How to Change the Wording on Your Resume to Add More Impact

by Sari Friedman

Resume Wording

Your resume is a key tool in your search for a new great role. The reader will be reviewing it to learn more about your skills, experience and qualities. One key area to focus on is the wording. Here are some things to consider:

1) Applicant Tracking Software

You should be catering your resume to two readers - the human who will hopefully be reviewing it to consider you for an interview, but in advance of that, 'the reader' will likely be ‘Applicant Tracking Software’. Applicant Tracking Software is widely used by large organizations, and even many mid-sized ones. The software will be matching the document to key words from the posting. The wording on your resume can and should be customized depending on the role you're applying to. If the posting is looking for someone with Advanced Excel skills and you have them, then you want to include that. Similarly, if the role requires a Bachelor of Arts and you have one, you should state that on your resume. Even if you have an MBA, still include your Bachelor of Arts as that may be the term that the software is looking for - don't assume that it is programmed to know that a BA is most often required for an MBA.

It is also critical to be attentive to the layout. Regarding formatting, most Applicant Tracking Software will not read words in color font, italics or within a table or chart.

2) The Human Reader

The Summary or Profile section of your resume is a key place to capture the attention of the Human Resources Professional, Recruiter or Hiring Manager. It is at the top of the resume, so even though the reader spends limited time reviewing each document, it's likely they will be reading this section. Therefore, it is important to include compelling key words at the forefront of your resume.

Also, how you represent yourself reflects on how you will represent the company. The words you select mean something, and so does the way you present those words. For example, don't refer to yourself as detail focused and then have typos or grammatical errors that demonstrate otherwise. Your choice of words and how you present them should reflect your brand which likely includes being polished and professional.

3) Choosing the Right Words

The resume document is ideally no more than two pages and yet it needs to hold a lot of information. The overall approach should be representative rather than comprehensive. The resume is not a historical document through which you need to convey every aspect of your career history. Rather, it is a branding document. Your resume is meant to tell the reader about your most recent and/or relevant experience that best convinces them that you’re the right fit for the role. It is a best practice to customize your resume for the role you are applying to. Include words that match the posting, but of course make sure they represent skills and experience you actually have. People have asked me whether they should incorporate the whole posting into their resume – the answer is 'no'. While that may help match more words in your resume to the requirements in the posting, it is not the way you want to portray your career brand. You want to use those keywords to guide you and you should include many of them, but there is no benefit to copying the posting into your resume.

4) Jargon

Most organizations and industries have terms specific to what they do. These acronyms can be very meaningful in the right context and yet are merely jargon and gibberish to other readers. One option is to type out the term in full the first time you use it in the document, put the acronym in brackets and then use the short form in the rest of the document. An alternative is to describe what the term is more generally, rather than use the acronym. For example, state that you are proficient with 'client relationship management software' instead of using the short form for the specific brand.

5) LinkedIn

From a branding standpoint, there are differences between a resume and the LinkedIn profile, but they still need to both tell the story of the same professional. Therefore, if you select certain words to describe your skills on your resume you want to utilize the same terms on your LinkedIn profile. For example, if you have chosen to call yourself a 'New Business Development Specialist' on your resume, you want to use that same expression, rather than 'Sales' on your LinkedIn profile. Hopefully you have carefully chosen the words to describe your skills, experience and competencies on your resume – use those same terms in the About and Skills sections of your LinkedIn profile. This practice will help ensure that the words help to connect your LinkedIn and Resume brands.

6) Up to Date

Showcase your expertise by utilizing expressions that are current and relevant. Some terms may have made sense years ago but are now out of date such as personnel vs employee. You will sound more like a subject matter expert if you use the correct terms and expressions. This will be an important exercise for people who last developed a resume a decade ago and are using that same document as their starting point.

7) Soft Skills

You are going to be careful about the wording for your key transferable and technical skills, and you should also be mindful when choosing which soft skills to include. Things to consider are the quantity, relevance and meaningfulness. For quantity, I suggest selecting 3 main soft skills that best represent what you bring to a role. That said, in terms of relevance, you want to make sure that you are selecting skills that are closely related to what potential employers are looking for. The more keenly interested you are in a posting, the more care you should put into curating those skills. Lastly, be sure that you have stories and details to bring those soft skills to life. Simply stating the word can be empty; add meaning to it by having an accomplishment that demonstrates the use and benefit of that soft skill.

8) Words to Avoid

As you include words in your resume that will have a positive impact, also make sure to leave out words that will have the opposite effect:

  • Don't include words that represent functions you no longer want to perform. In the limited two pages, it's best to market your past experience as it relates to what you want to do next.
  • Be particular about which terms you use. If a posting is for a Sales Professional, then best to use that term rather than Account Manager to ensure you are a match for Applicant Tracking Software. Similarly, if a posting mentions Excel, then include that word rather than assuming 'MS Office' will cover that off.
  • Avoid using terms that are not as relevant. If they don’t serve a purpose, they are redundant, so leave them out.
  • Do not use terms that are specific to one organization and therefore meaningless to others. That may include internal acronyms and names of proprietary software.
  • Do not give away trade secrets or internal information. Instead of revealing the revenue number consider saying the increase amount in percentage.
  • As alluded to earlier, careful not to use words that may be outdated or have a negative connotation. For example, best to make reference to people at work as colleagues or employees rather than 'personnel'.

9) Don't Distract or Bore the Reader

Select wording that flows and does not cause the reader to stop and have to re-read it. Awkward grammar or using words that are too unique can be distracting and take moments away from the already short amount of time the reader spends on each resume. Try to be clear and concise, brevity really is an art. The aim is to capture the reader's attention and to gain an interview where you can provide more details. For your accomplishment statements, don't repeat the same action verb. Don't start each statement with 'responsible for' or 'managed'. Include interesting action verbs such as 'developed', 'enhanced' or 'evolved'. Even if you weren't the manager or driver, consider words like 'contributed', 'supported', 'participated' or 'collaborated'.

10) Spelling and Grammar

Mis-spelled words and poor grammar can be distracting to the reader. They detract from the reader's ability to process what you are saying. Equally problematic is that they reflect poorly on you. Your resume is a chance to showcase your career brand. Part of that brand should be professionalism and attention to detail. If you can't take care in representing yourself, then you won't be able to convince the potential employer that you have good work ethic and would be a good ambassador for them.

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Put time and effort into customizing the wording on your resume. Your resume is a living document. You can change it and evolve it. You will be informed by the roles you see posted and the wording they use. That will help guide you to optimize the wording in your resume. Ideally, the polished, relevant and well formatted wording you include presents you as a good match for the requirements of many roles you are interested in.

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