We all try to write the perfect resume, cover letter and LinkedIn profile. Our goal: wordsmith something that will make us stand out among millions of job and internship seekers.
And yet somehow, those resumes, letters and profiles always seem to sound painfully similar; they drown in groupthink-inspired sameness.
Why? Because we see a friend’s resume, or a resume template online, or the LinkedIn summary of someone we respect, and we think: “Ooh, I don’t have that on my resume!” And so it gets added. And then a friend sees your resume, and she adds the same word. This happens over and over again, until every resume is a cookie cutter version of all the rest.
You can be different. You can avoid these 25 words and phrases while creating (or recreating) your personal marketing materials.
As you read, pull up your resume and cover letter, and open your LinkedIn profile. And keep score as you go… you’ll want to know how immersed you are in personal branding purgatory.
You have to approximate? You don’t know what you did? Or you do know, but creating a good first impression wasn’t a big priority for you when the resume was sent to me. If you don’t know – find out.
Unless you work in a dental office or are a point guard, recruiters don’t want to hear about your “assists.” Instead, tell me what you did, how you did it and what impact your work had on the business.
Never, ever state what you wanted to do. State what you did in an emphatic tone, including a quantitative statement. A good example: “Exceeded quota by an average of 31.2% every quarter”
This word is Number 1 – the one that is used in more LinkedIn profiles than any other word. That alone is reason enough to be more “creative” when writing your career materials.
5. Detail Oriented
No one really knows when we all started putting “detail oriented” in every resume. But it must stop. The worst part: as proven by the typos and formatting errors we see on so many resumes, this is rarely true.
Your use of adjectives is killing your job search. Sure, it may make you think you sound more “dynamic” on paper… just like everyone else is “dynamic.” But to a recruiter, you might as well use “ninja” or “guru.”
Effective is usually followed by many other words or phrases on this list, like “problem solver” and “team player.” The truth is: this adjective is a terrible waste of valuable real estate.
8. Excellent Oral and Written Communication Skills
First, the recruiter reading your resume will be the judge of that. Second, like “detail oriented” this proves true so infrequently recruiters are caught off guard when it happens.
9. Extensive Experience
Again, 100% wasted space. Why? Done right, your resume and LinkedIn profile will demonstrate the level of your experience – and the relevance of that experience to your next employer.
Recruiters are an empathetic bunch; we understand people are hungry for work – and are just hoping for a chance to show what they can do. The reality is, though: this word smells like desperation.
11. I Just Need a Chance
Maybe no one uses these exact words, but this is the perception of recruiters gets when reading an email written by someone dejected by circumstance. Stay positive, and give your application a chance.
Another of those that makes its way into LinkedIn’s top ten list of overused words, “innovative” is usually anything but innovative. And, no… “think outside the box” is not an acceptable replacement.
Those who are truly motivated don’t feel the need to say it out loud. Just like being a hard-worker or possessing an amazing work ethic. Don’t say it, prove it. Whenever possible, use quantified statements.
14. Objective Statement
This archaic phrase from the 1970’s only serves to show how out-of-date you may be as a candidate. The worst offender: generic objective statements not tailored to a specific job or application.
Here’s the thing: in about 2 minutes, recruiters can tell from your social media profiles whether you are passionate about your career… or are just using “me-too” words while looking for a job.
16. Problem Solver
The main problem with this phrase: when a recruiter asks a candidate for an example of a problem they personally solved and the impact that solution had on the company… no one has a good answer. Fail.
Is anyone going to admit they were less-than-professional during their previous jobs? This word doesn’t pass the “would you ever say you were the opposite?” test, and must be eliminated.
18. Proficient in MS Office Suite
In today’s job market, this is like saying you know how to read and write. Instead: from the job description, determine which software is specific to your industry and this job… and highlight that on your resume.
19. Proven Track Record
According to whom? Based on what? This statement is so broad that all the rest of your resume could be great… and the recruiter is still going to think that at some point you ran out of ways to sell yourself.
20. References Available Upon Request
Like the objective statement, this phrase should only be seen in an Applicant Antique store. In our digital world, if you don’t have several references already lined up for the recruiter… well, you can’t win.
21. Results Oriented
Properly done – with quantified statements presented in your Summary of Skills and under each of your Work Experience entries – your focus on results should be obvious. We get it. So why say it?
22. Salary Expectations
Another leftover from a different economy, the inclusion of salary requirements in a cover letter or LinkedIn profile is an unintentional red flag that recruiters often laugh off as “premature negotiation.”
23. Team Player
Another cliché that just takes up space, usually sans substantiation. Instead, demonstrate that you are, indeed, a world-class collaborator by describing the projects you’ve worked on and the results obtained.
24. The Reason I Left…
Often, these words signify a less-than-desirable candidate who… in the next few words… is going to give away too much, deliver a therapeutic (for them) monologue or bash a former employer. Just don’t.
25. To Whom it May Concern
When unemployment sat at 3.2% this generic header (and others like it such as “Dear Sirs”) was acceptable. Now, do your homework – and personalize your cover letter – or don’t expect an interview.
One caveat, please: IF the employer lists any of these words as a key requirement in their job description… by all means, include these on your resume. If not, well, you know…
So how did you do? How many of these words and phrases do you have on your resume?
- From 0 to 5: Well done; you are likely to stand out as a must-interview candidate!
- From 6 to 10: You are well on your way to having a unique value proposition; keep up the good work.
- From 11 to 15: You have some work to do. Before you apply again… rework your resume.
- From 16 to 20: You are in trouble. Big trouble. And the only way to redemption is a total rewrite.
- 21 or more: You are, indeed, in personal branding purgatory. Throw everything away. Hire a professional resume writer, STAT!