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Fri, Apr 1, 2011

Career Management

10 Words and Terms That Ruin a Resume

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Your resume needs an update—that is, if your resume is like those of most people, it’s not as good as it could be. The problem is language: most resumes are a thicket of deadwood words and phrases—empty cliches, annoying jargon, and recycled buzzwords. Recruiters, HR folks, and hiring managers see these terms over and over again, and it makes them … sad.

Wouldn’t you rather make them happy? It’s time to start raking out your resume, starting with these (and similar) terms.

1. “Salary Negotiable”
Yes, they know. If you’re wasting a precious line of your resume on this term, it looks as though you’re padding—that you’ve run out of things to talk about. If your salary is not negotiable, that’d be sort of unusual (still, don’t put that on your resume).

2.  “References available by request”
See the preceding comment about unnecessary terms.

3.  “Responsible for ______Reading this term, the recruiter can almost picture the C-average, uninspired employee mechanically fulfilling his or her job requirements—no more, no less. Having been responsible for something isn’t something you did—it’s something that happened to you. Turn phrases like “responsible for” into “managed,” “led,” or other decisive, strong verbs.

4. “Experience working in ______”
Again, experience is something that happens to you—not something you achieve. Describe your background in terms of achievements.

5. “Problem-solving skills”
You know who else has problem-solving skills? Monkeys. Dogs. Mice. I once saw a YouTube video of an octopus that figured out how to open a jar. On your resume, stick to skills that require a human.

6. “Detail-oriented”
So, you pay attention to details. Well, so does everyone else. Don’t you have something unique to tell the hiring manager? (Plus, putting this on your resume only makes that accidental typo in your cover letter or resume all the more comical.)

7. “Hard-working”
Have you ever heard the term “Show; don’t tell”? This is where that might apply. Anyone can call himself or herself a hard worker. It’s a lot more convincing if you describe situations in which your hard work benefitted an employer (and use concrete details).

8.  “Team player”
See the preceding comment about showing instead of telling. There are very few jobs that don’t involve working with someone else. If you have relevant success stories about collaboration, put them on your resume. Talk about the kinds of teams you worked on, and how you succeeded.

9. “Proactive”
This is a completely deflated buzzword. Also, again, show; don’t tell.

10. “Objective”
This term isn’t always verboten, but you should use it carefully. If your objective is to get the job that you’ve applied for, there’s no need to spell that out on your resume with its own heading. The “Objective” section of a resume is usually better replaced by a summary of your background and achievements, and a description of what you have to offer an employer. An exception might be if you haven’t applied for a specific job and don’t have a lot of experience that speaks to the position you’d like to achieve.

What are your least favorite resume terms? What creative ways have you found to talk about your achievements? Let us know in the Comments section (and like us on Facebook to get updates with resume tips).


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  • http://www.upg.org.uk Clint

    I am a careers advisor and if I had a penny for every time I saw “hard working” in a CV I’d be a very very rich man. The same with “team player” and a whole host of subjective “nice things” that a person lists about themselves in their personal profile.

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  • http://MyLinkingPowerForum.ning.com Vincent Wright

    With respect to Number 10: I’m happy to see that you included the qualifier: “This term isn’t always verboten, but you should use it carefully.”

    Your including that qualifier helps to raise my agreement with you from 9.0 to 9.5.

    Where I *do* disagree specifically: “Summary” is very much as dead a thing as “Obituary”…and that because it’s just about things that have already BEEN LIVED. “Objective” is, in my opinion, more about LIFE, about LIVING, and about where you want TO GO. (Of the tens of thousands of resumes I’ve reviewed, I cannot possibly tell you how many resumes I’ve seen over the past 2+ decades where I could not possibly tell what the person wanted to do…where they wanted to go…thus, I vote strongly to keep “Objective” as an essential resume element..)

  • http://www.monster.com Charles Purdy

    Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Vincent. I think people should be cautious about “Objective” statements because they can be self-oriented, future-oriented, and repetitive (they often parrot the job description — if I’m applying for a senior-level editor job, for instance, telling you that my objective is to be a high-level editor [etc.] seems unnecessary).

    A summary (or something similar) is employer-oriented and now-oriented (it says what I can do for your company right now), and it allows me to describe my unique skills. If it’s done properly, it should communicate who I am and what I can do (and want to do) for your company. … So we agree on that point, but I do think the first line of a resume may be better spent selling skills (I can do this for your company) than stating desires (I want this from your company).

  • http://MyLinkingPowerForum.ning.com Vincent Wright

    I’m happy to get your response so quickly.

