How to avoid diluting your resume

If you’ve ever asked the internet, “What makes a good resume?” you already know that a good resume will:

  • Pass the initial search filters in the employer’s ATS
  • Hold the recruiter’s attention for more than 20 seconds 
  • Focus on your accomplishments instead listing your responsibilities
  • Clearly articulate your personal brand
  • Answer more questions than it raises
  • Make the recruiter want to learn more about you
  • End up on top of the recruiter’s “yes” pile 
  • Get you invited for an interview

As a resume writer, my goal is to rework each client’s resume so that it meets the criteria above. I try to capture the essence of their professional story using potent, juicy words to describe their work experience.

What is the opposite of potent, concentrated language? Diluted, watered-down words. Bland, flavorless. Timid, unremarkable. Meh.

Dilution makes me think of ice in a cocktail. The perfect amount of ice keeps the beverage cold and adds just a bit of water as it melts, which is an essential part of the mix. But too much ice throws off the balance between spirits and water. 

In our house, because we’re super-bougie we make our own large ice spheres for our cocktails. (it’s OK if you roll your eyes.) Why large spheres? Because big chunks of ice melt more slowly than smaller cubes, diluting the cocktail just a small, but perfect, amount. 

Negroni cocktail in a highball glass with a clear ice sphere and orange peel garnish.
Negroni with a large, clear ice sphere, made and photographed by the author.

A good resume uses precise language that has the right balance of meaningful, substantive words that clearly and accurately describe the essence of the work you’ve done and the contributions you’ve made.

Perhaps an example will be helpful. This is a list of items a candidate had on their resume when they contacted me for a rewrite: 

  • Responsible for the implementation, management and integrity of the database and website
  • Create, develop and manage content for organization’s web presence
  • Coordinate web projects across departments
  • Copyedit and proofread all web content
  • Meet publishing deadlines while designing stylistically complex copy
  • Assure web-based information is archived for future needs and reference

This list reads like a job description, using multiple bullets to say essentially the same thing in various ways. This dilutes the meaning. Here are some ways I would approach rewriting it to make it more meaningful.

Instead of 

Responsible for the implementation, management and integrity of the database and website

I’d write something like

Implement and manage corporate website and manage database to ensure data integrity

My rewrite starts with active verbs instead of “responsible for”, which implies action instead of a passive responsibility.

Then, I would combine these three related bullets

  • Create, develop and manage content for organization’s web presence
  • Copyedit and proofread all web content
  • Assure web-based information is archived for future needs and reference

Like this

Create, edit, and proofread all content for corporate website; ensure content is properly archived 

(The word “archive” implies that something is being saved “for future needs and reference.” It’s redundant.)

Next, this one vague point hints at something more:

  • Coordinate web projects across departments

As written, this one prompts more questions than it answers:

  • What kind of web projects?
  • How many departments / participants?
  • How many projects over what period of time?
  • What was the scope of the projects – one or two pages, or a total site redesign?
  • What resulted from your efforts: More page views? Page views converted into revenue-generating transactions?
  • In what way did the candidate demonstrate leadership in driving the project to completion?

In its place, I’d rather see a project / action / result statement that describes how the candidate managed a specific project, and quantifies the outcome. Maybe it could be something like:

Led a five-person cross-functional team to improve the user experience in the website’s paid membership area. Shepherded project to completion and launch within the 90-day deadline. One month post-launch, 80% of members surveyed reported their user experience was “significantly improved and streamlined” compared with the prior website, and site metrics indicated the site bounce rate was down 25% and average page views per session had increased 18%.

Now, that’s a meaningful description of an accomplishment!

Of course, resume writing is more art than science, and not every resume writer crafts language in the same way. But the overarching goal is the same: Use fewer fluff words, and more meaningful ones, to tell a story in a cohesive, straightforward, impactful  way. Why? Because recruiters have to review stacks of resumes, and when they see one that’s different from the rest, they’re more likely to keep reading, and invite the candidate for an interview.

You can use these tips to update your own resume, but it can be helpful to have a pro work on the language. Professional resume writers see lots and lots of resumes, so we have a knack based on experience for knowing how to reframe and rewrite work resumes so that they are well-balanced, compelling, and memorable: Kind of like a properly mixed cocktail with one slow-melting ice sphere.

Ice spheres, made and photographed by the author

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