Here are some phrases you should never put on your resume
Since most recruiters and hiring managers receive far more resumes than they have time to review carefully, they’re forced to find shortcuts that will allow them to quickly sort resumes into “yes,” “maybe” and “no” piles.
There are lots of ways to get into the “yes” pile — customizing your resume, using strong verbs, giving concrete examples of past accomplishments and showing your value, for example.
But there are also many ways to get your resume immediately consigned to the “no” pile. One way is to use the wrong words or phrases — often, empty clichés, annoying jargon or recycled buzzwords. In a recent article, “10 Words and Terms That Ruin a Resume,” we highlighted some of the worst offenders. That article really got people talking, so we asked some recruiting experts to share more of these detestable resume terms:
1. Hard Worker
Describing vaguely positive traits in a resume doesn’t prove your worth and may even undermine your value as a candidate in failing to show how you’re different. Focus on concrete skills and accomplishments instead of relying on personal description through adjectives.
“I would avoid the term ‘hard worker’ as it’s general and something anyone could apply to themselves. Instead, highlight actual accomplishments and results you can show off to potential employers. They like seeing data-driven numbers as opposed to general blanket statements.
2. “Job Duties”
Heather Huhman, career expert and founder of content marketing and digital PR consultancy Come Recommended, says the term “job duties” is not convincing on a resume.
“List job duties under each position at your own risk,” she says. “Instead, focus on your accomplishments. Ideally, you should be able to use the S-A-R method: Situation, Action, Results. Include up to three bullets per position, and as [few] as one.”
Keep in mind that your job duties are something that happened to you, not something you achieved — and your resume should tell a story of achievement.
3. “Related Coursework”
“Unless you’re applying for your very first internship, remove your related coursework,” Huhman says. All your relevant education definitely belongs on your resume, but a separate section for “related coursework” isn’t necessary. Your resume needs a laser-sharp focus. If you’re struggling to show how a class is relevant to the job you’re applying for, consider removing it.
Idioms may add color to an informal conversation, but they don’t distinguish you professionally when used on your resume.
“Avoid overused and tired business idioms: out-of-the-box, win-win, core competencies, empowered, best practices There are many more; these are perfectly acceptable words, but they’ve been so overused that people are sick of them,” says Karen Southall Watts, author of “Go Coach Yourself.” “Rephrase and think clarity and not jargon. Avoid describing duties and instead focus on results. ‘Supervised a team of 12’ is much less compelling than ‘Led sales team to 5% increase in total closed deals.’”
Avoid mentioning money before you even get to the interview. “Any mention of the word ‘salary’ on a résumé sets off red alarms to an employer and would discourage them from bringing you in for an interview,” warns George Bernocco, a resume writer.
6. “Proven Ability”
HR manager Jen Strobel views this phrase as just resume filler. “The ability was proven by whom? How is the ability proven? How does this ability compare to those which are not proven?” she asks.
So use your resume to prove your ability by giving specific examples of your career achievements.
7. “Married with Children”
Delmar Johnson, an HR professional with 20 years of experience and founder of HR services firm HR Brain for Hire, says personal information doesn’t belong on a resume. “That’s great you have a family and you’re proud [of it],” she says. “[But] your goal is to reflect a level of professionalism that demonstrates your knowledge, your skills and abilities that are applicable to the job to which you are applying.”
8. Reference Available Upon Request
This line isn’t necessary. “Do not put ‘Reference available upon request’, or the names and contact points of the references themselves,” advises Elliot Lasson, executive director of Joblink of Maryland, Inc. “The former is understood, superfluous, and therefore just takes up valuable space. As for the latter, given that companies will often ask for a waiver before contacting references, they should probably be kept in a separate document.”
9. “Transferable Skills”
When executive recruiter and career counselor Bruce Hurwitz sees these words, he takes them to mean “I’m not qualified, but do me a favor.” He says the terms “skills” or “skill set” are fine to use, but the word “transferable” has negative connotations.
And this is a great example of why it’s important to show, not tell. Don’t tell a recruiter that you have transferable skills. Show how the skills you have are relevant to the job.
