The other day, while assembling a ping pong table, I was reminded of one of life’s great lessons – don’t overlook the small stuff.
As I was following the instructions, there was a section where I read the first sentence, looked at the diagram, and charged ahead with the next two or three assembly steps (skipping several sentences of instruction).
Turns out, those few sentences I skipped were pretty important and I ended up having to un-do things and go back to fix the problem before moving ahead. Can you relate? I wish I could say that was the first time I had ever done that – ha!
In writing and designing resumes it’s easy to get caught up in what you are going to include and how it should look, while forgetting a few important rules of grammar and punctuation.
Punctuation problems can distort your meaning, or worse: cause an employer to pause in confusion. That pause is bad news as they may begin to make assumptions about you based on that, such as your attention to detail, communication skills, or even work ethic, thus viewing you as a poor candidate.
Here’s eight of the most common problem areas I see when reviewing dental hygiene client resumes and cover letters:
When you are offering up a complete sentence, such as in your opening statement (sometimes called “Objective” but I call it “About Me”), always include periods where appropriate.
But when it comes to listing skills and competencies in your resume, experts agree it’s optional. I usually leave them off. I’m all about keeping resumes as clean looking as possible and if a period isn’t necessary then why waste the ink?
Use hyphens for compound adjectives that precede a noun, such as “patient-focused approach” or “part-time opening.” And if you have two adjectives that modify the same base word, use a hyphen after the first, as in “double- and single-patient rotations.” Do not use a hyphen in a compound adjective if the first word ends in –ly, as in “highly qualified candidate.”
Semicolons can either separate two independent clauses when the second clause is not directly related to the first or they can be useful when you want to list items that already include a comma.
For example, “Proficient at oral assessments, screenings, and treatment planning; educating patients on proper oral care; and scheduling patients for recall.”
Colons are used to join two independent clauses when the second clause is directly related to the first. The most common way to use a colon is for introducing a list, as in “Proficient at: oral assessments, screenings, and treatment planning.”
Commas are important visuals to help a reader understand the context of what you are writing, particularly when making lists. One of the most common questions is, “Should I put a comma between the last two listed items?” If you are a journalist, no. But in business writing (including resumes) you should add that extra comma. For example, “Proficient at oral assessments, screenings, and treatment planning.”
But also remember that commas are important visuals that help readers understand what you mean. Check out how the meaning of these two sentences changes by adding two commas.
- “I love scaling my patients and my office.”
- “I love scaling, my patients, and my office.”
Apostrophes trip up a lot of my clients – sometimes I even throw one in by mistake (which why I edit and re-edit), so it’s nothing to be ashamed of. There are many rules and sub-rules on them, so I will just touch on the basics.
- Use them to show possession (singular and plural): “patient’s x-rays” or “hygienists’ tools”
- Use them in contractions (to replace letters): “doesn’t” instead of “does not” or “it’s” instead of “it is”
- Optional to use them with initials: RDH’s or RDHs and DDSs’ or DDSs
This is interesting! Not!
Exclamation points are popular in informal writing and can add some meaning in literature, but there’s really no place for them in resumes and cover letters – anywhere! So leave them off!
Testimonial sheets, on the other hand, often include quotes from people that know you and it’s perfectly fine to leave them in as they help convey a certain level of enthusiasm for you.
These are useful in a couple ways on resumes. First, they are helpful in further defining or giving specifics to what you mean in bullet-ed statements. For example, “Proficient at taking x-rays (both traditional and digital)”.
Similarly, both parenthesis, dashes (and bold or italics, too) can be helpful in setting information apart or providing additional information. For example, “All Smiles Dental – Dr. Pat Smiles (Albany, NY) – Dental Hygienist 2001 – 2008”
There are lots of other marks available to you, ellipses, ampersands, n-dashes and m-dashes, quotes, slashes, brackets, asterisks and, of course, question marks. But these are seldom, if ever, used on your resume and cover letter.
If you decide to use them, just be sure you are doing so consistently. For example, if you use an “and” in one sentence don’t turn around and use an “&” in the next one.