Category Archives: Uncategorized

No Tense Like the Present

I see lots of resumes mixing Present and Past Participles.

  • Present Participle: a participle form, having the suffix -ing, denoting repetition or duration of an activity or event
  • Past Participle: a participle with past, perfect, or passive meaning, as fallen, sung, defeated

I try to persuade my clients to stick with present participles (managing, leading, operating) instead of mixing present and past participles (managed, led, operated).

Note the difference between the two forms:

Past Participle

  • Designed framework to train incoming students in appropriate use of library tools
  • Performed statistical analysis on students’ use of legal research software

Present Participle

  • Designing framework to train incoming students in appropriate use of library tools
  • Performing statistical analysis on students’ use of legal research software

When you express a thought in the past tense (the past participle: designed, performed), your reader will imagine that you designed and performed in the past, but there is no implication that design or perform is something you can, and may, do today or tomorrow.

When you use the present participle (designing, performing), the reader can interpret your language as saying I was designing or performing; I am designing or performing; and even I am skilled in general at designing or performing. Present participle statements cover more than one base at a time. The reader can infer that designing is something you did before, do right now, will be able to do in the future, and are just good at.

Besides giving clarity, the present participle makes your tenses consistent so the reader doesn’t have to change mental gears as he explores your history.

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Rocket Scientists and One-Page Resumes

More than a few years ago I was hired to write resumes for some aerospace engineers who’d been working on the soon-to-be-defunct Strategic Defense Initiative.

History lesson: the Strategic Defense Initiative (also known as SDI or “Star Wars” – not the movie) was a missile program launched under the Reagan administration. Star Wars (not the movie) would create a land- and space-based theoretical bubble around the United States that could intercept and repel incoming nuclear warheads, along the lines of the force field generated by Violet Parr in The Incredibles.

Violet-parr-incredibles-photo-450x370-dcp-MF0472521

Except that SDI would protect the entire country. But probably not Canada. Or Mexico. And I’m not sure about Alaska, since it’s connected to Canada and right next to Russia, which is where the incoming missiles would have originated. Alaska might have been sacrificed for the greater good.

Anyway, when SDI was defunded all the engineers who’d spent most of their careers working on it needed help creating resumes that would make sense to anyone needing an engineer who’d spent most of his career working on a one-of-a-kind, extinct program.

One client brought me pages of material about his job. We labored for hours to organize his professional background in a way that would make sense to a potential employer. Eventually we reduced his piece to three pages, including a five-line paragraph describing the TYPES of software he used — not the names of software, but general categories. If we’d listed the name of every piece of software he used in his job, the paragraph would have stretched to more than 20 lines.

Intermittently he asked: shouldn’t this resume take up just one page?

Every time he brought it up, I deflected. I changed the subject. I talked about apples. I talked about fish. I talked about fish eating apples. And more than once I explained that someone at his professional level needed, and should have, a longer resume. That the people reading his resume would expect, and be prepared for, a lot of in-depth information. That many of the people vetting his resume would be members of the bifocal crowd, grateful not to have to read a single-page resume with a magnifying glass.

I made my point eloquently and persuasively.

The next day he showed me a one-page resume he’d produced just to see if he could do it. The margins were less than half an inch. The font was 8 point. The software section basically said “lots and lots of software.” The text looked like this:

.,-..,-..,:’:..::,,::

,’;:’.,-‘”;:”.;’,,-:-;

‘^.;:-::’..'””;:,,-,”;

“;.,.,;;'”‘^.'”;..;,,-

Can you read that? Neither could I.

I tried gently to explain that, while it was phenomenal that he’d managed to fit his entire background onto one page, nobody would ever be able to read it. Nor would they want to.

He admitted that he couldn’t even read it.

We compromised at three pages.

