Write Your Resume in Plain Language

By Joe Stein

We all know that your Resume is one of the most important documents you will ever write. Unless you write for a living, your Resume competes against documents such as those written for school or for your employer as the most important. In those situations, however, you are looking to please the reader not only with content, but also with style. I view a Resume differently, as style points rarely are given by Recruiters.
Too often, when I am reading a Resume I feel like I am grading papers for a creative writing class. In my opinion, anything that takes the focus away from why you should be hired and potentially confuses or frustrates the reader is bad for your job search. A Recruiter reading your Resume does not want to have to do a “google search”, pull out a Thesaurus, or review a Dictionary in order to determine if you are a viable candidate. Recruiters are extremely busy, and all this extra effort increases your chance to be placed in the discard pile.
What I am an advocate for, is writing your Resume in “plain language”. To me, this means it is written in a manner that completely conveys your strengths and history, while doing it in an easy to digest way. If you are wondering how you can write your Resume in “plain language”, below are some tips for you to consider.
·         Make Sure All Word Usage Is Correct – This is probably the biggest mistake by job seekers on their resume, after typographical and grammatical errors. When you are writing at a level that you do not use every day and beyond your normal comfort level, you greatly increase your chances of writing incorrectly. If you are not 100% sure how to use the word, then try something else instead. If you have to look up the word, then this is probably a sign that you should not use it.
·         Spell Out Acronyms – Don’t assume that the reader will know what you mean. Unless it is a term that is used universally and is very commonly known, then spell the acronym out or use something different. If you have been with a company for a lengthy period of time, you might be surprised to learn that the acronyms you took for granted are not used widely (if at all) by others. Also, keep in mind that if it is an internal term, then the reader will not even be able to look it up to determine the meaning.
·         Use Everyday Language – Unless you are applying for a writing position, you will not be awarded extra points for using an exceptional amount of syllables. Focus on using words that are common to everyday conversations, of course, without any of the slang usage. You will most likely come across as arrogant rather than intelligent if you use really big words. Keep in mind that although a Recruiter is probably a college graduate, he or she is speed reading your document in order to determine if you are qualified and therefore may not, under these circumstances, understand everything that is written.
·         Give Them What They Want – There is nothing wrong with meeting the needs of the customer who, in this situation, is the reader of your Resume. Match the words in your Resume with the job posting or description to make a strong connection. Try to use as much common language as you possibly can. Utilize a search engine to find the most common terms and descriptors for what you are trying to write. The idea is that you are trying to catch his/her eye in order to obtain an interview, and the best way to do that is to give the person exactly what is wanted.
·         It Goes For Formatting Too! – I am a fan of traditional Resumes. I tend to get distracted by “fancy” formatting and find it takes away from the overall message of the document. Another factor is that if the company uses an Applicant Tracking System (ATS), odd formatting can wreak havoc with the systems attempt to convert your Resume into an online profile.
·         Brevity Also Helps! – A resume is not designed to be a lengthy narrative of your work history using a traditional paragraph format. Use short “paragraphs” of no more than a couple of sentences to convey your thoughts. Remember short and simple. Recruiters want to visually scan your Resume and immediately recognize and understand the content. The more that it is written, the harder it is to do that.
There is an old saying that a person needs to know their audience. When it comes to a Resume, that rule of thumb works. Unless you are seeking a very specific and technical position, writing in “plain language” will connect with the widest audience, get your document noticed and avoid the dreaded discard pile. 
As always, best of luck in your job search.