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Words…Words…Words… [By Mary Waldron] When composing resumes and cover letters, many people underestimate the power of words. Whether it be a resume, cover letter, essay, or email, the entire meaning of a work can be altered by word choice. Evaluating the connotations of words used in your resume and cover letter and making necessary adjustments can both streamline the flow of your documents and allow you to convey your qualifications and experience much more accurately. Because resumes and cover letters only get reviewed by employers for about 30 seconds, it is helpful to think of them as billboards with highlighted target words that must attract employers.

Careful word selection for a resume

words you must use as headings for

be improved enormously with a little

begins with its subject headings. This

sections covering your employment

help from a good old thesaurus. Words

may seem obvious to most people, but

history, education, and skills, although

like “lead,” “develop,” “motivate,” and

it is imperative that you use clear and

“Employment,” “Education,” and “Skills”

“coordinate” are some strong examples.

accurate terms to avoid confusion and

tend to be the ones everybody uses, with

Basically, the more active and specific

focus in on the background you wish

slight variations. Just remember to

the words are, the better. Research

to emphasize. Many resumes begin

use words that sound the strongest and

online and, again, in a thesaurus (I am

with “Objective” sections, in which

most professional. Headings like “Jobs,”

telling you, it is a godsend!) to find

applicants state their career objectives

“Schooling,” and “Abilities” come off as

the perfect selection of words for your

with phrases like “To obtain an in-house

a bit basic and weak. If you are ever in

resume. This also goes for explanations

position at a private law firm.” Deciding

doubt as to how to phrase something,

of jobs in cover letters. If you limit

whether to use an “Objective” section

refer to resume examples for ideas.

yourself to the mundane word choices that many others do, how are employers

is up to the individual; many people opt to discard this section because it is

Remember the lesson on euphemisms

supposed to know that you are the most

considered outdated or unnecessary,

in English class? A prime example was

impressive candidate?

since one’s objectives can be discussed

the euphemism for “garbage man”:

in the cover letter. However, if a lawyer

“sanitation engineer.” Though most law

Once you have dealt with word selection,

has substantial experience, it may be

students have never been garbage men

you must also decide which verb

appropriate to begin the resume with

or women, many can afford to spruce

tense and aspect to stick with on your

a “Profile” section, creating a brief

up job titles to make them sound more

resume. Many people advise keeping

snapshot of his or her credentials.

prestigious, while maintaining complete

verbs in the continuous present tense,

honesty. Also, if your original job title

using “ing” verbs such as “saying,”

Next, a legal resume should have

at a company does not correctly reflect

“leading,” “developing,” “motivating,”

headings such as “Bar Status” (if

what you ended up doing, listing a more

and “coordinating.” Although “ing”

applicable), “Education,” “Employment,”

accurate title is acceptable.

verbs may sound more dynamic, other resume professionals argue that it is

and “Experience” or “Additional Skills.” Optional headings include

The most important section where

clearer to imagine an “I” in front of

“Volunteer Work,” “Accomplishments,”

your words need to shine is in the job

each verb, writing, for instance, “(I)

and “Publications.” Avoid using

descriptions under “Employment.” Now,

lead,” “(I) develop,” “(I) motivate,” or

phrases or words that could possibly

before you start going to town describing

“(I) coordinate,” if the job is current. If

confuse the reader or make you sound

all of your “responsibilities,” throw out

the job was held in the past, as most

less sophisticated. For example,

the word “responsible.” Too many job

will have been, they suggest putting the

“Publications” sounds much more

seekers write “responsible for” before

verbs in simple past tense, as in “(I)

concise than “Works Written,” which

every single job duty. The key to listing

led,” “(I) developed,” “(I) motivated,” or

is wordier and fails to communicate

job duties is to keep the verbs active and

“(I) coordinated.” Either way, always

that the works were published. There

striking. Do not stress if you are not a

remember to keep verb tense consistent

is no set standard regarding which

walking dictionary. Most resumes can

throughout your entire resume.


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Utilizing a job’s description and its

your resume and cover letter. Be aware

your cover letter. Specifically addressing

industry’s jargon on a resume and, in

of the terminology for the field of work in

what an employer is seeking in your

particular, in a cover letter, is a targeted

which you are applying for a position, so

resume and cover letter not only helps

way to deliver exactly what the employer

that you can freely use it in your resume

you but also makes his or her job of

is looking for. When employers post job

and cover letter. Having knowledge of

finding employees easier. Do not be

notices, they usually will list various

the industry, which in your case is most

afraid to feature and emphasize your

skills that applicants should possess.

likely law, can only benefit you. If you

positive attributes; doing so is far better

Pick out keywords from the job ad and/or

lack the legal vocabulary, it will show

than forcing an employer to search and

similar ads and incorporate them into

throughout your submission, especially in

prod for them.



While resume writing careful selection of words must be there in headings of legal resume.