Resume Writing: 7 phrases that kill your resume

2971697898 0865a07b00 m Resume Writing: 7 phrases that kill your resumeAn excellent article on copyblogger about vampire words that suck the life out of blog posts got me thinking about wishy-washy resume language.

Most resumes sound like corporate lorem ipsum.  Like someone dropped buzzwords, lingo and jargon into a blender and hit puree.  What comes out is a mush of language that says something, but doesn’t communicate.

Got your resume handy?  Take one minute and read the first 5 sentences.  Go on, we’ll wait.

Now, pretend you don’t know the person the resume is describing.  What do you know about them?  What are they good at?  What success have they had in the past?  If you can’t tell from what you’ve read, the language you’re using isn’t packing a punch.

First step: work over your resume with a red pen and mark off every word that doesn’t share meaning.  Here are some good places to start.

  • Managed. A favorite of the perennial list of “action verbs,” managed should be used rarely.  The offense?  Vagueness.  Some clearer choices: “Led team of 15 in all phases of…” or “Identified and implemented solution for…”
  • Results oriented. Every employee should be.  And even though they’re not, they all say that they are.  This doesn’t set you apart.
  • Team player. See above.  If you can’t function on a team, you can’t function in most companies.  And saying you’re a team player doesn’t make it so.
  • Facilitated. The big question this one leaves the reader with is “how?”  Unless you’re talking about focus groups, there’s probably a better way to say it.  Like “led,” or “delivered.”
  • Functioned. Typically used with “as” (“functioned as receptionist during her absence.”)  Don’t tell us what you were — tell us what you did.
  • Detail oriented. Calling yourself “detail oriented” on your resume almost guarantees you’ll have two grammatical errors and a misplaced comma.
  • Anything that would be mocked in a Dilbert cartoon. If you find yourself sharing how you “maximized the business unit’s strategic market positioning” instead of “increased market share,” you may jargon yourself into the trash bin.  Write sentences that laypeople can read.

What are you left with when you’re done?  How can you make what’s left sound fresh, unique and attractive?  And if what you’re saying can’t be made fresh and unique, don’t bother saying it.

cc Resume Writing: 7 phrases that kill your resume photo credit: Banana Donuts ~ Half Baked Photography

25 thoughts on “Resume Writing: 7 phrases that kill your resume

  1. Kristi is it true that now everyone is looking for a one page resume instead of two?
    If so, what if you have been a homemaker for most of your adult life and don’t have all these ‘accomplishments’ to write about in your resume? Does this mean that no one is going to be interested in me ever?


  2. Michelle: What people are looking for are resumes that make an impact, which typically means sharing your background in as few carefully chosen words as possible. There’s a separate article that talks about resume length.

    As for accomplishments — think outside the box. Have you done volunteer work? Held any jobs, perhaps working from home? Do you have a hobby that has developed job skills, even if you haven’t been paid for it? These will help you show you have the skills for the role.

    Anyone else have advice for Michelle?

  3. Nice article, Kristi, very good points. For Michelle? Now, I don’t know your exact situation and you don’t mention if you have children or not, so I’ll just address some generalized tasks that we can assume you have experience in while taking care of your home. (Sorry, post is a little long.)

    First of all, I bet you have plenty of skills and don’t even realize it! I imagine you have accounting/bookkeeping skills which include you managing the household money and paying bills, expenses, negotiating w/vendors, (i.e. doctors, dentists, insurance companies, utility people, etc.). You probably also have some menu planning, frugal shopping and cooking skills as well as some home care skills like cleaning, organizational and time management skills. Did you do your own gardening? Those are skills as well. And, you obviously have computer skills. If you have children, you have communication skills, strength of character and an enormous amount of patience and perseverance. lol Make a list of everything you have done and do, and you’ll realize your strengths and also your interests.

    For some of these to be transferable to the job market, you might have to take a class or two (i.e., an accounting class) or you might be able to get an entry level position or trainee position to replace the current AR/AP person in a company. If you love to cook, work at a restaurant; if you love to garden, get a job at a plant nursery; if you love working with children, look into working for a daycare or nursery school as an assistant. Just because you were at home, doesn’t mean you weren’t working! That is a fallacy. I hope this is helpful.

    Oh, btw, in most cases a one-page resume is best, however, at the higher levels (executive positions), two-three page resumes are acceptable and often needed. Sounds like yours would probably be fine as a one-page resume. It truly depends upon your experience, the job(s) you’ve had and the job(s) you are targeting.

  4. I agree that every word needs to have impact, but the job seeker needs to be sure to offer the employer reasons to select his or her resume. No, you don’t want to say “managed” as the head of every bullet point, but if the job description emphasizes managing, it is important to include that key word in the resume!

