The Power of Words: What Resume Words to Avoid

View Worksheet

The best way to get yourself noticed and land an interview is to craft a resume that commands attention. Every industry has certain buzz words, clichés and terminology associated with it, as do different skills and accomplishments; the problem with using these resume words is that many, many others do, too. Instead of catching the eye of the person reviewing your resume, you are more likely to have your resume tossed in the “do not call” pile. Why? You are like 99 percent of other applicants who use the exact same terminology. Because of this, choosing the right resume words and understating the power of words is paramount to getting your resume noticed—and landing interviews.

The power of words

Your resume is meant to sell you—your strengths, your abilities and your accomplishments. Falling into the pitfall of using overused resume words, phrases and terminology is a result of telling instead of showing. If you really want your resume to stand out, carefully choose your words, and show, not tell, what you are about when it comes to getting the job done. Recruiters, hiring managers and HR personnel evaluate your resume with several questions in mind, so the power of words you select provides the answers they seek.

  • How can you make their company money?
  • How can you save their company money?
  • Do your skills match their job posting?
  • How do you stand out from a resume they just read or are about to read?
  • What did you do to make a positive difference in your previous jobs?

When you answer these questions by telling what you have accomplished, you are not showing resume reviewers anything they have not already seen a thousand times. What do you want to show them? You want to harness the power of words. You want to carefully select good resume words that paint a picture of your skills. In other words, you want to show through examples, specific examples with details.

The power of words that are carefully chosen to show you possess certain skills make a difference. Without having to spell it out in overused and trite language, write about the specific things you accomplished—use figures, percentages and anything that backs up what are trying to show. The words in resumes you submit make the difference between having a good resume that creates interview opportunities and a bad one that leaves you unemployed.

Choosing resume words

How do you choose words that show and not tell? The best way to learn is to see the difference in practice, so consider the following examples of overused resume words rewritten to show accomplishments through cold, hard facts and examples.

Overused phrase #1: Experience

  • Avoid: Experience developing tasks for crowdsourced labor
  • Use instead: Developed task structures across a wide spectrum of businesses, including those for several Fortune 500 companies

Overused phrase #2: Successful

  • Avoid:Successfully sold company’s main product lines
  • Use instead:Increased sales by 42% across lotion, body spray and hand soap product lines

Overused phrase #3: Detail oriented

  • Avoid : Detail-oriented web content writer
  • Use instead : Wrote 1000s of pages of SEO content that ranks on page one of Google results

Overused phrase #4: Team player

  • Avoid: Team player with awareness of various team members
  • Use instead: Worked closely with clients, crowdsourced workforce and sales team to develop, moderate and deliver mass-scale tasks that created accurate, results-driven data and content

Overused phrase #5: Responsible for

  • Avoid: Responsible for returning data and results on or before client deadlines
  • Use instead:Moderated, sorted and returned results of 400 crowdsourced tasks to clients at least one week before deadline

The power of words you select make all the difference. Instead of providing a prospective employer with a vague list of words that show little of what you are really capable of, choose resume words that demonstrate what you can do. Get as specific as possible, and incorporate percentages, numbers and the gritty details whenever possible. Any quantitative data you supply squashes your competition when it comes to landing an interview.

Other overused resume words to avoid

The examples given above are just a small number of overused resume words and phrases. You can harness the power of words to get your point across with descriptive details that show your skill set with facts. The list of words and phrases below, while not exhaustive, should rarely appear on your resume, at least not without plenty of facts that demonstrate the skill or accomplishment you are listing.

  • Ambitious
  • Capable
  • Confident
  • Determined
  • Effectual leader
  • Efficient
  • Energetic
  • Flexible
  • Hard working
  • Independent
  • Objective
  • Proactive
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Professional
  • Qualified
  • Self-motivated
  • Strong communication skills
  • Suitable
  • Well-organized

The bottom line is many of these words are empty if you cannot back them up with the details that show your worth. Resume reviewers are unlikely to put much faith in your potential if you cannot show them through carefully selected resume words that you have the skills they need.

If your resume currently has many of these empty words, put some facts on paper, and rewrite your skills and accomplishments using the power of words to show your strengths. Just as the type of resume you choose and the resume design you use to display your information is important, so too are the words with which you represent yourself.