Resume Writing for Women

For centuries there’s been a presumption that men and women are somehow fundamentally different in how they write – that men are more aggressive, direct, and curt in their use of language; the assumption now is that this somehow benefits them in a job search. Women, on the other hand, are said to be humbler and use fewer declarative statements.

In reality, there is little or no data to support this myth. Men and women write comparably — most often adjusting for the situation. A recent study by Zippia showed that the difference between strength and aggression in language in resumes was nominal, but that on average, most people used overly aggressive, at times negative language in their resumes.

Conventional wisdom and general advice often tell you to be direct and immodest — willing to openly showcase your skills and why you think you’re a good fit for a position. The problem then becomes not a difference in the language women use, but a difference in perception of that language, one that can be addressed with resume best practices across the board.

Resume Writing for Women
We could write a book on effective resume writing practices and the kinds of mistakes that frequently undermine your efforts. To start, however, we’re going to look at some of the most common changes you can make to present a resume that will resonate with the most people.


Word Choice
According to a recent study by the University College London and Oleeo, specific words used by women in their resumes vary significantly from those used by men, and it could be impacting the effectiveness of their job search efforts.

The study looked at 200,000 resumes in financial services, retail, consulting, and IT management and found that direct proper and common nouns made up 90 percent of the top words used by men and only 68 percent of the top words used by women. In the financial services segment, men used terms like equity, portfolio, investment, capital, and analyst, while women used language related to their collaborative work — admirable, but potentially harmful in a resume, which should showcase only your skills. Recent studies have shown that words like assist and collaborate are actually harmful on a resume and should be avoided.

Presentation of Skills
Another issue in women’s presentation is the lack of directness with which they describe their skills. A resume is a document designed for self-promotion, and while honesty is vital to starting a new job on the right foot, humility can get in the way of getting that job. In IT and technology in particular, this can be an issue. Leslie Hawthorn, former corporate recruiter for Google’s Linux team, describes it this way: “Resumes from my female colleagues don’t do justice to their accomplishments, while my male colleagues’ resumes make them shine. Men will think, ‘I looked at Javascript once, so I’m going to say I’m proficient,’ while a woman who has written thousands of lines will present herself as a beginner.” That’s not to say you should describe yourself as an expert in something you have limited experience with, but it’s important to be honest and level-set your background against expectations and industry standards in your resume.

Customize Your Resume
Finally, take the time to customize your resume based on the jobs to which you are applying. This should be done in several ways, including:

  • Keyword matching: Examine job listings for specific terms, skills, and direct nouns you can use in the body to describe your background and expertise.
  • Cover letter: A cover letter, often delivered in an email, should be short, direct, and specific to the job you are applying for. It is a chance to highlight those skills mentioned above; use direct, positive language; and engage with the recruiter about your specific skill set.
  • Engage with the recruiter: If you have a connection or have had previous interaction with the recruiter, follow up one to two weeks after submitting your resume to reiterate your qualifications and show that you are strongly interested. When you do speak with them, ask about their preferred process for following up in the future.
  • Use the right tools: Tools like Resunate allow you to customize your resume for every job you apply for (IAW members receive access to this tool).

The goal is to be direct, show your engagement, and highlight your skills in your resume to stand out in the large pool of candidates. This isn’t specific to women, but because of the barriers many women face in job searches, especially in certain industries, it’s important to get everything right and submit the best, most targeted resume possible every time you apply for a new role.

Does your resume need a refresh? IAW members receive access to a number of resources and tools that will help you to refresh your resume and put you on track to Dream, Rise and Lead your way to success. Click the button below to learn how IAW can help you achieve more.
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