Tips for Resume Writing and Editing
Ernest Hemingway is misquoted to have said “write drunk, edit sober.” In fact, it’s believed that the quote actually originated with American editor and writer, Peter De Vries. If there’s any value to this idea, it’s that your writing can be fast, but editing has to be slow and careful. Here are some resume editing tips that have proven successful for me and my clients.
Header and Contact Information
Do not put critical information in a text box as it may not be read by an Applicant Tracking System (ATS).
Do not put your contact information in the header or footer. It may be difficult for a recruiter to copy it from there.
Remove the street address for privacy and/or to avoid bias. Only use the city, province, and postal code. If you are relocating or are open to relocation, indicate this in the header, along with the current location if relevant. Here are a couple of examples:
Vancouver, BC/Relocating to Ottawa, ON • 111-111-1111 • email@example.com • linkedin.com/client
Winnipeg, MB/Open to relocation, preferably to ON • 111-111-1111 • firstname.lastname@example.org
Customize your public profile URL on LinkedIn. LinkedIn Help offers easy-to-follow instructions on its website.
Dates and Abbreviations
I prefer to use K, M, and B for thousands, millions, and billions ($10K, $15M, $1B). Be consistent if you choose to use MM and BB.
Remove employment and education dates if older than 10-15 years, as a general rule. However, there may be individual exceptions. There may be strategic reasons for keeping older employment and education history on a resume (if, for example, your first job was at an industry leader).
A common practice is to remove months in employment entries, in favor of years only.
Spell out names of an education degree in full:
Master of Science in Computer Engineering, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON
Once the degree has been spelled out in full, it’s fine to use the abbreviation if the degree is mentioned subsequently.
Remove, edit, or spell out company-specific jargon and/or acronyms. Spell out acronyms in full the first time they are used.
Compound Words, Hyphenation, and Spelling Conventions
“Multimillion-dollar” is a compound adjective that comes up a lot in executive resumes. It has one hyphen, per The Chicago Manual of Style. Resumes are often full of compound adjectives that should be hyphenated. If unsure, check the spelling in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
Bullet Points and Clarity
Edit bullet points for clarity and precision; aim for no more than 2 lines per bullet point. If a bullet point is longer, break it into the main bullet point and a sub-point; use different graphic symbols for the main and sub-point:
Catalyzed a culture shift from the ground up; introduced messaging to help the teams achieve sales goals and put in place a fully automated appointment-setting platform.
—The platform increased conversion rates from 25% to 42%.
Check the lines for widow words. Tighten the text spacing to fit such words into the previous line: in Word, go to Format > Font > Advanced > Character Spacing > Spacing > select Condensed > by 0.1 point or 0.2 points.
Always use a serial comma (sometimes called the Oxford comma) for clarity:
Developed strategic sales plans, pricing packages, and sales practices across all divisions.
Format and Readability
Use full pages only; half pages do not look professional. If necessary, use spacing and visual elements (text boxes with quotes, graphs to illustrate quantitative growth, boxes to highlight awards) to stretch the text across the resume to fill two pages.
Additional information that does not fit easily onto the resume (patents, technical skills, extensive lists of additional training, publications, presentations, etc.) can be added as an addendum (a separate page marked “Addendum”), in which case partially-filled pages are acceptable.
Make sure that the font size is consistent across all resume sections and on the cover letter. Fonts smaller than 10.5 are not good for readability.
Use enough white space to make resumes easy to skim. Lighten up longer blocks of text and crowded sections with lists, a different color, or an occasional text box.
Consider a formal language register vs. informal: mutually beneficial solutions vs. win-win solutions. Of course, different situations and people may call for a unique and specific choice of register, so consider your resume readers and goals strategically.
Check verb tenses for accuracy and consistency: lead vs. led is a common misspelling in past-tense entries.
In the top third of the resume, highlight the most significant achievements, awards, and testimonials to showcase your differentiators. Place the most important information at the beginning and the end of a paragraph for impact (those are top places for visibility when readers skim).
Avoid generic terms and phrases: responsible for, responsibilities included, hired to, detail-oriented, goal-focused, results-driven, attention to detail, top performer, self-motivated, successfully managed, etc. Replace them with high-impact language that highlights your specific achievements. Lead with an action and/or quantifiable result.
Consider learning about plain language writing to cut unnecessary words and clichés:
won $10M+ in new revenue with compelling business proposals
(vs. successfully architected and won business proposals of over $10 million)
for (vs. for the purpose of)
consolidated processes (vs. leveraged the ability to consolidate processes)
recommended (vs. made recommendations)
saved costs (vs. achieved cost savings)
When you edit, keep resume reading practices in mind. During the initial resume review, recruiters and hiring managers do not read every line; they skim. They mostly focus on the career summary, job titles, quantifiable results, the first few words of each line, and graphic elements. Front-load the paragraphs and bullets with significant, relevant accomplishments and choose specific, varied verbs for better impact.
Proofreading from paper is a good way to see the resume text in a different light and spot some typos or inconsistencies. Finally, don’t update and send your resume in a hurry. Leave it alone for at least a day, and come back to it again the next day to make sure it is the best version you want to send with your application.
Reprinted with the permission of the author, from the Career Professionals of Canada article Top Tips for Résumé Writing and Editing (2021).
About the author:
Tanya Mykhaylychenko provides resume writing and career strategy services for executives. Connect with her on LinkedIn for networking tips and ideas on executive career development.