Doostang is a job-search platform and advice service that, for a fee, will try to help you get a job. It provides on a blog such helpful things as tips on spicing up your resume. And one of the things it suggests is that you should avoid (are you ready for this, Language Log readers?) the passive voice! So here we go with another piece of expert advice on passivity from someone who is a real authority on language because he went to college and therefore doesn't need to know anything about actual grammatical structure, he can just make stuff up. I quote:
Many people write in passive voice because that is how we've been taught to write "formally" in high school composition and then in freshman college English. It is habit and as a result of the habit, the passive voice is prevalent in self-written resumes. The problem with passive voice, however, is that it is just that — passive! A resume needs to have punch and sparkle and communicate an active, aggressive candidate. Passive voice does not accomplish that. Indicators of the passive voice:
- Responsible for
- Duties included
- Served as
- Actions encompassed
Rather than saying "Responsible for management of three direct reports" change it up to "Managed 3 direct reports." It is a shorter, more direct mode of writing and adds impact to the way the resume reads.
Now, you are a Language Log reader, and you know my methods. Do some counting. How many of the examples given in the quotation are indicators of the passive voice?
That's right. None of them are, under any reasonable interpretation of what the truncated subjectless phrases would mean in context.
- Responsible for management of three direct reports is an adjective phrase. There is no verb here (responsible is an adjective, management is a noun), hence no passive clause. And notice, nothing could be more direct and active and open about agency than I was responsible for management… — it makes no secret of where the buck stopped.
- Duties included management of three direct reports is an active transitive clause with duties as the subject; included is not a past participle in a passive construction, it is a preterite in an active construction.
- Served as manager for three direct reports begins with an preterite verb form in an active construction. Again, it's hard to see how anything could be more direct and active and open about agency than I served as manager.
- My actions encompassed management of three direct reports is another active transitive clause: it has actions as the subject, and encompassed is not a past participle in a passive construction, it is a preterite in an active construction. (I'm not defending the style: I don't especially care for the rather pompous verb encompassed, but that's not what we're talking about; this simply isn't a passive construction in any sense whatever.)
What the hell is going on in American education, people? (Apart from the toxic influence of Orwell's pompous and mendacious essay and Strunk and White's vile little book of grammatical ignorance, of course.) Things are getting worse and worse. In fact on the badness scale they've reached the top and had to stop, because we've now hit the maximum possible in badness: we're seeing zero as the number of correct identifications of the passive voice in our writing critiques — zero for five here, and now zero for four on a blog published by a fee-charging business that tries to give serious advice on the vital matter of choosing the language on the resume that may be your only chance to make enough of an impression to get you a job.
This is serious business for America's economy. It does nothing for getting Americans to get into employment, realize their talents, and contribute to tax revenues, if we simply extend into resume-writing the promotion of nervous cluelessness that seems to be the main strand in English language instruction in the USA. It is so easy to get sensible and intelligent native speakers terrified that their language isn't good enough. And the business of getting people into that state is being managed by teachers and tutors and advisers and columnists whose lofty opinion of their own expertise is matched only by their utter failure to grasp even the rudiments of sentence structure.
You may object that what they're trying to get at is a certain abstractness and failure to be lively, and I say yes, that's all well and good, but look at what they actually say, because that's what their readers are going to be looking at. You may object that what they're really talking about is style, and my answer is yes, it's like having people in automobile design dealing with style when they don't know the basic parts of a car (wheels, chassis, trunk, hood, top, doors) or what to call them.
[Spelling footnote: After investigating, I changed the spelling of the word resume in this piece and throughout the comments by taking off the acute accent or accents. The French original is résumé, and the English spelling I had been using was resumé, but despite the quasi-French pronunciation of the final e, the word seems to have been thoroughly nativized, and hardly anyone writes it with an accent now).]