How to Improve Your Resume and Cover Letter in One Afternoon

  • Article by: Star Tribune Sales and Marketing
  • Updated: January 10, 2006 - 2:18 PM

Getting ready to write a resume or cover letter? Here's a tip -- use English.

I say this because far too many job seekers succumb to the urge of filling their career documents with highfalutin gobbledygook instead of good old-fashioned English.

It's a career-wrecking mistake I refer to as a "superabundance of polysyllabic terminology," or too many big words.

Here are three examples of bafflingly bad language from actual resumes and cover letters, along with my suggestions to help you write right - and get hired faster!

1. Sentences that keep going, and going ...

The following sentence, from a resume that crossed my desk last week, is just plain longwinded. As a result, employers are likely to lose interest ... and perhaps toss the whole resume.

Here it is:

Pioneered development of market research department, including establishment of workflow processes, department functions and database setup and network operations, resulting in capabilities of simultaneously servicing market research needs of 15 brokers.


Read every sentence in your resume and cover letter out loud. If you find yourself gasping for breath -- just try to read the above example without turning blue -- put a period, dash or semicolon in there, and break the offending sentence in two. Or three.

2. The passive voice

Somewhere in eighth or ninth grade English, we all learned to avoid passive language in our writing. Example: instead of, "I was served a breakfast," we learned to write, "I ate breakfast."

Guess what? It's still a good idea.

Active verbs add punch and clarity to everything you write ... unlike the following passive disaster, taken from another resume:

Responsible for the implementation of company uniforms.

With no active verb, we have to fish for meaning here. What does implementation mean, exactly? Did this person dress his co-workers every morning, like a valet? Clean and press the company uniforms? Unknown.


Instead of being responsible for a clear implementation of writing principles (passive voice), you should write clearly (using the active voice).

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