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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

stop telling me you're a great writer

It's not a great idea -- nor is it necessary -- to brag about your writing skills in your cover letter or on your resume, via subjective assessments of yourself like the following that I've seen recently:
"Outstanding writing skills"

"Highly conceptual and great at expressing ideas in a fresh, new way"

"Able to present strategic concepts in clear, persuasive, technically sound writing"
Here's why. If you have great writing skills, I'm going to see them in the cover letter. You don't have to tell me they're there. If I care about candidates' writing skills (and oh, how I do), I'm going to be looking for them in your cover letter and other communications anyway.

But all too often, candidates give me their own assessment of their writing skills. And when it doesn't match up with the not-so-great cover letter they've written -- which is often the case -- now I'm doubting the other subjective statements they have on their resume too. If they're wrong about their writing skills, why wouldn't I think they might be wrong about other skills they're claiming for themselves?

Frankly, I don't like any subjective statements on a resume. As I've written before, resumes should present factual information about what you've done, not subjective self-assessments. That's because I don't yet know enough about you to have any idea if yours is reliable or not.

Telling me that you're a fantastic writer when I can see that you're not pretty much answers that question for me, and not in a good way.

Now, you might think, "But since I know that I am a great writer, it's okay for me to do this." And maybe you really are (although a lot of people think they are when they're not). But you still shouldn't do it. If you're a great writer and you want me to know that, write a great cover letter. That's how I'll know.


Laurie said...

Also, don't tell me you are innovative.

My cat, who can get at a bag of treats through the closed pantry door, is innovative. You are not that innovative.

David said...

Ouch! You're stepping on my toes! :-)

Kerry said...


I hate hate HATE subjective statements on a resume. I don't put any stock in them at all, and they just take up space that could be used to talk about your actual work. That's a much better way to demonstrate whatever it is you're trying to say about yourself.

Charles said...

Oh, I guess I had better take that "Excels at Everything" comment off my resume.

Seriously though, I think I know why many people do this. At a recent (state sponsored)resume writing class the instructor was telling us that we should have (in addition to that silly career objective statement) a section listing "skills" and he suggested that we include things such as "hard worker," "great organization skills," "good time-managment skills" and other subjective statements. He said that no one ever says such things on their resume and it really makes you stand out.

And it is not just state-sponsored classes either, a private, for-profit class that my former employer paid when I was laid off years ago had an instructor that suggested the same thing about skills - very subjective statements.

So, if someone hasn't had to put together a resume in a while and relies on such "expert" advice as these classes is it any wonder that you receive such resumes?

JENNA said...

Sorry, that's too obvious. Use my writing skills to show you I'm a good writer? Bah.

JD said...

I don't get this site. What do you want? It seems like every other post is "applicants that suck do this and this." All of us are trying real hard to make it in the employment world, and it seems like for every good tip for getting a job/promotion from one person (like promoting your skills) who claims to be an expert is then shot down by some other person who claims to be an expert. I think that entry levels applicants certainly need to advertise their writing skills since college is so writing intensive and many liberal arts majors don't leave college with much else other than good writing skills (and maybe some research skills). I think this would be such a minor issue with a resume/cover that it wouldn't matter.

AOlive said...

@Jenna: it seems lots of people don't see it as obvious, since they forget to "show, don't tell" that they have excellent writing skills in their resume and cover letters.

@JD: Perhaps this site isn't for you, but I can assure you that it is useful for many readers like me, a successful consultant who both has to recruit and submit my resume for evaluation in project assignments my company is trying to win.

And when you say, "I think that entry levels applicants certainly need to advertise their writing skills", you are missing the point. Everyone with good writing skills should advertise it. Ask a Manager is just informing these applicants that they have the best possible tool to PROVE they have this skill - their cover letter. A poorly written letter bragging about a skill is certainly a bad advertising move, and I think entry level applicants reading this site will much benefit from her advice.

Ask a Manager said...

AOlive, thank you! Much appreciated. (And now can you go defend me at

Anonymous said...

On the flip side, I see a lot of job openings with something like this in the "Skills and Qualifications" section:

"Effective communication and organizational skills, demonstrable
teamwork skills."