I would have written a shorter letter, but didn’t have the time.
“I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” -Blaise Pascal
This is one of my favorite quotes. It’s a reminder that the written word, if done well, should be succinct. Ernest Hemingway novels notwithstanding, of course.
Too often in business, written messages are overly-wordy, flowery and bloated. It doesn’t matter the mode – emails, press releases, RFx responses, resumes, letters, etc. You name it and I can show you an overstuffed example. (Not tweets though – they’re still short and sweet.)
Want to know what I mean? Below is an excerpt of an overly-worded business communication, a hilariously bad memo sent by a Microsoft executive to all employees announcing a layoff.
As part of the effort, we plan to select the appropriate business model approach for our sales markets while continuing to offer our products in all markets with a strong focus on maintaining business continuity. We will determine each market approach based on local market dynamics, our ability to profitably deliver local variants, current Lumia momentum and the strategic importance of the market to Microsoft. This will all be balanced with our overall capability to invest.
When it comes to the resume, it’s uber-important that words be thorough but also concise and plainly worded. Most resumes only get around 30 seconds of consideration, and in that time the reader needs to determine if the candidate is worthy of further consideration. If they have to sift through a creative writing masterpiece or read it twice to understand the essence of what’s being said, then there’s a good chance the resume will end up in the garbage.
For leadership positions especially the resume serves as an example of the candidate’s writing abilities. So it’s not just what you’ve done, but also your ability to communicate clearly that gets the job.
A few guidelines for bloat-free resumes:
- Read your resume out loud. How does it “sound”? When you speak the words as they’re written on the page, they should flow off of the tongue comfortably, just like a conversation.
- Would your grandmother understand your resume? That’s a lofty goal, especially if your resume is chocked full of technical jargon. The goal here is to word things as plainly as possible. Don’t dumb it down, just write cleanly and simply.
- No $5 words. I love fantastical words and especially love old words that have fallen out of favor in the English language. However, I don’t recommend fancy $5 words on a resume. Take ‘em out and replace with a $2 word of the same meaning!
- Is your resume too long? If you have a 10-page resume, it could be a sign that it’s bloated. Try taking a 50-word sentence and skinny it down to 25 words, while still maintaining its integrity. If you do this throughout the resume, you could cut the length significantly.
Brevity is an essential skill in all business writing and the resume is no exception. Edit your words carefully and take the time to write succinctly.