November 12, 2019

Applying Webinar Tips to Lateral Skills: How Tips for Environmental Industry Writing Can Apply to Writing Resumes

Posted by AGU Career Center

Professionals and field insiders use webinars, which are accessible, online presentations, to share their knowledge on a specific topic. Webinars are an often-cost-free way to enhance your knowledge and supplement your academic courses or career development. And the knowledge shared in webinars is often applicable beyond the specific topic of the presentation.

Last month, I attended AGI’s webinar, “Important Writing Skills for Careers in the Environmental Industry.” The speakers, Mike Lawless and Brandy Barnes of Draper Aden Associates, focused on how to write clear geologic reports for industry clients. I found the tips they shared in the webinar were relevant to the lateral skill of resume writing.

Webinar Tip 1: Quantitative over Qualitative Descriptors

The speakers shared that qualitative rather than qualitative descriptors improve clarity in environmental reports. One example they presented was the difference in the two below descriptors:

1. “soil heavily concentrated”
2. “1.000 mg/kg TPH (total petroleum hydrocarbons) detected in soil”

At first glance, both phrases seem to have the same meaning. But on closer scrutiny, the descriptor “heavily” in the first phrase is a subjective and vague reference point for the amount of concentration, whereas the specific amount and units included in the second phrase clearly define the amount of concentration. Separating (subjective) interpretation and (objective) number values in reports prevents ambiguity when transmitting information to your audience.

The same principle can be applied to your resume. Providing numbers, percentages, and units on a resume puts a quantitative reference point on your accomplishments. For example, writing: “the project influenced 52 institutions of higher education” is clearer than writing: “the project was influential.” Adding specifics increases your clarity and professionalism.

Webinar Tip 2: Active Voice

The webinar panelists also recommended constructing sentences using active voice, meaning that the subject of the sentence performs rather than receives the action. (Active: “She did the task.” Passive: “The task was done by her.”) Passive voice and subtractive or negating sentence structures have their sentence subjects receiving the verb or negating conditions. These sentence structures can be confusing in their meaning and intent.

Related to resumes: active voice is key if you want your resume to be as transparent as possible. Don’t minimize your agency. Use the active voice to state that you completed the tasks, not that the tasks “were completed by” you. This emphasizes your abilities as the person completing the important tasks.

Webinar Tip 3: Be Intentional with Word Choice

When writing an environmental report, authors must be intentional about word choice; words have specific scientific and legal connotations and meanings. The webinar presenters stressed that using accurate, specific language takes priority over avoiding using the same word multiple times.

Similarly, in a resume, make sure you know exactly what the words you use mean, particularly if you’re using a thesaurus. Sometimes replacing field terminology with an apparently synonymous word from a thesaurus changes the meaning and accuracy of your statement. So do your research on the meaning of your terminology. In your resume, gear your terminology towards the field and the organization. And be sure that the claims you list in your resume accurately reflect the tasks you completed.

In closing, as with environmental industry reports, resumes should be written with brevity and clarity. To achieve this goal, employ quantitative descriptors with units, active voice sentence structures, and accurate field-related terminology.

In drawing comparisons between how good tips for writing environmental reports also apply to writing resumes, the big takeaway I took from this webinar is that learning never stops, and there are creative means to apply everything you learn. Listen to the perspectives of experts in various fields and you may be surprised how their knowledge applies to and affects your other skills.

Sean Franco, Talent Pool Intern, American Geophysical Union