Resume Tip of the Week: Say it with Less

We call this one “Say it with less.”  In that regard, check out this simple but insightful quote from Mark Twain (permutations of this quote have been attributed to others like Ben Franklin, but we like Twain’s version):

If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter

The reason we like it is because of its tongue in cheek way of chiding those people who use way too many words to convey their ideas. Whereas if they had spent more time simplifying the message, it would have respected the reader’s valuable but unrecoverable resource called time.  This concept is very applicable to resumes where it’s important t to keep things concise. To that extent, we force our candidates to respect hiring managers’ time by keeping their resume to one page.  We’ve had many candidates tell us that there is no way they can cut their resume to one page without eliminating  essential information. We say baloney. What’s the use of writing two or three pages of words that nobody is going to bother reading? Decision makers just don’t have that much time to waste. Even still, we’ve seen many people lack brevity even on a one-page resume. 

Here are a few resume snippets to illustrate the point: 

“In charge of 4 assigned officers, 18 non-commissioned officers, and  45 enlisted soldiers.” 

Holy cow, that’s a lengthy way just to say they were in charge of 67 people!  Does it matter that these people were ‘assigned’ or that they fell under various classifications of rank?  You would never see a civilian executive specify exactly how many managers, supervisors, and hourly workers they had in their company. 

Or how about this one? 

“Developed, synchronized, and rehearsed Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) procedures while stationed on Camp Pendleton and embarked aboard USS ESSEX. Planned, organized and executed 20+ helicopter training raids on domestic and international objectives.” 

compared to this simplified version: 

“Developed and executed a training program that certified the team’s conduct of aerial operations.” 

The second version eliminates extraneous details as well as some tasks/actions that could reasonably be inferred by the reader. Here are a couple tips for you to achieve brevity in your resume:

  • Avoid unnecessary words that don’t add value or improve understanding. To implement this tactic, pull words out of your sentences and check to see if it affects the sentence. For example “effective” versus “very effective” or the classic “unique” versus “very unique.” There are no degree to uniqueness – something is either unique or its not.
  • Don’t use passive voice. For example: “developed a process that reduced…” instead of “developed a process that was able to reduce…”
  • Precision can be nice — to a degree. Watch for trying to be overly precise such as in the example above where the author spelled out each type of person under their charge. Other unnecessary details might be references to specific locations, names of units, etc.
  • Don’t be repetitive. For example, your job description might indicate that you were in charge of 50 vehicles, but then you also have an achievement bullet that mentions how well you maintained 50 vehicles. If you are trying to highlight how well you maintained them (a potentially awesome bullet), it’s generally assumed you are referring to the 50 you had already mentioned.
  • Write naturally as if you were speaking to a friend. Then go back through every sentence and challenge yourself to make each one shorter

These are just a few ideas. The key to effective writing, like anything is practice, practice, practice.  Or to paraphrase Twain:  “to write less, write more”

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