Grammar In Your Cover Letter And Resume

Grammar In Your Cover Letter And Resume

I really enjoy learning more about language and grammar. I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a grammar nerd. I do, occasionally, joke with friends about grammar mistakes, but mostly when I spot them in mass market advertising. So, having said that I am not an expert, here are my favorite grammar rules and how they apply to your resume and cover letter.

Read More

Why Is That Important?

One of the most effective exercises you can do in your job-search preparation is to go through everything you write and everything you may say in an interview and ask "why is that important?" Scrutinize every word you may write and ask yourself why it is important to the hiring manager? That's the important part. Why is it important to the hiring manager? It doesn't matter if it's important to you, just to the hiring manager.

For instance, you may have included on your resume a training program that you completed at a job 10 years ago, on a program used only in that company. Why would that be important to the hiring manager? Ok, I'll give you the answer to this one: it probably isn't.

If you can re-word it to put the focus of the importance on what the employer wants than it should stay, otherwise, toss it out.



Pls Don't Use Abbrev.

I started typing on an old typewriter. Electronic typewriters, what we called word processors, were already commonplace but I didn't know how to use all of the functions. What I did learn at an early age was how to abbreviate. And looking back at things I typed as a child, I abbreviated a lot.

But then I grew up and learned that abbreviations can hinder communication. As can acronyms and initialisms.

Just like buzzwords, abbreviations work best when both the reader and the writer share similar backgrounds. Although you might think some abbreviations may be universal, it is best to keep them off your resume and cover letter.

That means spelling out Street, Avenue, and California. Some abbreviations and initialisms I've seen a lot of recently:

  • Admin. Ass.
  • MS
  • Cust. Svc.
  • BS
  • UOP

Job search documents that have no abbreviations leave far less chance of being misunderstood. Spell out each and every word, every time. If it is exceptionally difficult to spell out an abbreviation, re-write the sentence or bullet and select another word.

Your resume and cover letter can only help you if they are read. Don't take a chance that any portion of yours won't be clear.

Increase Your Bandwidth To Grow Eyeballs And Value-Add

What in the world does that even mean? Who knows. But if you're a desk-jockey, it is likely that you  have heard these terms. It is also possible that you have drank the kool-aid and actually used them.

Alright, enough of the buzzwords.

I've seen many cover letters and resumes lately full of buzzwords like the ones in the title of this post. I've even heard quite a few during interviews.

Buzzwordsidioms, and metaphors, can help us communicate. To be most effective, however, you need a commonality with the person you're talking to. And that's where the problem is. Most of the time, you don't have the familiarity with the interviewer to use buzzwords.

The greater risk is that the hiring manager may think you're using creative language to hide the fact that you have no idea what you're talking about. Use everyday language during the interview. For me, I use the teenager test, since we just happen to have a 13 year old in the house. I asked her if she knew what "low hanging fruit", "herding cats", and "mindshare" were. Of course, she did not. But when I described what they meant in regular language, she completely understood.

So, dump the buzzwords.

There can be an exception to the rule.

If you're interviewing with someone that uses a lot of buzzwords, not just an occasional one, then it might be okay to use them sparingly. Even then, it is still better to avoid buzzwords altogether.

What Recruiters Look At On Your Resume

This story came out several months ago and keeps popping up. The Ladders did a study of 30 recruiters and found that, on average, they take just six seconds to determine if the candidate is a good fit.

The heat map shows where the recruiter concentrated as they reviewed resumes.

When I review resumes, I tend to follow the same basic pattern. I have named my review style the ""C" see" because it follows the shape of the letter "C". Starting at the top, I look at the name and contact information. Then I look at the current job, followed by education.

It's not perfect, and it's arguably more art than science, but it works.

And keep in mind, your resume isn't going to land you a job, it's role is to get you an interview.


The Importance Of Context

I recently had the pleasure of working with a recruiter from out of the area who was looking for a dozen temporary employees. We  reviewed many resumes and, big surprise, many were bad. Not terrible, but difficult to follow. For a lot of them, it seemed all of the right info was there, it was just poorly arranged. This type of resume lists experiences apart from the jobs where those experiences happened.

Most "experts" call this type of resume "functional".

Trust me. Functional is anything but functional. Catchy name. It's supposed to highlight the work you've done. But if it's harder for the reader to follow, how functional is that?

Ninety percent of resumes (and 100% of the ones I reviewed recently) would be more effective if the writer ditched the functional format in favor of the traditional reverse chronological format.


WHERE and WHEN you did the work (the context) is as important as the fact THAT you did the work. With a functional resume, you can easily hide the fact you have only one month of experience in a skill that is important to the hiring manager. That means, even if you have nothing to hide, it's still a red flag.

