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Calling All Psychic Employers

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There are millions of possible ways for any candidate to phrase descriptions of past positions, and most of them are perfectly acceptable when taken at face value. Unfortunately, sensible grammar and solid phrasings do not always equal a strong sense of cognitive understanding on the other end. As I have said before, everything in your resume and cover letter should be geared toward another person—another human being with a mind that differs from your own. With this in mind, no one can safely assume that his or her own understanding of the text will translate to another reader's mind.

Once again, we have to buckle down and talk grammar. Although I would strongly encourage every applicant to utilize a solid, active verb at the beginning of each detailed position description, whether his or her descriptions be individually bulleted or grouped together in paragraphs, this does not mean that the verbs you choose will speak entirely for themselves. Here are some overarching verbs that often sound great in resumes but also get used interchangeably:
  • manage
  • serve as
  • conduct
  • oversee
  • lead
  • supervise
  • contribute
  • assist
  • maintain
  • acted as
  • contribute to
Used sparingly, without much repetition, these words can serve very important purposes in your documents, but they cannot handle the pressure on their own. The moment you leave them out on the edge by themselves without backup is the moment all of your qualifications start to deflate in terms of cognitive value.

For instance, "led team in particular project successfully" sounds fairly impressive until a potential employer sits down to read it and wonders what kind of project you led, which team you were involved with, and, most importantly, how successful it was. The more explicit your terminology, the less it appears you are hiding and the more trustworthy you will seem in the long run. Even if all you really did was "lead a team in specialized factory-reorganization project that was awarded contract for $50,000," it sounds more impressive than you might think.

However, there are also a couple of phrases to watch out for when you sit down to write your resume and cover letter:
  • responsible for
  • handle
  • over
These terms, no matter how appealing, will only accent the vagueness of your material and, if your potential employer is paying close attention, your uneducated phrasings of choice.

One of the most important things to remember is that words and phrases you currently use in conversation may not appear to be anything but slang or lazy terminology on paper. Everything on paper should appear more formal than it would sound if you were speaking to someone in person.

Looking at "responsible for" as an example, many applicants will replace a verb like "managed" or "assisted" with "responsible for," but the first mistake one makes in doing this is replacing a verb with an adjectival phrase. By using descriptive phrases like "responsible for" that have no active value like verbs do, your document will appear inconsistent, as if it is switching back and forth between the voices of different writers.

Similarly, "handle" and "over" should be avoided at all costs because they are misused more often than not. Any time you state that you "handled" something, it literally means that you picked it up in your two palms and did something with it. Therefore, you cannot "handle" client intake or pretrial proceedings because neither of these is a physical object that you can lift and "handle." "Over" tends to get used incorrectly because of the misguided assumption that it can function as a relative term when describing quantity; it is best to replace all uses of "over," when applicable, with "more than." A cow can jump over a fence, but your sales cannot be "over" $150,000 because your sales are not physically hovering over $150,000 in cash.

This stuff may sound ridiculous, but being aware of the difference between simply having experience and demonstrating intellectual knowledge may just give you an edge in terms of employability.

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