Resume Writing Style

In our Military Resume Benchmarking Report, we assessed the writing style of the resumes. A resume is an introduction to an employer.  Writing a resume requires a much greater attention to detail than almost any other form of writing.  A poorly written resume with lots of mistakes will ensure a bad first impression. Unfortunately, mistakes on resumes are not rare. In our research study, we found 31% of the resumes had inconsistent sentence structures.

There are a variety of acceptable styles and we didn’t want our personal preferences to bias the report. We assessed the consistency of the style. Most resumes are written without using personal pronouns. Others are written in the first person. The verb usage also varies from passive to active voice. Maintaining consistency makes a resume more predictable and easier scan quickly. At the same time, when you write, some variation in sentence structure can improve readability. When we assessed the writing style, we looked for inconsistencies or gross grammatical errors that significantly hurt the readability.

Seeing so many resumes make basic writing mistakes, I wanted to share an example of inconsistent writing from a resume. Below is the first paragraph from a resume I received recently. It isn’t one of the resumes from the research study, but is representative of some of the worst offenders.

Professional Summary

I’m an honest, loyal and highly motivated worker who is result-oriented with over 20 years of active military service and experience in Recruiting, Human Resources, Personnel Administration, and Operations & Training. Possess strong leadership skills and successful team building capabilities and have excellent technical, communication, presentation, and customer service skills. I am a resourceful problem solver with the proven ability to bring quick resolution to challenging situations. Hold a Bachelor of Business Administration degree majoring in General Business with a minor in Business Management.

The summary starts out with by the personal pronoun “I.” The second sentence omits the pronoun, starting with “Possess strong…” In the third sentence, the job seeker uses the personal pronoun again. Finally, in the forth sentence, the job seeker leaves out the pronoun again.

This inconsistencies hurt the readability and are a distraction from the content. A much better approach would be to pick a convention and stick with it. Further hurting the effectiveness, the job seeker uses “Possess” and “Hold” to start two of the sentences instead of the more common “Possesses” and “Holds.”

To fix this, I would scrap the structure and break the text into bullets. The summary is essentially a list of qualities and I would break it down into the form of a list. I would also bold some text to highlight key concepts.

Professional Summary

  • Results-oriented Sergeant Major with 20 years of active military service in Recruiting, Human Resources, Personnel Administration, Operations and Training.
  • Strong leader with a track record of building successful teams.
  • Highly skilled in technical, communications, presentation, and customer service.
  • Resourceful problem solver with the proven ability to bring quick resolution to challenging situations.

This section reads much clearer. It has most of the same content. I emphasize a few key attributes by bolding a few words. If a hiring manager only scans this section on their way to the work experience, it should help to create an image of the job seeker as a results-oriented, highly skilled leader with good problem solving skills. This simpler summary of the job seeker is likely to be much more effective than a longer more detailed summary.

Is my rewrite perfect? No, it’s far from it. I wanted to show how inconsistent sentence structure can hurt a resume. I also wanted to show an alternative, but didn’t want to bring in much new content. If I really want to fix this resume, I would cut the bullets I listed down to just a couple lines and add a few accomplishments. It’s good for a job seeker to say they were successful, but it is much more effective to show a hiring manager past successes. Adding a couple accomplishments can dramatically improve the overall impression of the resume.

Bottom line: Keep your sentence structure consistent. Proofread your resume closely. Add some accomplishments to show a hiring manager how good you are rather than just making claims. Do these things, and your resume will improve.