No Way Around It: Producing A Resume Is Hard Work

More than one potential client has offered to send me a draft resume and a return envelope. If I agreed to submit a finished product without input from the client, though, I’d clearly be committing malpractice. Certainly I’ll do the heavy lifting, but if you hope to end up with documents that you can defend in an interview, you must participate in the process of composition. Don’t worry — I’ll hold your hand (figuratively) the whole time.

Let’s imagine you need to update your resume. We’ll try to visualize you in your next job; if you’re not sure exactly where you want to go, at least you’ll know what you like or hate doing, and what you love so much you’d do it for free. From there we’ll analyze your skills and achievements to identify what it is about you that gets you where you want to go.

Once we’ve built these concepts into a draft, we begin to edit, always with an eye toward what will speak to the prospective employer. We analyze every word and phrase to determine if an unfamiliar reader will understand the ideas you’re offering. We’ll make sure you’re comfortable with every word.

By the time we’ve finished, you will have been through at least two practice interviews. You’ll be able to speak about your resume with confidence as if you’d written it yourself, since, in essence, you have.

Your Resume Should Reflect Who You Are, Not Just How Your Resume Advisor Sees You

The best way to get help writing your resume and accompanying materials is to get a referral from someone you know and trust. Employing a resume service is like employing a hair stylist: you’re joining forces with someone who can help show you in the most favorable light. The key is collaboration. If you surrender control to a writer who doesn’t help illustrate your strengths, your resume will reflect only how the writer sees you, not necessarily who you really are.

As a resume writer for more than 20 years, I get most of my business from referrals. I help my clients take part in every step of the transaction. I quiz you about what you like to do, where your strengths are, what you would do for free, and what you wouldn’t do for any amount of money. We analyze your skills and achievements to identify what it is about you that gets you where you want to go. We work together identifying language that is comfortable for you, and will be accessible to potential employers. Your participation in writing and editing will give you familiarity with the material, and confidence in your qualifications. By the time we’ve finished, you will have been through at least two practice interviews. You’ll be able to speak about your resume as if you’d written it yourself, since, in essence, you have.

As far as needing help composing your own resume being a sign that you can’t write: it’s not just about writing. It’s also about selling yourself in a way that will appeal to a reader, and it’s quite hard to evaluate your own qualifications impartially.

Hire A Writer You Can Trust

The best way to get help writing your resume and accompanying materials is to get a referral from someone you know and trust. Employing a resume service is like employing a hair stylist: you’re joining forces with someone who can help show you in the most favorable light. The key is collaboration. If you surrender control to a writer who doesn’t help illustrate your strengths, your resume will reflect only how the writer sees you, not necessarily who you really are.

As a resume writer for more than 20 years, I get most of my business from referrals. I help my clients take part in every step of the transaction. I quiz you about what you like to do, where your strengths are, what you would do for free, and what you wouldn’t do for any amount of money. We analyze your skills and achievements to identify what it is about you that gets you where you want to go. We work together identifying language that is comfortable for you, and will be accessible to potential employers. Your participation in writing and editing will give you familiarity with the material, and confidence in your qualifications. By the time we’ve finished, you will have been through at least two practice interviews. You’ll be able to speak about your resume as if you’d written it yourself, since, in essence, you have.

As far as needing help composing your own resume being a sign that you can’t write: it’s not just about writing. It’s also about selling yourself in a way that will appeal to a reader, and it’s quite hard to evaluate your own qualifications impartially.

Superlatives Are Best. Adjectives, Mediocre.

When describing yourself in order to land a job interview, offer facts that can be evaluated: accomplishments, track record, what makes you unique. If you were first, fastest, best, brought in the most business or clients or fans, you need to highlight those accomplishments because they will catch your reader’s attention.

Adjectives? Not nearly as effective. Not only are adjectives subjective (everyone can claim to be enthusiastic, but what does that really mean?), they are mostly meaningless filler. Supervising projects or teams, working quickly or efficiently, exhibiting great attention to detail, being a go-getter – everyone can claim these qualities, true or not. Be specific; “I supervised tons of associates” becomes “I supervised teams of up to 549 colleagues.” “I completed a big project really fast” is better as “I finished a projected nine-day project in four days.” “I paint super quick” becomes “I designed and painted 43 billboards in 17 days.”

