list of responsibilities. When employers read your resume, they are looking for value. Make sure you give it to them.

~ Anne Follis, Certified Professional Resume Writer

© Copyright 2011, Anne Follis. All rights reserved.

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What’s the Difference Between a Resume & a CV?

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

A resume is a summary of a your education, experience, and other relevant information that would be significant to prospective employers and is used in applying for positions in most fields.

A curriculum vitae (or CV) is similar, but is most often used the fields of medicine, education, ministry, and sometimes law, and it tends to be credentials-driven. Below are some distinctions between the two.

Lead With Credentials

For a resume, it’s always best to lead with your strengths. If you have minimal experience and a recent college degree, your education goes ahead of your work history. Once you get some marketable experience, however, the education usually goes under your employment history.

Conversely, a CV is credentials driven, and so education always goes right to the top, along with credentials (MD, PAC, RN, PhD, certifcations, etc.).

Include More Information on a CV

CVs are almost always longer than resumes. The word “resume” is a French term that, loosely translated, means summary. While it should demonstrate a person’s qualifications, experience, and value, it should also be concise. Most resumes only go back 10-15 years and are one to two pages.

By contrast, a CV is usually longer (four to five pages is not unheard of) and tends to go back further in a person’s history than is necessary on a resume. In fact, a CV can go back 20 to 30 years and sometimes more, depending on the person’s specialty and history.

One reason CVs are longer than resumes is because they include lists that are excluded or condensed on resumes. These can range from publications to presentations and continuing education. Of course, even on a CV this shouldn’t be too extensive. If you have given 40 presentations, for example, pull out the most significant ten or so among your more recent presentations.

Make the CV More Conservative in Writing Style & Appearance

A CV is more conservative than a resume. The trend in resumes today is to add a splash of color and create an eye-popping profile of core competencies and abilities at the top, sometimes called a “summary” or “profile.” CVs traditionally haven’t included color, but that is changing, as long as it’s professional and not overdone.

Traditional CVs used to leave the profile off altogether. Today it’s common to include a profile or summary at the top of a CV, which can be done either as a bulleted list or a short paragraph. The purpose, just as in a resume, is to summarize a candidate’s expertise in a way that will capture the attention of the reader. However, with a CV the style should be more conservative and formal.

Below is a sample profile for a physician:

Board Certified Psychiatrist offering experience treating patients of all age and socioeconomic backgrounds with a wide range of disorders, including acute psychiatric illness, chronic mental illness, and treatment resistant mood and thought disorders. Experience includes 12-years in family medicine, combined with a history of working in collaboration with family practitioners and other health care professionals to identify and treat mental health disorders.

It’s More Like a Resume Than It Used to Be!

In recent years CVs have morphed just a bit, with the inclusion of summary statement. In addition, they are shorter than they used to be. About 20-years ago I prepared a CV for a Nurse Practitioner and health care administrator with 30+ years of very diverse experience and numerous honors that was 12-pages long. It worked great for her back then, but today I would edit it down to half that size or less.

In short, a CV today looks a quite a bit more like a resume than a CV from 20 or 30 years ago, but the distinctions listed above are still important.

~ Anne Follis, Certified Professional Resume Writer

© Copyright 2010, Anne Follis. All rights reserved.

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The Power of Verbs

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

In submitting a resume, you don’t have the subtleties of non-verbal communication that play such a significant role in face-to-face and even phone encounters. The tone and inflection of your voice, the way you sit or walk, your conversational style – these means of conveying who-you-are and what-you-have-to-offer a prospective employer are unavailable to you prior to the interview.

The words on your resume are all you have to suggest confidence, and the strategic use of verbs can make a critical difference in the way you are perceived. Rather than suggest a passive role, verbs communicate action, control, and purpose. Compare the following sentences:

1) Responsible for sales, marketing, recruiting, customer service, client presentations, and business development for the West Coast branch.

2) Oversee sales and marketing for the West Coast branch. Generate and develop new clients while providing ongoing support to established accounts. Prospect potential clients via cold calling, telemarketing, and direct mail. Create targeted customer presentations, develop and adapt services to client specifications, and collaborate with recruiters to locate and place both temporary and long-term employees.

Each sentence says the same thing, but the impact of the second is much more powerful, in large part because of the use of verbs. Use verbs on your resume and see what a difference it can make.

~ Anne Follis, Certified Professional Resume Writer

© Copyright 2010, Anne Follis. All rights reserved.

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How Long – or Short – Should Your Resume Be?

Sunday, July 19th, 2009

My client was an engineer with a wealth of experience going back 15-years. But when I looked at the resume he’d prepared for himself, my brain nearly flatlined as I tried assimilate the information before me.

