The Importance of Language in Professional Resume Writing

resume writing

Mike Weitz, Professionally Written, L.L.C.

Language is probably the most overlooked and under-analyzed element of professional resume writing. Your linguistic choices not only speak to your ability to perform, but leadership qualities, group cooperation and problem solving in a work environment. English skills significantly influence your attractiveness as a hire.[1] Foreign employees newly entering the American business world, for example, know the difficulty resume writing can present. All international graduate students have to score a certain level on English aptitude tests in order to be accepted by their university beyond their degree-based academic requirements. This is because English vernacular is rife with the kind of phrases, colloquialisms and jargon that make it easy to miss the forest for the trees when you are trying to highlight your gift for gab as an Operations Manager.

Language not only signals a mastery of one’s position, but reveals an essential team member. The problem is that if you do a quick search on resume writing articles you will find an endless supply of advice advocating keywords, bullets, efficient phrases over the use of full sentences, and concepts digestible in 30 seconds. If you see our articles on resume formatting here and here, the real paradox is that it is all true. However, this actually makes language even more important instead of less. To find a balance between flowery prose and bare bones text, there are three guidelines to stellar resume writing you should keep in mind:

1.     Resume Writing Properly Conveys Ethos

Ethos is a concept that is over 2,500 years old but remains as relevant today as ever. Ethos is your credibility. Aristotle, the father of rhetoric who coined the term, called it the “personal character of the speaker,” and saw it as one of the three main methods of persuasion. For him, authority, expertise and trust are all conveyed through language.[2] You already understand this concept. If you are in a hospital, you are likely to trust what the doctor is telling you because they have credibility; they have spent years studying the subject and learning as a resident. Doctors make terrible patients because they know too much and speaking to a peer is a different situation than speaking to an expert. Then ethos needs to be gained through other linguistic means, such as displaying empathy, good intentions, or knowledge in a specialization.

Professional resumes should convey ethos; they are your “self-portrayal.”[3] In normal interactions, this process is generally non-verbal, but resumes do not have that luxury. Instead, you are constrained by text to communicate your expertise and credibility. This is where language comes in. You need to make your goals clear. Avoid old business clichés; they are a way of talking without saying anything. You should be “results-driven” by focusing on accomplishments. However, character also plays an enormous role in ethos. Don’t over emphasize “ambition and drive” to the exclusion of displaying a person that garners respect.[4] Your value is not just in production but as a fit for a company’s culture.

2.     Resume Writing: Efficiency with Style

Good resumes communicate complex concepts quickly; excellent resumes do it in style. While you always want to prioritize efficiency over style, the best resumes find a perfect balance between the two. You want to use bullets and avoid complete sentences, but your message needs to be understood. Too much jargon or hyper-specialized language conceals more than it reveals.[5] However, the balance comes in making your resume friendly to Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS). Your terms and keywords need to be within the parameters of the job you want.[6]

Style is the way you use active verbs to paint a picture of your capabilities and tailor that message to the company and specific position you are applying for.[7] Clever translating of your prior accomplishments allows solid professional resumes to be quick while standing out.[8] Style is not just about fancy words but using clear language to communicate ideas. For example, there is a difference between keywords and buzzwords. The former contains information while the latter is more ceremonial. And there is no time for that in today’s job market. This applies to a litany of corporate lingo and vague phrases. Avoid both redundancy and minimalism. You want to be efficient but you want to make statements that force an interviewer to call you in to assess your skills.[9]

3.     Resume Writing Sells Your Abilities, Not Oversell Them

Never forget that a resume is to get you an interview, which makes it a “PR piece;” one that needs to speak to your specific audience. It changes in every situation.[10] Therefore, your resume’s language really needs to sell your abilities. Many job seekers only set out to prove that they are qualified. However, the question in the minds of hiring employers is always, “who is the best qualified candidate?” Your PR piece needs to pop like an ad. Therefore, a professional resume should pass the elevator pitch test. Can you synopsize your value statement in a few sentences? Make it quick and to the point, avoid rambling and be impressive.[11] Lead with strong use of “power words,” the phrases recruiters take as signs of a dynamic employee, such as collaborated, leadership, communication, problem solver, numbers and percentages.[12]