Adjectives can be helpful when you are aiming for a job you have not held. You may be right out of school with no applicable work experience. You may be reentering the workforce after raising children or spending time in the witness protection program. Or you may be trying to enter a new field, say transitioning from banking to selling sailboats. In these cases the main thing you have to hang your hat on is your adjectives. If you’re right out of school, your study habits, research skills, punctuality and positive attitude are probably the large part of what you have to offer, so offer them. Remember, though: your second resume after entering the work force will reflect your actual experience, so the adjectives, and just about everything else aside from your name and phone number, will most likely be replaced by tangible accomplishments.

Are You Interested in the Difference Between “Uninterested” and “Disinterested”?

Disinterested: unbiased by personal interest; not influenced by selfish motives. Uninterested: indifferent; not personally concerned.

Try telling someone about yourself in one minute. How do you decide what information to offer? Interviewing is like speed dating – show your best qualities from the start or you’ll lose your audience.

Sifting through personal information to identify facts that will make a reader want to know you is hard. Pinpointing what’s relevant can cause mental paralysis, even panic. How do you know if what appeals to you might appeal to an interviewer? Writing your own resume is like pulling your own teeth: extra painful and extra scary. That’s why you need input from a disinterested – not uninterested — party.

The difference between disinterested and uninterested? Imagine trying on a sweater in a store, accompanied by a teenager who’d rather be anywhere else. Ask the (uninterested) teenager what he thinks of the color, and you might hear: “It’s fine – let’s go.” Then ask a disinterested stranger (not a salesperson, but another customer), what she thinks of the sweater. This observer has nothing to gain or lose by giving feedback. If the answer is “the color doesn’t suit you,” you can assume her opinion is more reliable than the captive teenager’s.

This is why you need a disinterested party to help write your resume. With no personal connection or stake in the outcome of the matter, she can help you appeal to readers who don’t already know you.

There’s Nothing Special About Being a “Self Starter”

I used to spend a lot of time looking for ways to describe clients as “industrious” “detail oriented” “fervent” or “driven”. Soon I realized, though, that this type of descriptive language offered no meaningful information and obstructed clarity. Besides, reading the same words and phrases over and over bored me. Clearly, if such language taxed my patience, then human resources people handling piles of similar materials every day must be annoyed too.

Why describe yourself as a self starter if everyone coming before and after you offers the same trait? Using such trite terminology on a resume is akin to assuring your reader that you have a birth certificate or are a carbon-based life form. She already assumes that you, along with all other candidates, can offer these qualities. Telling the reader that you are motivated, or a go-getter, or a people person will not gain you any points, but may just make her regret your thoughtless waste of her time.

If you have X-ray vision, though, feel free to throw that in, since presumably most other candidates can’t offer that talent.

Tell Me What You Actually Do, Not Just What You’re Responsible For Doing

More than half of the resumes brought to me for updating mention “responsibility”: “I’m responsible for supervising, organizing, selling, buying, managing, training, building…”

I cringe at “responsibility”, and you should too. Here’s why: On seeing a list of responsibilities, your reader can get distracted daydreaming about how often you dropped the ball. One of the fundamental rules of marketing yourself is that if you distract your reader, you may lose her attention for good.

We all have responsibilities. We are responsible for driving the speed limit. We are responsible for paying for purchases. In my house, we are responsible for putting away shoes and clothes. Do we always do what we should? Does it make any difference if our responsibility is spelled out in a law, contract, or chart? Of course not. Just because you say you have an obligation doesn’t mean you carry it out correctly, reliably or admirably.

Much more impressive than having a responsibility is following through on it. The reader must understand how you fulfill your duties. So don’t hesitate to brag on your successes. A list of accomplishments makes you memorable, since other potential employees may have responsibilities like yours, but none can flaunt the same combination of achievements.