Perhaps our lives would be easier if there was an automatic and objective universal ranking system that assigned job seekers a grade from 0 to 100. But the world doesn’t work that way, and thank goodness for that! My ability to secure any sort of gainful employment would be destroyed if I wasn’t able to use my resume as a marketing tool to get my foot in the interview door… after which I would (obviously) charm the pants off all interviewers and get hired.
Being able to convey your marketability in a unique, dynamic, engaging, and attractive way through a boring piece of 2D media is about as easy as watching the American presidential debates without your blood pressure rising.
You may have all the right qualifications, but if you don’t package and present them in the right way, no hiring manager will touch you.
Be careful with the buzzwords
There are hundreds of job seekers who throw the phrases “team player” and “excellent communication skills” around willy-nilly, then give no evidence to back it up. Make the words on your page meaningful by illustrating (with words) exactly how you have been a team player and communicated effectively.
Not to invoke the biggest cliché of all or anything…but you need to show, not tell. Employers look for keywords, but not in the way you think
Throwing in “detail oriented” with absolutely no clarifying information (examples or experiences) that show how this is a skill of yours could end up hurting you when employers are drawn to the keyword and disenchanted with your lack of detail.
Think like a recruiter. This is the most commonsensical thing that you can do as a prospective employee. Take a step back and think about what questions a recruiter will have of any applicant to the position, then of you in particular.
Make sure that your professional resume answers those questions.
The big scary list of 20 clichés you should avoid
Before you freak out if “achievement oriented” is currently line one of your resume…none of this is the gospel truth, but you should think carefully before including these particular buzzwords on a professional resume.
Proven leadership skills
Take the time and the brainpower to sit down and thoughtfully describe actual accomplishments and experiences that show those leadership skills.
Exceeded goals (or worse, met expectations)
This doesn’t make you any more marketable to an employer unless you are discussing specific instances where you exceeded your goals. And if you’re describing those instances, there is no need for this tired catchall phrase.
Equally comfortable working on individually or on a team
This advice will apply to the majority of phrases on this list – they are obvious. As a professional, you are generally expected to be comfortable working individually and as part of a group.
Passionate (or any similar adjective)
We’ve all been guilty of throwing in words like this, especially in the early iterations of our post-college resumes. Don’t do it now.
Passionate, eager, and excited are all awesome words. But leave them off your professional resume and instead opt for more professional (and less emotional) rhetoric.
Track record of success
Think about who you are competing against. Do you think that the other folks submitting resumes are going to say something similar? Probably! Everyone’s got a “track record of success”.
Differentiate yourself by demonstrating how you achieved success in an important project or were promoted. That will be much more effective than this phrase.
Results-oriented or goal-oriented
Explain yourself! What were the goals that were set for your year? How did you accomplish them?
The easiest way to cut through filler content on a professional resume is to read each line and ask yourself if you would hire you based on that line. Does it speak to your strengths and illustrate your appeal as a candidate? Otherwise, figure out a way to make it do so!
Customer service experience
This applies to the majority of positions. Get specific.
Were you on the phone for 8 hours of each day fielding customer complaints? Did you end up with a 90% satisfaction rating when the norm is usually 79%? If so, say that!
… as and when needed
I have seen this pop up on a handful of resumes and it’s another one of those statements that needs to be relegated to the graveyard of professional resume catchphrases. You are willing to work hard whenever necessary? As opposed to what…being unwilling to do so?
If you end an awesome resume bullet point like this, chances are a recruiter won’t notice, but figure out a way to avoid using filler like this and save yourself some valuable room for other, more meaty, content.
Increased revenue and sales
This would be a great place to use numbers and facts instead of vague statements. Look at the difference between the below two statements and tell me which one would get an interview and which one would get chucked to the bottom of the pile
- Increased revenue and sales in conjunction with team members.
- Directed a team of 12 first-year salespeople in a record-breaking year, which saw profit growth from 10% to 15% and a revenue increase of 15 million dollars.
Managed inventory and cash flow
How did you manage the inventory? Through a special system that could be considered proprietary software to your company? If so, say that.
Figure out a way to squeeze every drop of marketability out of your experiences
Notable achievement in…
This can be used in a professional resume, but you best follow it up with the data!
Expert, guru, or seasoned
Instead, start off with how many years of experience you have doing the thing you think you are “expert” in.
“Seven years experience as a salesperson for X-Company with a record of landing 65 clients worth a total of $1.67 billion dollars” instead of “Seasoned salesperson”.
Innovative and creative
There is definitely a more innovative and creative way of stating that you are innovative and creative.
This goes for “highly capable” as well and fits perfectly under the “show don’t tell” category.
References available upon request.
If they weren’t, you’d have a problem. Save yourself the four words.
Experienced in time and resource management, detail-oriented, organized and reliable
I’ve grouped all of these together because they are some of the most often-used resume buzzwords. You may have all of these qualities, but without digging in to explain, a recruiter will have to take you at your word…and they might not.
Get into the details, numbers, and figures that back up your claim to being “experienced in time management”.
Creative problem solving
This is your time to shine, and you won’t do any shining by using this in your perfect professional resume.
Explain an instance where you creatively solved a problem – what was the problem and what tools did you use to solve it? Did you work as part of a team?
If you did, then you can show how much of a team player and effective problem solver you are without even using the phrases themselves!
Developed, contributed, or created
These buzzwords are totally kosher to include in a resume. Just make sure you are paying close attention to what comes afterwards.
If you developed an App that allows everyone in your neighborhood to easily figure out the most environmentally friendly time to water his or her lawn, go you – now describe that.
Don’t simply write something like “contributed to a congenial team environment”. That doesn’t endorse a useful picture of who you are as a candidate.
Proficient in Microsoft Office Suite (or social media)
Any professional who is looking for employment in this day and age must be proficient in Microsoft Office Suite.
On the flip side of the coin, social media is not a professional space. (If you are applying for a position that requires familiarity with it, this is an entirely different story). You don’t need to mention your ability to compose the most hilarious and creative anti-Trump tweets.
Excellent communication skills
This is “another one of those”. You need to be competent in both oral and written communication. It’s a prerequisite for existing as a professional human being.
So pretty please, leave out language about your proficiency in communicating via email.
Some final words of wisdom
Make it easy on yourself and keep your professional resume up to date. Set a calendar reminder, be an adult about it, and keep your resume updated after each marketable experience you partake in.
Update your resume when experiences are fresh in your mind and you have the time and space to perfect your phraseology.
The last thing you want for your professional resume is to be hastily updating it after a great job opens up that you are perfectly qualified for. Don’t set yourself up for failure.
Care more about cliché information, rather than cliché words. Sometimes a cliché is a cliché because it just makes sense. If this list freaks you out, just remember that anything you claim to be you must back up with hard evidence. That means details of your accomplishments and experiences.
Good luck, job seekers!