Albert Einstein's genius extended in many directions, including how to write. Einstein gave this advice: "If you are out to describe the truth, leave elegance to to the tailor."
In my writing, I try to use language that is plain and direct. Too often, I read resumes that are cluttered with details that are not relevant to hiring managers. In many cases, clients use jargon that will only be understood by their current employer, the job they want to leave. How can you avoid this problem? Read what you write through the eyes of you intended audience. For resumes, that means recruiters and hiring managers. Use language that speaks to what they need and understand. Simple and clear wins the day.
Should the language of a resume be specific or general? Really, this isn’t a good question. The language of a resume should fit the kind of job you are applying for. It should show how you are qualified to fill the level of responsibility that the employer needs. Sometimes the terms will be broader. If you’re looking for a sales job that cuts across different industries, you will talk about sales in more general language. However, if you’re only seeking a sales job in IT, your language needs to reflect your background in that industry. That language needs to be more specific.
Beware of simply taking the job description for your current job and repeating it point by point. That language works for the job you are leaving, but it doesn’t show your next employer how you fit her needs. I recommend gathering 5-10 posts for the kind of job you’ll be seeking. Write your resume to appeal to the needs of these employers, speak to their key words, and match your technical skills to what you see in the job posts. A good review of the job posts will tell you how specific or general the language in your resume needs to be.
This morning a radio news report said there was no white or black smoke coming from the White House during the president’s meeting with congressional leader. The person who wrote the news report was trying to be cute. Black and white smoke are the signals the Vatican uses to announce voting on a new pope, which is another issue currently in the news. However, by mixing these details the news writer’s attempt to be cute resulted in confusion.
We can fall into the same trap in writing resumes and cover letters. Heavy use of jargon or specialized language often does more to confuse than enlighten. Some people also try to sound impressive and rely on multi-syllabic words that make reading difficult. For example, most words ending in -ize are nouns or adjectives pretending to be verbs. Another word trap is using the language used by former employers. Companies often develop their own language, which is meaningless to anyone who does not work at that company.
Test everything you write by asking these two questions: Would a perspective employer understand this? Would she care? These questions will keep your resume and cover letter focused on what the employer needs, which is all that matters. When it comes to words, cute does not sell. Usually, it just leads to confusion.
[“Sabbath” is this blog’s Sunday feature that explores subject above and beyond the job world.]
The Lesson of Violence
The 60s radical H. Rap Brown said, “It [violence] is as American as cherry pie.” Little has changed since he spoke those words. Just over the past few months, we’ve witnessed two mass shootings at a movie theater and a temple. In my city of Chicago, gang wars take lives every weekend, often innocent bystanders, including young children. We shake our heads and speak pieties, but we never look in the mirror. Are we, those of us who would never pick up a gun, part of the problem?
This weekend the Air and Water Show is taking place in Chicago. One of the most popular features of the show is displays of fighter planes and pilots, including the Blue Angels. A local peace group has been running commercials asking listeners to call the mayor and their alderman to protest the glorification of war and violence. When I first heard the commercial, my response was to dismiss it. It’s only an air show. People enjoy seeing the planes. No one is being harmed.
Then I remembered a lesson that one of my friends in Kiwanis taught me some years ago. Someone gave me a hand-held version of the game Battleship. I didn’t want it (I’m addicted to Scrabble and don’t have time for a second addiction). I offered the game to Reverend John Hudson to give to a kid at his church. He politely declined to take it. When I asked why, he answered, “Clay, it teaches violence.” At first I didn’t get it. Even kids know the difference between a game and real life. Then I thought more deeply about what John was saying. We teach violence in our games, our movies, and our language. It’s easy for us to accept violence because it’s all around us, which makes us think it is natural, just the way things are – inevitable.
Take football as one example. When a quarterback is pressured by linebackers or the secondary, we call it “blitzing,” a term taken from the German blitzkrieg attacks of World War II. A long pass completion is “the bomb.” More recently, it’s common to refer to a hard hit as “blowing up” an opponent. Big hits are shown again and again during games, and they are available anytime on the Internet. I won’t deny that I’ve whooped and hollered when one of my favorite players leaves someone from the other team prone on the field. But what does that kind of reaction do to our minds, the way we look at life? Does the language of football make us more accepting of violence?
I don’t have an answer to this question. Part of me is with Reverend John, we do teach violence and we should work just as hard (even harder) to teach peace. Another part of me wants to give people credit. They know the difference between an air show and the air attacks a dictator is making on his people in Syria. They know that a first-person shooter game is not the same thing as a madman committing murder in a movie theater. Are we as a culture culpable for the violence around us, or is it simply a matter of individual responsibility? That question is too easy. The answer is much harder, and I don’t pretend to know it.