It is important reiterate ethos when selling your abilities. You want to be credible, so you should constantly refine your profile to summarize your career level and best metrics of success. Focus on transformative moments and innovation. Results and growth are impactful.[13] Verifiable proof is key. Even if you are not an executive overseeing profits and losses, you need to be able to back up commendations and skills.[14] Quantifying allows you to cut out unnecessary sections from resumes, focusing on what is important.[15] You want to avoid relying on the most overused keywords that are so clichéd they are just buzzwords. Some of these include strategic, creative, organization and driven. Being able to quantify through stats is still one of the best means of attention grabbing.[16]

If you follow these simple steps to guide your linguistic choices when writing a resume, it will be a work of Shakespeare your hiring manager has been waiting for!

Professionally Written, LLC is a business documents company based in Oklahoma City. It is available 24/7, just Contact Us. With over a decade of experience, it offers resume Oklahoma services and career coaching Oklahoma services and paralegal services Oklahoma.



  • Credibility & Expertise
  • Ambition & Trust
  • Self-portrayal

Efficiency with Style

  • Balance
  • Clear Language
  • No Vague Phrases
  • No Redundancy

Sell Your Abilities Not Oversell

  • Quick Elevator Pitch
  • Quantified Achievements
  • Use Power Words
  • Verifiable Proof of Results
  • Avoid Buzzwords

EndNote References—

[1] Allen Brizee. “Understanding Job Ads Part 2,” Purdue University Online Writing Lab Engagement (July 31, 2009), (accessed February 3, 2017).

[2] European Rhetoric. “Ethos, Pathos & Logos – Modes of Persuasion (Aristotle).” European Rhetoric. (accessed February 12, 2017).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Brian de Haaff. “How Smart Product Managers Craft a Resume.” Huffington Post (January 10, 2017). (accessed February 10, 2017).

[5] Allen Brizee. “Résumé Overview Part 2,” Purdue University Online Writing Lab Engagement (July 31, 2009), (accessed February 3, 2017).

[6] Purdue University. “What is a Scannable Résumé?” Purdue University Online Writing Lab (OWL). (accessed February 3, 2017).

[7] Allen Brizee. “Résumé Sections Part 1,” Purdue University Online Writing Lab Engagement (April 5, 2012), (accessed February 3, 2017).

[8] Allen Brizee. “Cover Letter Overview,” Purdue University Online Writing Lab Engagement (July 31, 2009),  (accessed February 3, 2017).

[9] Brian de Haaff. “How Smart Product Managers Craft a Resume.” Huffington Post (January 10, 2017). (accessed February 10, 2017).

[10] Bernard Koteen. “Resumes,” Harvard Law School Job Search Toolkit. (accessed February 8, 2017).

[11] Mike Simpson. “Best Resume Format Guide For 2017.” The Interview Guys. (accessed February 8, 2017).

[12] Mark S. Babbitt. “7 Power Words and Phrases That MUST Be on Your Resume.” LinkedIn (March 30, 2016). (accessed February 18, 2017).

[13] Marcelle Yeager. “How to Write a Top-Notch Executive Resume: Sharpen your tools for the next step in your career,” US News & World Report (January 19, 2017). (accessed February 4, 2017).

[14] Daniel Scalco. “How to Structure Your Resume,” The Huffington Post Blog (January 20, 2017). (accessed February 5, 2017).

[15] Trista Winnie. “Resume Writing: Less is More,” Jobscan, September 9, 2014. (accessed February 8, 2017).

[16] Doug Pfeffer. “Buzzwords That Can Tear Apart Your Resume.” LinkedIn: Recruiting & Hiring (November 21, 2014). (accessed February 18, 2017).