When Bad Writing Happens to Good Resumes
August 18th is Bad Poetry Day, a celebration (if you can call it that) of terrible verse. While we can all have a laugh over bad writing, it’s not so funny when it turns up in your resume or cover letter.
Often, bad writing is a result of trying too hard to impress. When you’re looking for work—especially if it’s been a while since your last interview—you’re usually very keen to make a good first impression, but ironically, you may end up doing the opposite.
Using too many adjectives may not seem like a bad thing at first. You know that you’re amazing, brilliant, and talented, but getting it across in a few paragraphs of text can be challenging. However, describing yourself or your experience with too many adjectives is probably not the best way to convince a potential employer of your many great qualities.
Adjectives fall into two general categories: broad and specific. Broad adjectives are little better than filler; they take up space without adding anything significant. Consider the difference between the following sentences; which one is more convincing?
A: I am a fantastic, dedicated, and highly skilled employee with an impressive work history.
B: I have fifteen years of experience and mastery of the four most common software tools used in the industry.
Both of these sentences convey the same basic information—the writer has skills and experience—but instead of using broad adjectives to qualify those statements, the second sentence uses concrete, specific examples. Generally, if you make vague statements about your abilities paired with over-the-top adjectives, the person reading your resume will assume that you’re over-inflating your worth.
Another common mistake is using lazy verbs instead of action verbs. According to the folks over at The Muse, most resume bullet points begin the same way: led, managed, or responsible for. They compiled a list of 185 action verbs to revitalize those tired old bullet points. Lazy verbs are often vague or boring, and they don’t do a very good job of showing the reader what type of action you actually did. That’s why so many of these verbs need a little help from an adjective or adverb—but we’ve already seen how they don’t solve the problem, either.
To generate a personalized list of action verbs for your job search, spend some time thinking about what you did and what you accomplished at your previous position. Make a list, and then break out the thesaurus to find inspiration for more robust verbs. You can also find excellent verbs in the job postings themselves. Businesses often respond better to certain keywords—and in the case of automated software, those keywords may even be the difference between your resume ending up in front of a real person or in the trash—so don’t be afraid to copy their language.
While being specific is good, using corporate jargon is almost always a bad idea. George Orwell, in his essay “Politics and the English Language,” advocated for people to use plain, straightforward language. Unfortunately, many businesses have gone the opposite direction, using indecipherable jargon or buzzwords like “synergy” or “incentivize.” Check out this list of corporate-speak and immediately cut any of the words that show up in your resume or cover letter.
Failing to proofread is one of the worst sins you can commit in your resume or cover letter. Of course, we’re a little biased since Grammarly’s mission is to help clean up typos and grammar mistakes, but even minor mistakes can telegraph negative traits to a potential employer. After all, if you don’t pay attention to detail in such an important document, hiring managers will assume that you’re careless in other areas of your professional life.