Your resume isn’t simply a summary of yourself. You are talking about yourself, technically, but through the lens of the company’s needs and expectations.
“We already know your objective,” says Lisa Rokusek, a managing partner at AgentHR Recruiting Group. “Instead of telling us about what you want, use this space to tell us about you and your experience. Make sure it is relevant to the role you are interested in. Make a thought argument for getting a conversation.”
Cousin to the term “hard worker,” this is something anyone can say about himself. And as Stacey Hawley, career specialist and founder of career consultancy Credo, points out, that you’ll work toward results “is assumed.” There’s no need to use your resume to tell people things they already know.
Job seekers wanting to express how much they know about a subject should avoid referring to themselves as an expert on their resume, said Debra Gioeli, director of recruiting for Sharp Decisions. “No one person knows everything about one topic,” Gioeli said. “Even someone that has been working for decades has something new to learn.”
13. Microsoft Office
Joey Price, CEO of Jumpstart:HR, said job seekers who include on their resume that they are experienced with Microsoft Office set the bar pretty low for themselves.
“Most HR and line managers expect you to already have familiarity with a software suite that has been around since Al Gore created the Internet,” Price said. “Dig deeper and share that you have experience with Visio, Project and Access – more specialized software programs that can really pay off for an employer.”
14. ‘Responsible for’
Job seekers that that try and boost their image by trying to tell employers about projects they led or helped with should be more forthcoming about what those projects or tasks resulted in, said career management expert Tom Cairns of the Cairns Blaner Group.
“Words like ‘responsible for,’ ‘administered,’ ‘managed’ and ‘assisted’ just tell the reader what you did,” Cairns said. “What you want to do is tell the reader what you achieved.”
15. ‘Quick learner’
Former human resources executive and current career coach Bettina Seidman said the words that always turn her off when reading a resume are when applicants say they are a “fast learner.”
“Either you have the appropriate experience or you don’t,” Seidman said.
16. “Utilized My Skills”
“Who else’s skills would we be using?” Hawley asks.
Stuffy, overly formal language on resumes is out. It’s wiser nowadays to use direct language. Beware of boilerplate phrases that have lost their meaning and that can be replaced with expressive words that say something specific about you.
17. “Had _____”
Career and etiquette expert Sandra Lamb is a proponent of using strong language on resumes. “’Had’ is an anemic and colorless verb that gives the reader the impression you’re submitting a job description,” says Lamb, author of How to Write It. “Don’t use this to start a bulleted item on your resume; you’ll be better-served by a strong, active verb.”
For example, you might say “Managed three people” instead of “Had three direct reports.”
18. Wacky Email Addresses (and Twitter Handles!)
Recruiting and career expert Abby Kohut of AbsolutelyAbby.com says that inappropriate email addresses like “firstname.lastname@example.org” or “email@example.com” can send a resume to the bottom of the pile, if not the trash. “It’s not so much the email address as it is [the job seeker’s] judgment that I’m concerned about,” she says.
And the same goes for Twitter: More and more recruiters are researching candidates on social sites, so make sure you have a professional-sounding Twitter handle as well.
19. Other Subjective words
Hiring managers want to see facts and proof of accomplishment, not see subjective words like “outstanding,” “exceptional,” “highly skilled,” “excellent,” “top notch” and “creative,” said J.T. O’Donnell, founder and CEO of Careerealism.
“Any subjective text is like nails on a chalkboard to recruiters,” O’Donnell said. ” I advise all those job seekers out there who lead their resumes with an opening paragraph filled with opinion of themselves to eliminate it entirely.”
20. Unrelated Keywords
Some seekers also have a problem with adding too many keywords that are unrelated to the position they’re applying for. This could happen if you’ve added job history from an industry different from your current one. To fix this, think of ways that your former jobs in outside industries relate to the position you want, then switch your details and keywords to match.
As you can see, keywords can be your best friend or your worst enemy—depending on their use. Be sure to make them your friend as you work to create a dynamic resume that impresses any hiring manager who reads it.
