Want to write a resume that really cuts to the heart of your value and stands out for its professionalism?
It’s going to be difficult if the writing style you use undermines your credibility–before an employer even reads your resume summary!

No matter how strong your credentials (and despite the fact that most resumes are written in sentence fragments that aren’t grammatically correct by themselves) you’ll still need to follow basic rules in order to convey your brand value.

Start by examining your resume for these errors (yes, even if it was written by a professional!) in order to ensure that your message comes through clearly and succinctly.

1 – Use of superlatives to describe yourself.

This is a huge problem for too many resume writers, both do-it-yourself and professional.

If you (not your skills) are described as brilliant, superior, or extraordinary, what’s an employer to think? That you ran out of other descriptors for your superhuman qualities?

For what it’s worth, I’ve seen several professionally written resumes that described the candidates in just such terms–seemingly grasping for words to convey that this job hunter must be somehow far above mere mortals.

Here’s a tip: If you don’t use a particular adjective when describing yourself in common speech, then don’t add it to your resume.


2 – The essay approach.

Yes, it’s truly difficult to describe your fitness for that great job in just a sentence or two.

However, resume summaries that go on for longer than a few lines are bound to lose (or bore!) your audience.

Here’s an actual example from a professionally written resume (I kid you not!):

Accomplished business innovator who utilizes the dynamic combination of a BS in Business Administration, three certifications in Process Reengineering and 16 years experience developing world-class systems to support revenue growth, improve efficiency, elevate customer satisfaction and increase profitability for a Fortune 500 corporate icon. Seasoned process reengineering expert who earned a Certificate of Mastery in Process Reengineering, a Certificate of Process Expertise and a Certificate of Process Mastery studying directly under tutelage of the late Dr. Michael Hammer, the recognized founder of Process Engineering. Skillfully employs change management and organizational design skills to reengineer global organizations to achieve increased efficiency and productivity and reduce operating expenses to improve the profits.

Mind you, rewriting this saga to just 3 lines (with an accompanying, hard-hitting Career Results list of achievements) quickly secured a string of interviews for this candidate.

Instead of using the essay approach to resume writing (trying to hit the message somewhere), I recommend tightening the summary until it fits into 4-5 lines, or eliminating it altogether in favor of list of power-packed, bullet-point phrases that show the impact of your performance.

3 – Inability to use hyphens or separate words from each other.

One of the most glaring punctuation errors is the misuse or omission of hyphens, with variants that include creating a composite “word” that doesn’t exist.

If you do use a hyphen, ensure that it’s supposed to be there. On the other hand, if a phrase looks “off,” a hyphen may be missing.

Errors that I’ve seen all too often include words glued together (brought onboard instead of brought on board), missing hyphens (low performing instead of low-performing), or the use of extra hyphens to create a descriptor that makes no sense (team-leader vs. team leader).

Of course, these errors are often found in professionally written resumes, too.

If you aren’t well-versed in grammatical rules surrounding hyphens, check out a reliable website such as http://www.grammarmudge.cityslide.com/articles/article/426348/2805.htm for guidance.

4 – Extra commas.

When I saw proven success cooperating with, and leading diverse groups of professionals in another resume, I shuddered.

News flash! A comma is intended to separate dependent clauses, not just thoughts that seem to need a pause here and there.

However, commas do seem to be a gray area for many writers. A great resource for reviewing your comma usage is http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/commas.htm.

5 – Excess use of “and.”

If your resume is littered with sentences that contain 3 or more instances of the word and, then you know that trouble is afoot.

It’s hard enough to condense your full career history without writing too-long (or run-on) sentences that confuse your reader.

One of the best solutions to this problem is to insert slashes between related items, which can increase clarity while cutting down sentence length.

If slashes seem like an odd writing convention, remember that resume sentence fragments aren’t technically sentences. Therefore, you can use symbols and punctuation that you wouldn’t normally put in conventional writing.

Therefore, you can convert:
Partnered with senior management and business owners to plan and direct corporate revenue initiatives incorporated into FY 2008 budgets and reflecting $3M in cost reductions.

to the following:
Partnered with senior management/business owners to create corporate revenue initiatives incorporated into FY 2008 budgets, with $3M in cost reductions.

or to my preferred version, which cuts to the chase even faster:
Cut costs $3M, leading corporate revenue initiatives for FY 2008 budgets in partnership with senior management/business owners.

Notice the sentence getting smaller every time? That’s one of the keys to tight, compelling resume writing–which uses less space while preserving the message.

6 – Lack of parallel sentence structure.

Yes, this was a hassle to remember back in grade school, and it’s a hassle now. However, if you decide to play by your own grammatical rules, employers will have a hard time reading your resume.

It’s absolutely critical to ensure that the object of your sentences (that is, the person) is related to the actions described in them.

As an example of a problem sentence, review this entry (sent to me by a client who had developed her own bio):

Her written and oral skills have served her well in one-on-one situations from high-ranking members of Congress to staffers of committees as well as speaking before large audiences.

Ouch! A few missing commas plus a lack of parallelism makes situations appear related to high-ranking members.

Of course, you CAN follow the ideas… but it’s painful.

For a resume (as well as a bio), parallel sentence structure is key. Here’s a great resource on the topic to help you through any hurdles: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/623/01/.

7 – Incorrect use of “over” when referring to figures.

I’m sorry to tell you this, but you don’t have over 20 years of experience; you have more than 20 years of experience instead.

Over is a direction, as in hanging a picture over the couch. More than or less than describe volume.

While I’m addressing this issue, it’s a good time to remember that longevity equals just that, and no more.

Calling attention to your tenure in in this manner can subject you to age discrimination, or imply that you simply “lasted” this long in your job (not exactly a brand-building moment).

There you have it: resume writing problems severe enough to obscure your value proposition and threaten your job search.

All in all, I recommend that you spend some time combing through your resume for these errors so that your message can be conveyed more quickly and clearly.

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