    Again, I agree with you about the “caution flag” for Objective statements but, I’m really intrigued by this part of your statement:”…people should be cautious about “Objective” statements because they can be self-oriented, future-oriented, and repetitive…”

    1. self-oriented – I don’t have a problem with an Objective statement being self-oriented. To a large extent, job descriptions are “self-oriented” and so, I see it as OKAY for a job seeker to truthfully express as an adult in a BUSINESS RELATIONSHIP to indicate *their* side of the business equation. (Personally, I think it’s unhealthy for a person to market themselves as if they’re emotionless automatons. Companies have to understand that they’re hiring people. I believe there’s ample evidence of the way that companies like Groupon and Google and Zappo are re-inventing the hiring process around letting it be OKAY to be a real human being…and not just a self-less, face-less automaton)

    2. future-oriented… I have no problem with an objective statement being “future oriented” either. After all, the future is the only place that the prospective hiree can help the company. It is a projection of what an applicant can do for a company if the company hires them as a fully functioning human being – and not as a “resume”

    3. repetitive… this I wholeheartedly agree with you on… in all the tens of thousands of resumes I’ve seen, I’ve seen very few which demonstrate an effective mastery of repetition…so, in general, I agree with you that this one is anathema in an Objective statement…

  • http://marianneworley.wordpress.com Marianne Worley

    I disagree with the first two sentences in #6: “So, you pay attention to details. Well, so does everyone else.” It has been my experience that many people THINK they are detail-oriented, but when it comes time to actually review something that requires this talent, they fail. I definitely agree that it’s much better to provide specific examples of your capabilities rather than just make blanket statements.

  • Mimi

    Passionate is very overused.

  • http://www.monster.com Charles Purdy

    Thanks, Mimi — that’s a good one. It’s definitely another case of “show; don’t tell.”

  • kaylon80

    Everyone does NOT pay attention to details. If I had a dime for every overlooked error by certain individuals in my department, I wouldn’t need my job.

  • http://www.zapoint.com Joe Brooks

    Working in the UK I’d often receive CVs with “Curriculum Vitae” written as the heading above the candidate’s name.

    Firstly, to most people it’s fairly obvious from the format that it’s a CV.

    Secondly, it was very common for “Curriculum” to be spelled wrong. FAIL. If the first word on the sheet of paper is a typo, I’m afraid I didn’t often read beyond that…

  • http://www.interviewing.biz Laura Maish

    Excellent article. Your message of show don’t tell, is right on. Other yawners that come to mind:
    “Results-oriented, results-driven” – overused and jargonistic. As you say, illustrate these strengths in achievements. In general avoid hypenated adjectives.
    “Proven” track record – is redundant. “Track record of…” is sufficient and more powerful.
    “Successful…” – Again, describe your success through achievements. Pointing out that it was successful detracts from the impact of your achievement. Let it speak for itself.

  • http://russelldavison.com Russell Davison

    Thanks for the article. I also have a good laugh when I see a Resume from a fresh graduate in their twenties which describes them as a “natural leader”, with the only evidence as being a senior chorister at church or badge holder in the scouting movement.

  • Ben

    Better to send this list to the people in the Netherlands that advertise job vacancies at their company.

  • Ines

    Nice written, BUT how to respond on offer described “We are looking for a experienced, hard-working person who worked in (put whatever) with good problem-solving skills. He/she should be hard-working proactive person with strong will to work in a team”.
    It is very easy to give “good advice”, but they are not really useful in real life.

  • http://www.monster.com Charles Purdy

    Thanks for the comment, Ines. It’s true that you should match your resume to the job description; in a case like yours, I’d keep in mind that I should “show, not tell” the qualities requested. Simply repeating that line back to the empoloyer would likely be much less effective. Thanks again and good luck!

  • Sandi snipe

    Don’t you mean “starting” instead of “staring” in your last paragraph before the list begins? Sorry, guess I’m just detail oriented.

  • http://www.monster.com Charles Purdy

    Sandi, you certainly are! Thanks for pointing that out to us. :)

  • http://www.pcrecruiter.net martin snyder

    Very good post, likely to be helpful to many people who may otherwise write to what they think is the expected form. ( a nice feedback loop)

    I agree fully with all, except as Vincent found right away, OBJECTIVE is a key element and I would always suggest using it. The reason being is that if you are lucky enough to have a human reading your resume, that human is going to want to know what job you are looking for/think you are fit for.

    They will be looking in the OBJECTIVE section first for that info. Once they know that, all they will really care about is; skill, skill level, and geography. There are proxies for those items, such as title, salary, business unit, etc. but if you are not answering one of those questions, you are wasting space and words.

    A resume is a sales document and its job is to sell a recruiter on the idea of interviewing you- and that’s it’s key function. Once you have an interview, you may want to bring in another form of resume for THAT purpose, which is something else again: to give the interviewer the basics to know with whom they are speaking and a bit of paper to shuffle, like a news anchor uses, because hopefully there is a structured process with other materials to dictate the course of the interview.

  • http://shoel.blogtown.co.nz Shoel

    While reviewing CVs for technical positions (IT that is), none of this matters. In fact this is not even read. We jump straight to the juicy bits – the technical toolset used and project details. I would never discard a CV (for a technical role) based on spelling/grammar/verbiage.