The margins were less than a quarter of an inch on all sides, the font was 9 points (oh, my aging eyes!), and the information was crammed together with no spaces and no indents. It was so difficult to read that I finally quit trying. And if I couldn’t read it, what do you think the odds are that a prospective employer with hundreds of resumes to review is going to stay with it?

When I asked him why he’d chosen that layout he said, “Someone told me all resumes should be one page, and I had to fit everything on there.” And he wondered why he wasn’t getting calls for interviews!

Fast forward a few months. I got a call from a journeyman boilermaker who’d been taking mostly short term positions through his union for more than 20-years. He asked me if I’d take a look at his resume. It was also crammed together, but rather than one page it was a grand total of eleven – yes, ELEVEN. I wanted to cry. He listed EVERY job he’d held throughout his career, some just a few months or even a few weeks.

These are extreme examples, but they illustrate a question people ask when they compose a resume: HOW LONG SHOULD IT BE?

The answer is surprisingly simple: A resume needs to be as long as it needs to be. It should include all the information that’s necessary to adequately sell you to a prospective employer in today’s competitive environment. It should NOT include redundant, personal, or extraneous information that is of no interest to HR and hiring managers.

In the case of the engineer, the final document I prepared for him was three pages. He balked at first, but his experience was extensive and he needed a readable resume. It began with a profile that summarized his very strong skillset and subsequently presented his work history, including highlights of some of the many projects he’d worked on over the years. The margins were nearly an inch on all sides, with lots of indents and white space, giving it a natural flow. He not only started getting his foot in the door for interviews, he landed a job within just a few months.

For the boilermaker, I also began with a summary, then his career history. But rather than show every short-term job, I described his overall responsibilities in working for the union on various assignments, followed by the line “Highlights of key projects include the following.” Then I bulleted longer and significant jobs, showcasing a wide range of responsibilities and achievements. I succinctly reduced his eleven pages to just one and he, also, began getting calls for interviews.

As these cases illustrate, there are two errors that people make when it comes to resume length. First, there is the “resume-must-be-one-page” mantra that so many job seekers mistakenly believe. In fact, I have actually had employers tell me that for some positions they don’t even look at one page resumes. As one executive explained it, “If a person only has a one page resume, then they don’t have enough experience for the positions I fill.”

Then there are those who believe they need to tell a prospective employer everything they’ve ever done. Trust me when I tell you, nobody wants to read everything you’ve ever done.

This is not your magnum opus. The word “resume” is a French term that, loosely translated, means “summary.” Its purpose is to summarize the skills, experience, and education that are relevant to the position you are seeking.

As with the boilermaker, sometimes that means consolidating an extensive but often redundant history by highlighting key projects and achievements. It can also mean eliminating personal information, going back just ten or fifteen years in your work history, and focusing on what is relevant to a prospective employer. If you are applying for a marketing position, for example, your experience in building a solid marketing business is relevant; the fact that you were also working as a substitute teacher while the business was growing isn’t even remotely relevant and can be left off entirely or just briefly referenced. If, on the other hand, you’re going for a teaching position, the teaching background is very important and the marketing can be downplayed.

At the same time, never sell yourself short. If you sacrifice crucial information in homage to the one-page rule or, worse yet, cram two or three pages onto one, you are hurting your chances of finding the right position. And please, please, please make sure to maintain a professional and readable appearance. Indent key information, put spaces between your headings and jobs, and keep the font to at least 10.5 to 11 points.

I reiterate: in response to the burning question “How long should my resume be?” the answer is quite simply: as long as it needs to be, no more and no less, depending on your background and career target.

An exception: this applies to resumes. In the case of curriculum vitae, usually prepared for people in medical and academic fields, the rules are a bit different. But that’s for another post.

~ Anne Follis, CPRW

© Copyright 2010, Anne Follis. All rights reserved.

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First vs. Third Person Resumes

Sunday, June 7th, 2009

“I swear, English teachers are the most annoying people on the planet!” proclaimed my college-bound son.

“Don’t swear,” I admonished. “You must learn to eliminate unnecessary verbiage and make clean, declarative statements.” He rolled his eyes, muttered something unintelligible, and walked away.

The English teacher he was talking about was, of course, his mother. Having taught English and communication at both the high school and university levels, I confess to a somewhat neurotic fascination with the rules of the English language. It’s in the spirit of such obsessions that I have pondered the question of first vs. third person resumes.

According to the Certification Guide prepared by the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches, resumes should be prepared in the first person. That makes sense since, as a general rule, when a person prepares a resume for distribution, it has her or his name, address, phone, and e-mail at the top. In addition, it is usually accompanied by a personal cover letter written and signed by the applicant. It would be pretentious and a little silly to send out a document with a person’s name on it (first person) that’s written like it’s from someone else (third person). But that’s what we do whenever we write a resume in the third person.

