First vs. Third Person Resumes

“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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