On the surface, poetry and resume-writing may seem quite different: the former is a type of creative writing, while the latter is a more professional endeavour. But there is one crucial point of overlap — both mediums are predicated on the art of being concise.
Striking similarities between the two forms of writing
In general, poems are short — and so are resumes. Sure, there are different styles of poetry — some lengthier than others — but poems are typically no more than a page or two each. The same goes for resumes; if they’re done well, the candidate has condensed their key features within one or two pages max.
Both forms of writing call upon the author to keep things short, snappy, and (most importantly) engaging.
A 2018 study from TheLadders.com found that:
“Despite operating in the toughest hiring environment in decades, many recruiters are still skimming resumes for details—with the average initial screen clocking in at just 7.4 seconds.”
When a recruiter sees your resume, then, it’s your job to impress them in mere seconds. The process of engaging a poetry reader is remarkably similar.
Oftentimes, a potential reader will come across your book at a library or bookstore. It’s your job to create a piece of art that is so engaging, it pulls people in.
Even though the expression “Don’t judge a book by its cover” seems great in theory, the truth is that many readers will judge your book solely based on its cover (at least as a knee-jerk reaction). That’s why book design is so important — as is the art of choosing the perfect title.
Once a potential reader picks up your book, they might spend a few seconds glancing at the first poem or two. And, within that very short time-frame, they’ll make a split-second decision on whether your work seems interesting enough to read in more detail. Then, they’ll either put the book back down, or end up purchasing it.
In either scenario (as a job applicant or author), your reader is basically saying: Impress me. Show me what you’ve got. And succeeding means keeping things concise.
Even stylistically, poems and resumes have a lot in common. In either medium, there’s an art to the way you display words on a page. The formatting, punctuation, and line length all matter.
Your font style, size, and line spacing are all deliberate choices. Your use of em dashes, semicolons, and italics become more powerful. Your choice to keep lines short is methodical.
How to succeed at either art-form
Now that we’ve established the similarities, you’re probably wondering: How do I put this knowledge into action?
Here are some tips that apply to either genre:
- Keep things clean. The design of your page should appear sleek. Don’t overcrowd the page with information (especially in a resume). The reader wants to feel informed but not overwhelmed.
- Recognize the added weight that each word carries. When writing in shorter formats, your words are so much more precious. You don’t have time to flesh out concepts and ideas; you need to make your point, and you need to do so efficiently.
- Dig into the minutiae of your writing. Pause before choosing a semicolon vs. an em dash. Assess the length of each individual line or sentence. Pay attention to the aesthetics of each page.
- Put yourself in the reader’s shoes. Imagine if you were reading this particular resume or poem: What would it take for this piece of writing to truly catch your eye? Meditate on that.
- Don’t be afraid to trim, trim, and trim some more. Many resume writers in particular try to cram as much information onto the page as physically possible. The recruiter does not need to know about every extra-curricular activity you’ve ever done, or every single task you carried out at a particular job. Challenge yourself to cut more words than you think you need to. The same goes for poems — you don’t need to include every little detail. Just the important ones.
- Always ask for the opinion of others. Pretty much any writer would benefit from getting outside feedback. Have your friends, family, or colleagues read over your work. See what they think. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our own heads that we don’t see our work clearly.
As you can see, either form of writing requires reflection.
Writing in 2020
With many of us now looking for jobs, the art of resume-writing has never been more relevant. The precariousness of work right now (across the globe) has stirred up anxiety surrounding our careers.
Even if we still have a job, we might worry: What if I don’t have it in six months? Keeping your resume polished is always a good idea.
And as I covered in a recent article, When Hobbies Become Everything: Finding Comfort During a Pandemic, the practice of creative writing is also more valuable than ever. Poetry is a very healing thing.
I hope you found these writing tips helpful! Be sure to subscribe to the blog to stay notified of each new article. And if you have the time, check out a little survey I recently put out for readers of the Writing Advice blog to give feedback about the site (linked here).