Remember, you want the hiring manager to visualize you doing the work. It's easier to do that if they can see the company name in their mind.


In a tight job-market, it is not uncommon to hear job-seekers complain of being turned away for being over-qualified. Ok, let's get real. Stop comparing being "over-qualified" to having "too much fun", they are nothing alike. Being over-qualified is a real risk. A real red flag.

What are the risks? When I see the resume of a candidate that is clearly over-qualified, a few things come to mind.

Will the candidate quickly get bored in this job?

Will they come across as a know-it-all to their co-workers?

If the pay is a lot lower, will they obsess about the pay? And most employees that think only about pay don't stick around long.

My advice:

Know your limits. Most over-qualified candidates say they don't mind the cut in pay, or the step down. That's not enough. Know exactly how much you are willing to take as a pay cut, and how much you (your ego) can step down. Don't look beyond your limits. If you're unemployed, it's easy to imagine yourself taking any job just to get a paycheck, but that is easier said than done.

Tailor your resume to the specific job. If you are a former restaurant manager applying for a server job, don't highlight your management experience over your experience waiting tables. Focus on what the prospective employer needs. You can (and should) explain your situation concisely in your cover letter, but don't use the same resume you would use for a manager job as you would for a server job.

Don't ignore what might be a red flag. Explain why you might be taking a step down and tailor your resume to the specific job, highlighting what the employer needs.

Your Resume Needs More Numbers

Every job has numbers. That means your resume should have numbers. And based on nearly every resume I have ever seen, your resume should likely have more numbers.

It doesn't matter if you're a grocery store checker, a lawyer, or a public school teacher, if you trade your efforts for money, there are numbers in your job. Put them in your resume.

Go through your accomplishments on your resume and ask yourself questions such as:

  • How much... ?
  • How many... ?
  • By what percentage... ?

What was the actual size of the project you managed? Was it a $75,000 project or a $10MM project?

Did you "increase market share" or did you "increase market share by 15%"?

Did you "increase productivity" or did you "increase production of widgets by 22%, saving $50,000 annually"?

Having more numbers in your resume (and your cover letter and during your interview) can help the hiring manager understand the work you've done and the successes you've had.

Who You Are Speaks So Loudly...

I love quotes. I have even been called a "quote junky". One of my favorite quotes is from Ralph Waldo Emerson, and works perfectly as job search advice:

Who you are speaks so loudly I can't hear what you're saying

Yes, I realize that the great American essayist probably wasn't talking about resumes, or anything even remotely related to looking for a job. But still, this quote is so approriate.

Whether it's your resume, cover letter, or even responses to interview questions, who you are speaks so loudly I can't hear what your saying.

Having a list of generic qualifications on your resume won't get you noticed. Just because you wrote that you are a "team player" or "results oriented" doesn't make it so. Cite real successes and accomplishments that demonstrate that you are a team player. In an interview, discuss examples of when you were a team player, and how that helped the company.

The key is: show, don't tell. Here are a few resume examples:



Top performer Exceeded sales goals by 25%, earning Sales Executive of the Year...
Customer Focused Achieved 99.4% Customer Quality score...
Experienced in balancing budgets Increased revenue 9% while reducing operating expenses by 13%...

Look through your cover letter and resume. Do you have generic statements that lack evidence? Answer questions like, "What does that means?", "Why is that important?", "How did I do that?".

Focus your interview preparation on specific accomplishments. Even if you're not specifically asked a situational interview question ("Tell me about a time when..." or "Give me an example when..."), it is best to answer with a specific example.

Your Resume Has One Job (You Can't Eat Your Car Keys)

Your resume has one job: to get you an interview. This is why you don't need an objective on your resume. Your objective is to get an interview.

You are not going to get a job because of your resume. An effective resume can help you get an interview. From there, you'll need to demonstrate that you have the skills for the job and that you are a cultural fit in their organization. After that, you might get a second interview, or you might even get a job offer. But that rests more on how you perform in the interview.

To take a step back, the goal of your cover letter is to get your resume read; the goal of your resume is to get you an interview; the goal of the interview is to get you a job offer; the goal of the job offer is to get you the job you want!

Expecting your resume to get you a job is like eating your car keys when you're hungry. Your keys are just a tool that can help you get to the next step. Your car keys can help you drive to Dante's Pizza but that's as far as your keys can help.

If you're not getting many interviews based on how many resumes you're sending out, you likely need to work on your cover letter and resume. If you're satisfied with the number of interviews you're getting but not getting any offers, you need to work on your interview.

The Single Biggest Resume Mistake

The single biggest mistake you can make with your resume also happens to be the most common. No, it's not leaving off the months of your employment dates, using poor grammar, or even having misspelled words.