So how can you improve your resume quality ?
1. Incorporate industry keywords and buzzwords into your resume, but don’t overdo it. Use words and phrases like “accomplished,” “developed,” “managed,” and “team player” in the natural language of the document, says Lisa Rangel, managing director of ChameleonResumes.com. “If your resume makes it through the filtering system, but it is evident to the reader that you were successful because of ‘keyword stuffing,’ the reader will feel you just gamed the system and will place your resume in the ‘no’ pile.”
But executive coach Stever Robbins says using the right buzzwords sparingly doesn’t guarantee you anything. “You could still end up in the resume black hole if you don’t have sufficient differentiation once those keywords are met,” he says.
That’s why it’s important to follow the next 11 steps.
2. Tailor your resume to the job. “Tune your resume to this specific role, with substantiating detail that shows why you are a great fit for the position,” says Laura Smith-Proulx, a certified executive resume writer and LinkedIn profile expert. One way to do this is by including all of your skills and experience that are relevant to the job you’re applying for.
3. Use a modern, professional format. Format your resume so that it is pleasing to the eye but doesn’t focus more on visuals than content. Here’s an example of a nicely formatted resume.
4. Make sure it is error-free and easy to read. HR reps equate typos and errors with laziness, says Greg Faherty, a certified professional resume writer and owner of a-perfect-resume.com. Make sure it’s perfectly polished and error-free — and don’t forget to put the most important information on page one.
5. Use a header. Include a clear, hard-hitting statement at the very top of the resume that effectively defines who you are, keeping the specific position in mind, says Ann Baehr, a professional resume writer and founder of Best Resumes of New York. “Do not use an objective. Think of it like a billboard.”
Baehr says the header is a branding statement that is typically all caps going across the top of the page, usually sitting under your name and contact info.
6. Keep things professional. Don’t include negative information about previous jobs or employers. Don’t discuss your hobbies or personal qualities or politics. Simply stick to your career facts.
7. Include metrics. There’s no better way to demonstrate how you’ll add to the bottom line or cut costs than to show quantifiable achievements, Smith-Proulx says. “Plus, employers often assume past performance is indicative of future results.”
Faherty agrees. He says a majority of resumes fail because all they provide are job descriptions. “The HR rep knows the basic duties of your job. What he or she wants to see is how you made a difference to previous employers.”
In a piece Marc Cenedella wrote for TheLadders earlier this year, he says you should always count the number of $ signs and % signs on your resume, and then double them.
8. Keep the reader’s needs or industry requirements front and center. You need to know what they are looking for in your candidacy. “Instead of developing your resume and then conducting a job search, it is wise to research the requirements of several opportunities to get a sense for how you should be presented in terms of branding, focus, and keywords,” Baehr explains.
9. Customize your resume to tell a story. Your resume should bring the reader through your professional experiences, accomplishments, skills, and knowledge. It should show how you’ve advanced over the years, and what you can bring to the table.
“Make your resume long enough to tell your story, but short enough to skim in a single sitting,” Smith-Proulx says. “The key is readability and relevance to the job you’re targeting.”
10. Don’t overuse fancy fonts and colors. “While you don’t want to overdo it, you can use color in a conservative manner to make your resume visually differentiated from the sea of documents the recruiter will review,” Rangel says. For example, a subtle navy blue border can be very effective.
“These effects can draw the recruiter’s eye to the document and make it stand out against the many black and white documents they’ve received,” she says. But know that using color on your resume is more acceptable and appropriate in some industries than others.
11. Make it longer than one page if it needs to be. Use the appropriate amount of space for your experience. “If you’ve been in the workforce for 15-plus years, do not feel forced to trim information about your achievements to keep to an arbitrary one-page resume rule,” Rangel says. Use what you need to, but do not make it unnecessarily long.
12. Supplement your resume with a cover letter. About half of all HR reps say they won’t even read a resume if the candidate hasn’t submitted a cover letter. So, unless the employer explicitly says they don’t want a cover letter, write one.