Avoid these 17 resume killers

Scrub your resume of killer cliches to give it the best chance of success

No matter what the job, some words can be a real turnoff. Here's a list of 17 you should remove from your resume.

It’s a new year and for many that means dusting off and sharpening up the resume.

You know a lacklustre or slipshod document full of typos, inconsistent tenses, an unspecific employment history and other mistakes could cost you dearly.

You’ve heard that recruiters will spend just 6.25 seconds looking at your resume before deciding on whether you make the cut. You’ve almost certainly been told that “you have to sell yourself”.

But a resume isn’t a piece of advertising. A study by recruitment firm CareerBuilder shows that while 17 per cent of hiring managers do spend 30 seconds or less on a resume, 68 per cent will scan it for as long as two minutes before putting it aside.

“Reading the same tired buzzwords over and over can really irritate.” – Anne Morrow 

That’s ample time to get under someone’s skin, and like a lot of advertising, after a while some words really do start to grate – especially if you’re wading through stacks of candidate resumes.

To find out which resume terms are the biggest turnoffs, CareerBuilder asked 2201 US hiring managers and human resource professionals across a range of industries and company sizes. Here’s what they said:

Best of breed: 38%

Go-getter: 27%

Think outside the box: 26%

Synergy: 22%

Go-to person: 22%

Thought leadership: 16%

Value added: 16%

Results-driven: 16%

Team player: 15%

Bottom line: 14%

Hard worker: 13%

Strategic thinker: 12%

Dynamic: 12%

Self-motivated: 12%

Detail-oriented: 11%

Proactive: 11%

Track record: 10%

“Different people will have their own pet hates,” explains HR executive Anne Morrow.

“Naturally, some recruiters are more tolerant than others, and although it’s a huge part of the job, reading the same tired buzzwords over and over can really irritate.”

The core of the problem is that because they are so subjectively self-promotional, they don’t convey any real information.

For example, saying you’re “results-driven” is one thing – showing results quite another.

According to Morrow, the list of negative clichés to avoid extends well beyond CareerBuilder’s.

There’s skilful (in what?); innovative (how?); creative (says who?); capable (by whose standards?); and, of course, problem-solver.

“Saying you’re a problem-solver can be taken as meaning you’re often involved in problems – whether of your making or not,” Morrow says.

“When used without explanation, it’s also an open invitation for an interviewer to say, ‘Tell us about a specific problem that occurred and describe how you dealt with it’. That might not be a path you want to go down.”

What exactly is it, then, that HR pros want to see on a resume?

“They like strong action words that define specific experience, skills and accomplishments,” Morrow says.

In the CareerBuilder study, respondents cited what they consider to be the most effective regularly used resume terms. They are:

Achieved: 52%

Improved: 48%

Trained/mentored: 47%

Managed: 44%

Created: 43%

Resolved: 40%

Volunteered: 35%

Influenced: 29%

Increased/decreased: 28%

Ideas: 27%

Negotiated: 25%

Launched: 24%

Revenue/profits: 23%

Under budget: 16%

Won: 13%

Where the first list is little more than advertising jargon, the second sets out specific achievements.

But does it mean applicants who fall into the trap of trying to sell their team-playing, hard-working and value-adding credentials are all disqualifying themselves from contention?

“Not at all,” Morrow says.

“It’s horses for courses. Some recruiters, particularly in the finance sectors, won’t necessarily make judgments based on just a ‘blue chip’ resume. Others, however, really focus on an applicant’s communication skills – in PR and teaching, for example.”

It’s true that the best person for a job may not be the best resume writer. On the other hand, in a hyper-competitive market, it’s better to have a resume that pushes the right buttons than one consigned to the reject pile.

Read next: Business buzzwords to watch

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December 2021
December 2021

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