The biggest resume mistake is not customizing it for each position you are interested in. On the bright side, stop making this mistake and you'll have no problem standing out amongst stacks and stacks of other resumes.

The number one rule to remember when it comes to the words you use in your resume is this: it doesn't matter what words you want to use; it's not about you, it's about what the hiring manager wants.

Sound easier said than done? Here are three simple ways to customize your resume.

  1. Use their language. Print out the job posting, pages from their website (the "about" page is a great place to start), press releases. Read through what you've printed and highlight keywords. How do they refer to their customers and employees? If they say "clients" and "team members", you should, too, rather than saying "customers" and "co-workers".
  2. Use their units of measurement.Using the same print outs from the step above, look for clues that tell you what metrics are important to the company. Does the job posting reflect a focus on ARPU (average revenue per user)? If so, you should re-work your resume to show your improvements in ARPU; even if your current employer doesn't measure it.
  3. Highlight your achievements that most closely match the needs of the company to where you are applying. Having many more achievements than you can fit on your resume (because it's only one page) will help you in the area in the future. On a related note, you can use Evernote to track your accomplishments.

Does this mean it will take more time to prepare each resume? Yes, it will take longer than just sending the same exact resume to everyone but you will have much better results.

How To Handle A Request For Your Salary Information?

Some of the most frantic questions I receive are related to job postings that ask for "salary history" or "salary requirement".

How much you earn is very personal. I completely understand why people are nervous about sharing their salary information. It should feel very un-natural to say (or write) how much you money you make.

But sharing your salary information is an important part of the recruiting and selection process.

Let's review how to provide your salary information.

The best way is to include it in your cover letter. Your cover letter can be a separate document, an e-mail, or in an online form. Simply add these sentences:

My current salary is $25,000 per year. I am currently interviewing for positions in the same range.

That's it. Of course, you can change that sentence to make it more applicable to your match your compensation. If you work less than full-time you may wish to reference your hourly rate rather than an annual salary. If commissions or incentives make up a significant portion of your pay, you should list your typical annual earnings, and write:

My expected salary and commission earnings this year are $25,000. I am currently interviewing for positions in the same range.

If you are currently not working. You can change "current" to "previous".

Don't get hung up on sending more than that. Hiring managers and recruiters want your salary information for two primary reason:

  1. To determine that you are "in the ballpark". If the position pays an annual salary of $25,000 and you have been making $50,000 you are probably not in the ballpark.
  2. To compare apple to apples. Job titles can often be so vague that hiring managers have a difficult time determining what your skill level really is. For instance, an Account Manager can mean something completely different from company to company.

Separately, if you advance through the selection process, you will likely have to share your actual salary history. Although this typically happens on an employment application, you may be asked to provide it alongside an application. If so, a simple one-page document (use your resume header) listing your positions, dates of employment, and ending salaries will suffice. But there is no need to provide that level of detail when you're first applying for a position.

Three Biggest Resume Red Flags

To increase the likelihood that your resume will earn you an interview, you may want to spend as much time looking for red flags as you do documenting your achievements.

What is a red flag? A red flag is a warning, they can be seemingly insignificant things, nasty little buggers that pop up in your resume, application, or interview that, if not accounted for and dealt with, can ruin your chances.

Here are the three biggest red flags:

  1. Dates of employment without months - makes me think you are hiding something. Without adding the months it is easy to hide how long you've actually worked somewhere.
  2. Replacing the company name on your resume with a generic description of the company - again, looks like you're hiding something.
  3. No address on your resume - with all of the focus on privacy on the internet, job-seekers are getting more nervous about sharing personal information. Don't list your address on your resume and I will think, you guessed it, you're trying to hide something.

Red flags can be difficult for the subject of the resume to see. Share your resume with a trusted friend and ask the question, "What are things on my resume that might make you flinch?". If you're having a hard time finding any red flags on your resume, e-mail it to me ( I'd be happy to take a look.

Ditch The Accent

A resume by any other name is still a resume. Even if it's the dreaded résumé or, worse, resumé. I'd rather you call it a curriculum vitae, even though 99.99% of curriculum vitaes are really just resumes. So, what's the correct way to spell it?

First, one quick point. The most likely place you will actually type the word "resume" is in your cover letter, as in "my resume is attached for your review" or something similar. If you use it more than that you're likely over-using it.

Ok, now that I've got that out of the way, it is time to ditch the accent. Just use "resume". It's cleaner, and given the context, the reader will never confuse it for the homonym, resume (the one pronounced ree-zoom).

Word Up!

