The Resume Litmus Test
Make sure that hiring managers actually read your resume by taking this quick barstool litmus test.
By Donald Burns
Your resume comprises a set of talking points. But have you ever tried talking back to your resume?
Think about it. When a recruiter reads a resume, she’s saying the words in her head. It’s how we all read. So when a glut of words overwhelms the point being made, it’s a struggle to read. And that’s when the recruiter gives up and tosses your resume into the “no” pile.
So how do you ensure your resume is professional and concise? Remove the “business-ese.”
“Business-ese” vs. conversational English
Many senior managers and technologists make the mistake of writing in “business-ese” — a plodding, dense and pompous style with lots of long words and convoluted sentences. Business-ese tortures readers by forcing them to read and re-read each word slowly.
The writer of business-ese may think he’s hiding something under a garbage pile of meaningless verbiage — but he’s not fooling anybody. People write this way for many reasons: Sometimes they’re trying to sound “professional.” Usually they’re just not thinking clearly, or they’re just too timid to say what they really mean.
Consider this “before” and “after” example:
“Business-ese” (43 words)
- Performed multiple tasks between various clients generating 50% greater capacity and sustainability by engineering ITIL based technology capabilities and aligning resources with the organization’s strategic advantage. Managed and utilized procedures, policies and guidelines resulting to positive effect in efficiency as much as 100%.
Conversational English (23 words)
- Increased network scalability 50% for Acme Corp. by designing and implementing a new platform based on Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) and related standards.
Can your resume pass the barstool test?
Try this simple test: Just read your resume out loud for a minute.
How does it sound?
Does your resume sound like ordinary speech that you’d say to a person on the barstool beside you? Congratulations, you passed. But if you stumble, stutter, backtrack or hesitate — like most people who try this exercise — you should consider working with an expert to rewrite your resume.
After I write this article, for example, I’ll use the voice recorder on my iPhone to record and play back every paragraph. This simple tactic can improve everything you write.
And here’s an extra benefit: As you read your resume out loud, you’ll probably discover some hidden typos, grammatical errors and missing words.
What is conversational writing?
Conversational writing is the same writing style that you read in a major newspaper like The Wall Street Journal — it’s simple and direct, but never slang, vogue, breezy or overly casual. Writing in the simple, conversational style is a tricky balance — like dressing for Casual Fridays.
Does this simple, conversational style sound like a social-media concept? Actually, you’ll find all its core principles in a 90-page paperback titled “The Elements of Style,” originally published in 1918! (Download it for free here .)
Editing a wordy resume
The barstool test itself is pretty easy — just read your resume out loud. But rewriting and simplifying your language might require a lot of work: Among professional writers, a famous adage says, “The easier it is to read, the harder it is to write!”
Here are three pointers to get you started — and if you get stuck, get help from an editor or a resume writer.
1. Take five deep breaths and relax. Many people feel stressed out when they sit down to write: They freeze up like they’re about to speak in front of an audience — and when they write, they “sound” tense and stilted. Relaxation is a great cure for writer’s block.
2. Think about what you want to say before you write each sentence. Clarify your thinking before you write! This is the first and most important rule for writing.
3. Now write a bare-bones sentence that captures a single idea: Imagine you’re sending an old-fashioned telegram — and you’re paying a dollar for each word.
Ask a recruiter from any top company: Posting a job online triggers an electronic stampede of thousands of resumes — including well-qualified candidates, unqualified candidates, and lots and lots of spam.
Let’s assume you send a resume that survives all the electronic filtering and actually reaches a human being. Now you’re just one candidate in a pile of, say, 300 resumes — so the reviewer, already stressed out by deadlines, “eyeballs” your resume for only 15 seconds or less. Her sole purpose at this point is to screen you out, cut down the stack and select a relative handful of candidates who’ll eventually be called in for interviews. Whew!
Fortunately, you can boost the odds that your resume lands in the “interview” pile by paring your language or working with a resume writer to make your resume easier to read — and make life a little easier for the reader!
Donald Burns, CPRW, ACRW, is a certified resume writer who specializes in resumes for executives and senior managers in marketing, sales, operations and engineering. His career background includes electrical engineering, marketing and journalism. His Web site is http://www.update-your-resume.com.