The confusion comes with the fact that, as a general rule, the subject is understood in a resume, but the pronouns are not included. So, for example, when speaking about a current job, instead of saying, “I oversee all office operations, I control a $100,000 inventory, and I balance the books for four major accounts,” a resume usually reads, “Oversee all office operations, control a $100,000 inventory, and balance the books for four major accounts.” In resume-ese, the “I” is understood, but not stated, in order to give the document a more objective and professional tone.

But often people see these sentences and are compelled to add an “s” to the verbs, placing them in the third person. Hence the sentence “oversees all office operations, maintains a $100,000 inventory, and balances the books for four major accounts” infers the third person, as in “she/he oversees all office operations,” etc.

Adding insult to injury, some writers prepare resumes in both the first and third person, as in the example that came across my desk that began with the objective: “Position which will utilize my experience and provide opportunity for advancement and growth,” clearly in the first person, given the use of the pronoun “my.” The resume continued with a summary of experience that read: “Performs accounts payable activities . . . Reviews and classifies invoices . . . Interacts with vendors,” with verb after verb written in the third person.

One book on how to write resumes includes the following objective: “Seeks responsible position that will utilize my diversified experience,” using both the first and third person, not only in the same resume, but in the same sentence. In fact, if one were to add the unspoken but understood pronoun that starts the sentence, it would read “He seeks a responsible position that will utilize my diversified experience.” Ouch! (And a side note… even with the correction this is a positively awful objective, but that is for another post.)

Writing in the first person is consistent with the nature of your resume and the accompanying cover letter: these documents are you talking about you, not someone else talking about you. It makes no sense whatsoever to write them in anything other than the first person.

Reprinted & updated from an article written for the Journal of the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches.

~ Anne Follis, CPRW

© Copyright 2010, Anne Follis. All rights reserved.

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Information That Should (Almost) Never Go on Your Resume

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

1) Your age, date of birth, or anything that might give away your age. Did you graduate from high school in 1967? College in 1972? Or does your e-mail address include the year you were born, as in “”? Leave the dates off of your education and get another e-mail address! Age discrimination is illegal and companies take pains to avoid the appearance of discriminating against applicants based on age. While you need to include dates with your jobs, it’s unusual to go back more than ten or fifteen, and at most twenty years. The dates of your education, on the other hand, are optional, and it’s a good rule of thumb to leave them off if you graduated more than ten years ago.

2) Personal information, including your marital status, information about your children, your age, weight, political affiliation, or your hobbies.

3) Information about any disabilities you may have, unless it relates to the position for which you’re applying. For example, if you have a vision impairment and are looking to work with people who are visually impaired, you might want to include that information, if not in the resume, then in the cover letter. Otherwise, leave it off.

4) Religious affiliation, unless you are applying for a position within a religious organization. Sad to say, anti-religious bias is growing by leaps and bounds these days. So unless it’s relevant to the position for which you are applying, you might want to consider leaving it off.

5) Your weaknesses. Yes, I’ve actually seen resumes which included a list of weaknesses, apparently to balance their list of strengths. Don’t go there! Would you sell a new product by highlighting its weaknesses? Focus on what you can do FOR the employer.

6) Anything – and I do mean anything – that is even remotely negative about your previous employer, boss, or co-workers. Would you hire someone who was bad-mouthing the last people they worked for?

7) A photograph (unless you are a model or entertainer). A photograph raises the question of bias based on appearance, race, or ethnicity, and this can make a prospective employer VERY nervous. I have had dozens of executives tell me they don’t even look at resumes that include a photograph. Even if you’re young and gorgeous, leave the photograph off. It is likely to do you more harm than good.

When in doubt, ask yourself: “What does this have to do with my ability to do the job for which I’m applying?” If the answer is “absolutely nothing,” it’s a good bet that it doesn’t belong on your resume.

~ Anne Follis, CPRW

© Copyright 2010, Anne Follis. All rights reserved.

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The Elements of Style & The Secret to Writing Well

Thursday, June 14th, 2007

The cardinal rule of good writing is to keep it simple, direct, and concise. In what have been called the “63 words that could change the world,” the late great William Strunk, professor of English at Cornell University, said it all:

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell. (William Strunk Jr., and E. B. White, The Elements of Style, 3rd ed., New York: Macmillan, 1979, p 23)

As a writer I have gone back to this paragraph many times. When you draft a resume and cover letter, I recommend that you ask yourself repeatedly: “What am I telling busy HR directors who are eager to make a dent in pile of resumes?” If the answer is nothing, or more than they care to know, or less than they need to know about how your abilities may benefit them, then edit your material accordingly until you get it right.

~ Anne Follis, Certified Professional Resume Writer

© Copyright 2011, Anne Follis. All rights reserved.

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