    Same idea with “team player.” No, just saying it does not make it so; it is important to prove your skills by emphasizing accomplishments. In my opinion, it is perfectly acceptable (even useful) to include “team player” in some cases (well supported by evidence) in a resume.

    Your advice that it is important to think through how the resume sounds is key. The most important thing is that it accurately portray a candidate and how he or she connects directly with what the employer wants in an employee. Sometimes, that means including (or even emphasizing) words we like to think of as overused. As long as they are accompanied by strong supporting evidence, I would advise job seekers not to worry about including them.

  5. Lisa: What a great analysis of the many skills developed by those whose work is at home! Michelle and others can certainly benefit from the info.

    Miriam: Excellent points. As you point out, the key is supporting some of these statements with evidence. “Managed” can certainly be a key word. My advice is really to think about specificity and evidence, as you mention. If your job title is “manager” and you “managed staff,” and “managed inventory,” and “managed billing” it’s difficult to understand exactly what you’ve done. It’s not so much the word managed, as the ineffective usage that’s the problem.

  6. When I work with clients, the first phrase I suggest they remove is “responsible for.” As a recruiter or hiring manager, I don’t need to know what you were responsible for; that’s a job description. I want to know how you did the job better than everyone else.

    The most important thing is to include measurable achievements that set yourself apart. Use these 5 basic ways of measuring achievements and your resume will stand out: (1) money; (2) time; (3) quantity; (4) quality; (5) human reaction.

  7. Linda: “Responsible for” is an excellent example! And your five parameters for achievements are great guidelines! Thanks for sharing.

    Anyone else have resume phrases that they think might need to go?

  8. Absolutely – I eliminate every “responsible for” from resumes I revise. In general, eliminate anything written in passive voice – as if the work happened TO you, not because of you!

    I’d add “assisted” and its variations – “helped” and “aided” to the list. I ask, “Did you get them coffee while everyone else did the work?” NO! A resume needs to make it clear what the candidate did – how he or she contributed. Saying “helped” is vague and a useless description.

    Thanks for this post and the comments…a nice compilation of ideas!

  9. So true about “detail oriented.” I sent about ten resumes out before I realized that, under my English tutor section, I had misspelled “function” (forehead slap). I generally avoid saying anything-oriented for two reasons. First, it’s so subjective that it’d be hard for me as a hiring manager to believe anyone that actually put it on a resume. Second, why suggest you’re oriented towards only one type of work?

  10. Ellen: great points! You’d hate for someone to think because you’re “detail oriented” that you may not be able to grasp the big picture, etc.

  11. Can’t leave/give comment yet on the subject. Am still on my learning process to constructing an effective resume that would describe those lenghty skills I have acquired through the years. The 7 phrases that kill your resume and all those recommendations for a good resume set-up are points to ponder upon, so, I would be going over those resumes I made and try to improve on them or totally revise them.

  12. Faustino: Every little tidbit helps! Just start writing something that covers your experience professionally, then start tweaking it according to the things you read or advice you receive. Good luck!

  13. Another option is to use nouns. Many of us work in positions that are not self-explanatory or go beyond the regular job duties. In that case, you may say “Monthly Inventory, Parstock Control” and so on. It’s a great way to save space and say more!

    I wrote an article on what qualities every employer is looking for in you, check it out at:
    Hope this helps too!

  14. I have to say something. This is getting kind of silly. You are too hung up on using certain words. It’s not a contest to see who can use the most underused, rare words in the dictionary. We are all not English majors. You always say what not to say, don’t this, don’t that, set yourself apart, etc… while others suggest doing the opposite. Are you looking for an English major, looking for the perfect resume, or do you want to find someone who works hard, knows the job, and is dependable? The fact is a resume does not tell who you are as a person. You could all share each others’ resumes, and every one of you would suggest changing everything on your resumes. lol

  15. “Hello”: There are a bunch of viewpoints represented on this page, but most agree it’s important that your resume focus on highlighting what an employer wants in a specific, value-oriented way. I would argue that a resume CAN tell who you are as a person if you move beyond common phrases and focus on capturing the value you bring to the job. Demonstrate in a resume through specific examples that you do work hard, know the job and are dependable, and you’ll stand above your peers.

    If you want a more robust view, check out some of the other articles here: Resume Writing Tips

  16. I think some people are misunderstanding what Kristi is getting at, the main point. Employers are hounded with resumes each day. They do have certain procedures for quickly weeding out the bad ones from those that could be prospective employees. The key is standing out and making sure you fully express your ability to bring value to the company in your resume.

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