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Writing to Please Everyone

During a class on resume writing last week, I was reminded of how a word, phrase, or sentence can get very different reactions from different people.

In a resume (C.V., curriculum vitae) we were discussing, the writer had listed satisfiers as a bullet point in her summary at the top of the page, like this:

  • Satisfiers: Facilitating the work of others, simplifying processes, solving problems, establishing good relationships, and providing high-quality reports and information.

Also in her summary, she had listed her traits and the systems and software she had experience with.

When I asked for comments on the resume, one person said something like this: “What is this stuff about satisfiers? I couldn’t get past that word. For me, it took all the focus off her and her skills and put it on that word.”

Another person said, “I liked satisfiers. It showed me that she knows what she wants in a job.”

These two people had completely different reactions to the same word. As we discussed other resumes, people repeatedly expressed differing views about whether something worked or did not work for them.

Luckily for job seekers, recruiters do not get stuck on particular words such as satisfiers. They look for strong matches in terms of job qualifications, and they look for reasons to screen people out: errors, inconsistencies, and lack of the required experience and skills. So to be successful with a resume, it’s essential to meet the requirements and write a document free of errors and inconsistencies.

Beyond that, is it possible to write a resume in a way that pleases everyone?


Individuals have different tastes. Some resume readers prefer a proud list of sizzling achievements. Others like a folksy focus on satisfiers, personal accomplishments, and connections with human beings. A few like unusual fonts and inventive, off-beat renderings. (A resume for a restaurant position written in the form of a menu?) Individual whims and preferences abound.

It is impossible to please everyone, but you don’t need to. You need to please yourself and the people you hope will call you to schedule an interview.

Please yourself by writing a resume that really reflects you, your relevant work history, and the kind of job you are ready for now. Be sure you are comfortable with all the wording so that you feel confident when you send out your resume or present it.

Please the people you hope will interview you by being sure your resume clearly communicates what they need to know: your qualifications for the position, including your work experience, strengths, skills, traits, and other credentials.

It’s a good idea to try out your resume on people who think like your potential employer. Ask them: Is the content clear and correct? Do I sound like someone you would want to interview? Do you stumble over any of the words or statements? That way, you will find out whether a word like satisfiers distracts or impresses most readers. If something distracts most people who represent your potential employer, you will probably want to change it.

But don’t change your resume every time you get a suggestion, or you will go crazy trying to please everyone. And you will spend too much time changing words when you should be meeting people who can hire you or help you with your job search.

You can’t please everyone. When you get yet another suggestion, just say, “Thank you. I will consider that.” Then please yourself.


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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.