The Road to Hell is Paved with Adverbs

“The road to hell is paved with adverbs,” said author Stephen King in his book, On Writing.

If you’ve ever read one of Stephen King’s books, you’ll know the experience is a little like riding a roller-coaster. His energetic style helps his story to be told without words getting in the way.  These words are called adverbs. Now in case you’re trying to recall primary school English class, adverbs are words that describe a verb. Mostly, (and there are always incidences of when they do work), adverbs can be eliminated by using a word or phrase that places the reader in the centre of the action.

Here’s an example. “Betty swiftly sprinted away from the ferocious dog intent on breaking free.” As the action of sprinting indicates speed, then the word ‘swiftly’ is redundant. The ferocious dog in the sentence about to break free provides the context for her running.

If you cut out adverbs and start providing clear context and facts, strong content emerges.

And… so we come to resume writing.

Here’s an example of an achievement in a cover letter or resume.

  • I proactively developed a program that cut $2.5M from the training budget.

If you were reading that how would you react? Would you say, “Wow! the person proactively did that? Let’s get this guy on the phone! When he saved $2.5M that is good, but seeing he did it proactively, well that is fantastic!”

The problem with using adverbs in your resume or cover letter, is that it just adds fluff. Imagine being asked at interview, “Describe how you proactively developed the program, as opposed to say, just developing it?”. How do you answer that without the red face?

The purpose of a resume is to:

  • be read and understood by decision makers who will realise our value.
  • hold a person’s attention by showing them what we do best and how well we do it.
  • say what has to be said—without the words getting in the way.

Take the time to sift through your resume and cover letter now, and remove the adverbs. You will be struck by how better you’re being sold without them. Look for phrases such as:

  • extremely high work volumes
  • tactically marketed
  • meticulously developed
  • carefully arranged
  • energetically delivered
  • especially important
  • intensely focused on
  • instantly created
If you have an achievement to tell that relates to an adverb, then tell the story instead of just using the word. Someone will be looking for a person with that skill and that person, could be you.

Posted by Gayle Howard

Gayle Howard

I love words, respect their power and I’m passionate about using language that evokes an immediate and positive reaction from employers. Every resume I create, every coaching session I provide, every snippet of advice offered aims to help executives and leaders of tomorrow promote their authenticity in ways no smart employer could dare resist. I like to be first, just as I want my clients to be first past the finish line. I was Australia’s first Master Resume Writer, Certified G3 Coach, Certified Personal Branding Strategist and Certified Job Loss Recovery Coach—credentials still held by just a handful of professionals worldwide. An author, with additional works published in twenty-plus international career books, recipient of more than twenty-seven resume writing awards, and a specialist in creating unbeatable value propositions for senior executives for more than two decades, is your guarantee of excellence.