  • phat_08

    ow c’mon, “Problem-solving skills” “References available by request”
    “Team player” are all necessary. You need to make your CV as short as possible and telling stories of successful team work or problem solving will take additional place in CV. I think, generally, you are exaggerative. You can discuss these situations on the interview.

  • Cheryl Redd

    I often see the expression “dealt with customers” on my students’ resumes. To my surprise, I discovered that this term is also used in many of the O*NET job descriptions.

  • http://www.monster.com Charles Purdy

    Thanks for the comment, Cheryl. That’s an odd one: “dealt with customers” — it sounds like begrudging, if not outright harsh, customer service!

  • Daniela Borquez

    As you have said, it is action what matters and a piece of paper can hold a lot, however in my personal opinion, phrases such as “detail-oriented”, “hard-working”, “proactive”, ” outstanding social skills” is something I expect to see specially because my first approach with the candidate is the resume. At least that would give me a hint of someone who looks at him/herself as having those qualities, which I will be able to evaluate later on, versus someone who does not have any of those. I would not add to my resume something that I don’t believe I have. Resume = personal branding: The most you can tell me about your abilities, experiences and goals, the most I will know the type of person you are, even If I hear the same phrases over an over again, a candidate that does not think about how to sell him/herself is not someone that I would like to call. Convince me, persuade me, tell me what you are good for, enchant me and I will call you.

  • Chris

    All of this information is very good to know and I am glad to know it. I do think my own resume needs a complete overhaul. Even before having read this article.
    But what concerns me most is that (and I know it is because there are just too many people applying for jobs and the jobs available are of not the same equal value) computer systems (?) are seeking out “catch words” that your resume has or doesn’t have and you just get sent an automatic email response back saying these exact words:

    “Dear Mr X:

    We appreciate you taking the time to apply for ********** – ********** – FT – Days-01541-5772 with ********** Center. At this time we want to inform you that you have not been selected for this position.

    We invite you to visit our web site regularly and apply online for other jobs that may interest you. We will retain your profile in our database and if you requested notification of future positions inform you of jobs matching your criteria.

    Access Career Section Click Here

    Thank you again for your time and interest in ********* Center. Our best wishes in your search for a suitable position.

    Best Regards,

    *********** Center
    Human Resources

    Replies to this message are undeliverable and will not reach the Human Resource Department. Please do not reply.”

    This email came to me about 3 hours later after submitting in my resume this past Monday. Now tell me, there is NO ONE PERSON or GROUP that looks at the incoming amount of resumes THAT FAST to tell everyone the above email response stated?! Please!

    If so, I can probably see why I haven’t received any callbacks.

    I just needed to vent and release some “frustration” with “the system”
    You, HR folks, on here that know what you want for your employers, “Great”. You work for them and you have their best interest at heart, not us unemployed folks. Really, you are not beholden to us, you are to your employers or recruiter managers (whatever job title you call yourselves now? It’s hard to keep track of what someone’s job title is now, isn’t?)
    But us folks that are trying to hard to get your attention but can’t even get a chance to send a response back to ask questions about why we were not considered. Nada, zilcho, 0000, nothing” It can make some of us job seekers feel like we have a HUGE L on our foreheads.

    There just is no more human personal touch anymore with applying online only now.

    I just had to get this off my chest.

  • Margarita

    I agree Chris, besides the HR representative doesn’t have the deciding vote or authority to choose the candidate. It’s the VP’s, Mangers etc. in said department. Also, I find it ridiculous to ask salary requirements, the department knows their budget and how much they can or are willing to pay a person. Most likely salaries are negotiable, especially now, most people will take a pay cut if the job is a good opportunity or something they are passionate about doing. All of the terms you mentioned are in fact general terms but shouldn’t determine the outcome. The interview should tell whether the candidate is a good fit or not. Also who uses any of the terms from #4 – #10 anymore, it’s like using a pager instead of a cell phone. Utterly useless article.

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  • Sara

    Thanks so much for this article! I had a great resume (luckily without any of the words that you recommended to leave out), but did use the article: http://www.businessinsider.com/this-resume-is-scientifically-proven-to-get-you-more-interviews-2011-4 , which linked me to yours, to update and refresh mine a bit. After applying to more than 65 jobs throughout the past 6 weeks, I’m hoping for some luck and a new job now!

  • Jackie

    These suggestions are certainly a different angle than the “typical” resume language. There are times that the on-line job application consists of a form where you do not have much space and you certainly need to “rethink” your input. My suggestion is, do not use the same language in the application and/or cover letter as in your resume. Itwill sound like an echo. All-in-all, you may need to use some of the words listed above. Be comfortable with how you present your info.

  • Litz Mcumbee

    Don’t you have a job? Writing these faggy articles? Oh, so what the fuck would you know about looking for a job? Faggot….