4 reasons why personal pronouns are acceptable on your résumé

Grading Papers

During a résumé critique one of my customers presented me with a résumé that was quite good. Could it have been better? Sure, but for starters it had the elements of a solid résumé—a branding headline; a short, yet, factual Performance Profile; few duties and numerous quantified accomplishments; and was well formatted and easy to read. You get the picture.

There were a few things I suggested he correct, but the one big thing I took issue with was his use of personal pronouns.

It’s not that I’m opposed to the use of personal pronouns on a résumé. It’s that his résumé was littered with them throughout the whole document, in the Performance Profile and in the Work Experience. So I was curious why he decided to go narrative with it. He simply said it felt right. OK, that’s like asking your kid why he skipped track practice and him telling you…because.

Later in the week this guy’s Career Advisor approached me with a quizzical look on her face asking me why I thought said person’s résumé was acceptable. Is this how résumés are being written, she asked me. My response was that some job seekers, not many, are using personal pronouns on their résumé.

She then wanted to know if I condone it personal pronouns on a résumé. If I condone it? That’s like asking me if I condone red hair. I continued to say that many professional résumé writers are also including personal pronouns on their client’s résumé. 

If there is any section on the résumé where the personal pronoun  is justified, it’s  in the Performance Profile where it can add value without distracting the reader. Consider the following separate statements that emphasize the two candidates’ values:

Increasing sales—the past five years running—through a customer-centric approach has been the hallmark of my career ~ I lead with a unique style that increases production from colleagues of various talent levels.

And:

I develop and nurture  lasting relationships with partners, customers, and the media; resulting in an increase of visibility for organizations  and 75% new business ~ My managers often referred to  me as a prolific writer who enhances the value of an organization’s print and on-line literature.

Here are four reasons why personal pronouns work in each of these statements:

  1. Show ownership. Each statement can be written without the pronoun, “I,” but they lose their emphasis and originality. It’s fine to use a personal pronoun in one sentence and eliminate it in the following, though.
  2. Personality. True, the candidate could eliminate the personal pronouns, but then the accomplishments seem more impersonal. The personal pronoun gives the résumé a stronger voice.
  3. Flow. The first statement can be rephrased to carry the same message of “customer-centric approach,” but we speak in complete sentences. Résumé sentences are grammatically incorrect.
  4. It’s unique. A very small percentage of résumés employ personal pronouns. Whether you agree or disagree with the use of personal pronouns, your document will grab the attention of the reader.

Arguably some recruiters or employers may question job seekers for taking liberties and breaking the traditional mold—that which says, no personal pronouns—but would they automatically discount a job seeker for going against tradition? Only if they are out of their mind.

Nonetheless, I decided to query professionals on LinkedIn to get their opinions.

One former recruiter wrote: “Candidates certainly benefit from a professionally written résumé, but in my experience as a recruiter, we hired plenty of candidates… with ‘I’ on their résumé.”

Another respondent was very adamant about the use of personal pronouns: “Personal pronouns should NEVER be used on a résumé.”

A professional resume writer and former hiring manager, with whom I’ve worked, responded to my query by saying he uses personal pronouns “sparingly,” adding, “Who can realistically find fault with a little sprinkle of personal pronouns in an impressive career document from an impressive candidate?”

Yet another respondent supports the use of the personal pronoun: “As a recruiter, I really enjoy reading a résumé that tells who the person is, where they came from and where they want to go.”

Read this recent article in WSJ from one of my valued LinkedIn connections, Lynda Spiegel. She’s a resume writer who believes in the first person résumé.

I personally think personal pronouns are acceptable in the Performance Profile section but using them in the other sections…goes too far. If you have a strong opinion, one way or another, let’s hear it.

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