Verbs - and an Adjective - Not to Use

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Managing Editor Mark Feffer often says eFinancialCareers isn't too proud to give our users basic information about resumes and interviewing. And even a high-level financial professional should never assume he or she can't benefit from elementary guidance about career management.

Last night while proofreading a story about the fundamentals of resumes and cover letters for our annual campus guide, Careers in Financial Markets, I had an epiphany.

"Focus on using active verbs to emphasize your achievements," the article advised. That's long been standard resume advice. But now I found myself wondering, "So, what would be a passive verb?"

It didn't take long to think up one: Slept. Then I thought of Drifted. And then, Somnambulated...

Next, I imagined each verb appropriately embedded within a series of resume bullets. That inspires my own original slant on basic resume advice: "When describing what you did in past jobs, avoid passive verbs like Slept, Drifted, Somnambulated..."

But - and here I rebut Mae West's famous quote for the second time in as many weeks - too much of a good thing isn't always wonderful when it's on a resume. So, although active is good, take care you don't go overboard.

A hiring manager isn't likely to appreciate your saying you "annihilated" the competition in your last job. Nor will "disemboweled" - although clearly an "action" verb - win you any friends in HR or the executive suite.

"Use nouns and avoid adjectives," the Careers in Financial Markets article wisely advises. For my part, I would add this: "...especially the adjective, Comatose."

Even nouns have pitfalls. I can't picture any context where the noun phrase, "empty suit," would help a resume. Especially if it referred to your former boss.

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