Show, Don’t Tell When Writing Resumes (and Online Dating Profiles)

There is an old adage about writing…

That goes something like “show, don’t tell.” The idea is that good writing shows what the author wants to communicate, and through showing lets the point communicate itself. Bad writing tells the reader things. It’s the difference between saying “the eagle spread its wings and displayed its mighty wingspan while holding a regal pose before flapping, once, twice, three times, and then diving away from its perch before quickly proving mightier than gravity as it disappeared into the summer sunset,” and “the bird flew away.” Writing resumes is the same way. You don’t want to say what you are. That is telling. You want to say what you did, which is showing. There’s a big difference. The job search is all a numbers game after all.

Remember, anyone can say they are anything.

I can tell you I’m a detail oriented person. I can tell you I’m a results oriented, high energy multi-tasker. But does that make it true? It doesn’t matter, because if you read resumes all day these kind of clichéd terms lose their meanings. Anyone can SAY they are anything. But demonstrating these qualities is what makes an effective resume. Imagine you were reading an online dating profile (imagine, because of course you never would) and someone said they were intelligent and sweet. Do you believe them? Possibly. But what if they said they were reading their way through all the Russian novelists and they volunteered ten hours a week at a homeless shelter? For puppies? Suddenly you find yourself believing they are intelligent and sweet, even though they never actually said it.

Your accomplishments demonstrate your skills.

 Show, Don’t Tell When Writing Resumes (and Online Dating Profiles)

Image Credit: Unknown and not owned by Resume to Interviews.

You should focus on your accomplishments, because your accomplishments demonstrate the skills you want to show. You want to show that you are a multi-tasker? Don’t say it, demonstrate it by saying you managed five projects simultaneously while monitoring progress, creating deadlines, and coordinating delivery dates with three different shipping companies. You want to show you have effective communication skills? Never just say you have effective communication skills, because saying “I communicate effectively” doesn’t communicate anything. So saying that actually proves you are, in fact, not good at communicating. Instead write something like “created and delivered five, thirty-minute MS PowerPoint sales presentations to potential clients that resulted in the acquisition of four new accounts.”

Specifics are your friend when writing resumes.

Just as showing is better than telling, being specific is better than being vague. Many people think vagueness on a resume makes it seem like they did more than they actually did. This would be true if the people who read resumes were gullible and born yesterday. They are not. In fact, they become cynical reading thousands of bad resumes. (Which is why a great RTI resume not only gets you an interview, it makes hiring people happy and gives them renewed hope in humanity. We are purveyors of hope). As a college student you should say “Graduated August 2012 rather than 2008-2012. If you are vague, they assume you are doing it to be evasive, if you are general they assume you have no specifics to show. Specifics make it clear exactly what you did. Some people think a bit of mystery is good. This is wrong. Hiring people don’t ask questions about resumes they don’t understand. They just throw them in the trash.

Show, don’t tell.

Good writing is good writing, and resume writing is no different. And neither is online dating profile writing. Now go forth and get a job and a soul mate. And let it never be said that Resume to Interviews didn’t make the world a better place.

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