Scrub These Words And Phrases From Your Resume Right Now

Who wouldn’t say they’re “hardworking” and “results-oriented”? Unfortunately, those descriptors won’t land you an interview.

Scrub These Words And Phrases From Your Resume Right Now
[Photo: Flickr user Steve Johnson]

We’ve all heard the saying, “You’ll never get a second chance to make a first impression.” This is perhaps most true when it comes to your resume. While many companies use screening software to screen resumes, recruiters are largely the first people you need to impress.

“The language or content of a resume can definitely tank a job seeker’s chances of landing their dream job,” says Jamie Hichens, senior talent acquisition partner at Glassdoor. “You have a limited amount of time to catch a recruiter or hiring manager’s eye–use it wisely.”

Filling precious resume space with verbose language or overused buzzwords can certainly backfire. So we tapped a group of HR and resume experts to give us the inside scoop on some of the most common words and phrases to avoid. Scan your CV to make sure you’re not guilty of including any of them.

1. “Unemployed”

“Your employment dates already show if you’re unemployed–you don’t need to highlight it,” says Hichens.

2. “Hardworking”

“We hope you are a hardworking individual who shows up to work on time and is self-motivated, but you don’t need to call it out,” she adds.

3. “Ambicious”

“Misspelled words [like this one] should never appear on your resume,” says Elizabeth Harrison, client services manager and senior recruitment partner at the recruiting firm Decision Toolbox. “Read your resume numerous times, print it and take a pen to it and have someone else read it. One misspelled word can completely eliminate an otherwise strong candidate from consideration because it demonstrates lack of attention to detail.”

4. “Microsoft Office”

“Popular resume templates and HR pros prompt job seekers to include a list of strategic skills on their resume,” says Glassdoor expert Eileen Meyer. “From Java to Final Cut Pro, speaking Arabic to spearheading 150% growth, be sure to include not only the relevant skills that make you a perfect fit for the role, but also the skills that make you stand out. Take note, command of Microsoft Office is not a skill. It’s a given.”

5. “Objective”

“Is your career trajectory pretty straightforward and lacking major gaps between jobs? Then you probably don’t need an objective statement,” contends Glassdoor writer Caroline Gray. “If your resume is self-explanatory, there’s no need to take up valuable space with anything that’s redundant. Also, if you’re submitting a cover letter with your resume, that should be more than sufficient in addressing your objective for your application.

6. “Synergy”

“Words like ‘synergy’ and ‘wheelhouse’ are completely overused lingo,” insists Hichens. Steer clear.

7. “References Available Upon Request”

Having “references upon request” at the bottom of your resume is a sign that a candidate is overeager. If a recruiter wants to call to know more about you, they will reach out directly. There is no need to point out the obvious. As one HR expert said, “everyone assumes we want references, but honestly, we can ask.”

8. First- And Third-Person Pronouns

“Talking in first or third person reads weird–did someone write your resume for you? Just state the facts,” says Hichens. Avoid “I,” “me,” “she,” “he,” “her,” and “him.” For example, write, “Led a team of four,” not, “I led a team of four people” or “Jamie led a team.”

9. “Rockstar”

This term, says Jennifer Bensusen, technology lead and senior recruitment partner at Decision Toolbox, has “been overused in the last five years.” Like other cheeky titles that have come into wider use, like “ninja,” it’s best to avoid it–“unless you are truly a singing superstar, applying for a wedding singer or entertainer role that is!”

10. “Dabbled”

Bensusen says not to refer to “technology or systems you have touched or were exposed to but really don’t know.” For example, stay away from sentences like, “. . . a Software Engineer who dabbled with Python in college seven years ago but has been developing in .NET professionally since.” In this case, don’t add Python to your resume if you’re not a pro.

11. “On Time”

Again, a candidate being on time is an expectation. “[Instead] craft a well thought out, concise resume with interesting content on accomplishments, KPI success or significant highlights with bullets on what you did,” advises Bensusen. “Did you create efficiencies that saved the company big bucks? Did you hire a stellar team that accomplished world peace?”

12. “Expert”

“Stay away from the word ‘expert,’ unless you truly are,” says Bensusen. Otherwise, “be prepared to be peppered with questions regarding your expertise.”

13. “Can’t” Or “Won’t”

Negative words should not be included in a resume. “Resumes should demonstrate what you can do and not what you can not do,” says Harrison.

14. “Accomplished”

Instead of saying you’re accomplished, show it. “Accomplishments are currency when it comes to resumes,” says Anish Majumdar, CEO of ResumeOrbit.com. “The more you have, and the more applicable they are to the job you want, the greater your perceived worth. This can have a big impact not just on whether you receive an interview, but how much you’re ultimately offered. Front-load the accomplishment, then describe how it was achieved.”

Nicole Cox, chief recruitment officer at Decision Toolbox, adds to that advice: “Substantiate your accomplishments with numbers,” she says. Some recruiters prefer to see actual numbers (such as “cut manufacturing costs by $500,000”), while others prefer percentages (“cut manufacturing costs by 15%”). Either way, provide enough context to show the impact. If your objective was to cut manufacturing costs by 10%, make it clear that you exceeded the goal.

Majumdar gives this example, which explains not only what you accomplished but how: “Improved customer satisfaction 30% within nine months through re-engineering support processes and introducing new training materials to staff.’”

15. “Stay-At-Home Parent”

“Personal information about age, relationships, or children can expose you to discrimination,” warns Cox. “Employers aren’t allowed to ask for that kind of information, and you shouldn’t offer.” As Harrison notes, “These items do not pertain to the qualifications of an individual for a position.”

16. “Responsible For”

“Often, careerists will write, ‘Responsible for’ at the beginning of a statement,” says expert resume writer Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter, even “when a more powerful lead-in would” be better. “Instead of ‘seasoned sales management executive,’ write, ‘regional sales manager for largest revenue-generating area, exceeding competitors by 25–55% in revenue growth, year-over-year,'” she advises. “In other words, strengthen the story through muscular verbiage and results. Lead with strength and energy.”

17. “Results-Oriented”

“While many other words are misused or diluted by overuse, these are the weakest and most abused,” says Barrett-Poindexter. “If your resume language or content is weak, unfocused, [or] rambling, you can obliterate your chances of landing that dream role.”


A version of this article originally appeared on Glassdoor. It is adapted and reprinted with permission.

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