I enjoy creativity by job-seekers. I love to be surprised by candidates - like receiving thank-you cards in the mail. Years ago, at the Stockton Leadership Summit (an event I truly miss), Ann Rhoades spoke about how she sent the CEO of Southwest Airlines, Herb Kelleher, her resume wrapped around a bottle of Wild Turkey - a Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey famously enjoyed by Mr. Kelleher.

That's creative. And it takes guts. Unless you have a time machine, you're Ann Rhoades, and you're sending it to Mr. Kelleher, I wouldn't recommend repeating this.

As much as I want you to be creative, don't be creative on how you write your resume.

Use Microsoft Word.


I don't care about the philosophical reasons why you won't use Microsoft products. I don't even care that you don't have Microsoft Office. The vast majority of companies use Microsoft Windows and Office.

If you must use another application, such as Google Docs, Apple's Pages, or even WordPerfect (believe it or not, WordPerfect still exists), be sure you save your resume as a file that can be easily opened Microsoft Word.

Oh, and in case you don't know the rest of the story; Ann Rhoades got the job at Southwest Airlines, had a fantastic career there and then went on to co-found JetBlue.

The MBA Curse

You may want to sit down for this one. If you have earned your Master's in Business Administration, the coveted MBA, don't tell any one. Well, you should tell your friends and family, but no one else.

I told you that you'd want to be sitting.

Yes, after spending thousands of dollars and countless hours working on what might be your proudest achievement, I am suggesting that you keep it a secret.

Now, for starters, let me just say that this applies to the general MBA, and for those whose roles don't need a graduate degree. The operative term being "need".

Yes, it is true that many jobs require an under-graduate degree, and you should tell everyone that asks that you have one.

But consider this. You may be applying for a job where you have more education than the hiring manager. No sense in risking potentially one-upping the person that can say yes, or no, to you.

If you went to graduate school to earn your MBA, you should have walked away with some great knowledge, some practical skills that should make you stand out as an employee. Use those skills to earn your worth.

An MBA is your chance to show, rather than tell, your prospective boss that you have the skills they need.

The piece of paper that says "MBA" isn't worth as much as the education. Resist telling everyone you have your MBA and wow them with your skills. When you hit a home run at work, and someone asks how you did it. Then tell them that it was something you picked up in school.

Did Former Stockton Police Chief Copy Former Yahoo CEO?

A couple of months ago, the CEO of Yahoo, Scott Thompson, resigned. The likely cause was his resume flap. He had said he graduated with a bachelor's degree in accounting and computer science from Stonehill College. It was later discovered that his degree was in accounting only. Lying on your resume is stupid.


Sure, people do it. It is still stupid.

So, I was surprised to read about former Police Chief Ulring bowing out of the running for the Police Chief job in Spokane because of a possible issue with the education on his resume.

As an optimist, I am sure that there is a very reasonable explanation. Regardless, if there was even a hint of doubt in the legitimacy of the university, it should not have been listed.

This should serve as a reminder to all: it doesn't pay to be less than 100% honest and transparent on your resume. Companies and hiring managers are more connected than they have ever been and can quickly sniff out lies, inconsistencies, and exaggerations.





The Case For The Resume

We are not in the "post-resume" era. By the way, it's 2012. Where is my jetpack?!?

There is no shortage of bad advice out there. The article, "Are social media making the resume obsolete?", on, does not necessarily give bad advice. But, it can easily lead job seekers down the wrong road.

For the vast majority of jobs out there, you still need a good ol' fashioned resume. A one-page, results oriented, reverse chronological, resume. And to be more specific, a resume written in Microsoft Word.

There certainly are jobs out there for which sending a resume is no longer the norm. And I'm sure, over time, the process of we find work will continue to evolve, just as work itself, yet the resume is still important today.

Even if you don't print and mail your resume, you still need to format your resume for printing. I fully acknowledge that the days of printing and mailing resumes are nearly gone, that doesn't mean that the recipient won't print yours.

Still waiting for my jetpack.

Use Evernote to Track Your Accomplishments

As I wrote about before, it is important to track all of your accomplishments in real-time. There are many ways to keep this vital task simple. One great way to do it is to use Evernote, the note taking application. With desktop versions of the software available for iPhone, iPod Touch, BlackBerry, and Droid, desktop versions for Mac and Windows, and available on, there is no excuse to not use Evernote. The free account offers plenty of features and online storage space for most consumers.

Set up a new notebook and give it a catchy name like, 'Master Resume' or 'Accomplishments for Resume'. Every time you have an accomplishment, add it to that Evernote notebook. To make it even easier, create an e-mail address to send notes directly to Evernote.

Next time you get an e-mail from your boss complimenting you on your awesome client presentation or when you get the monthly report that shows 50% sales growth in your territory, send it to Evernote. When you call us to have your resume updated, you'll have a bucket full of accomplishments.