Grammar Lesson – That *%@!^ Hyphen!

Without a doubt, the most common mechanical error I see in resumes that job seekers write themselves is the hyphen error. Most people are not familiar with the hyphen since word-processors have eliminated the need for knowing where to separate a word at the end of a sentence to keep it from running into the margin.

There are other uses for the hyphen besides separating syllables to break a word. An example appears in the sentence before last – “word-processor”. Hyphens are used in some compound nouns. Some compound words are hyphenated; some are broken into two words (e.g. “decision making”), and some are one word written together (e.g. “breakthrough”).

Compound adjectives are often hyphenated when working together. Two or more words that serve together as a single modifier before a noun need a hyphen to form them into a unit. For example, see the following:

“well-known actor”
“out-of-date statistics”
“English-speaking people”

If the same compound adjectives follow the noun instead of preceding it, the hyphens are unnecessary.

“The actor is well known.”
“The statistics were out of date.”
“Those people are English speaking.”

In these sentences, the compound adjectives are serving as predicate adjectives and follow a linking verb so no hyphen is necessary.

What does all this have to do with a resume? Well, let’s look at a sentence extracted directly from a resume that was written by a job seeker.

“Highly organized and detail oriented with strong communication, writing, and presentation skills.”

After the mini grammar lesson above, you can probably identify that “detail-oriented” should be hyphenated, but what about “highly organized”? Hyphens are unnecessary in compound modifiers containing an –ly adverb, even when these fall before the noun.

Common phrases seen in resumes that should usually have a hyphen include:

“High-energy leader”
“Hands-on style”
“Detail-oriented management”

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