10 Useless Resume Words and 10 Eye-Catching Ones

By Beth Braccio Hering, Special to CareerBuilder

"Generic hyperbole belongs on cereal boxes, not on resumes," says Duncan Mathison, a career consultant and co-author of "Unlock the Hidden Job Market: 6 Steps to a Successful Job Search When Times Are Tough." "If it does not pass the 'so what, anybody can make that claim' test, leave it off."

Instead of being another candidate professing to be a "hard worker," revitalize your application with a little seek-and-replace exercise. Scan your resume for empty, overused words such as the following:

  1. Outstanding
  2. Effective
  3. Strong
  4. Exceptional
  5. Good
  6. Excellent
  7. Driven
  8. Motivated
  9. Seasoned
  10. Energetic

"Watch out for words that are unsupported claims of greatness," Mathison says. Adds David Couper, a career coach and author of "Outsiders on the Inside: How to Create a Winning Career ... Even When You Don't Fit In," "If you call yourself an 'excellent manager,' how do we know?"

The nouns following those subjective adjectives can be equally meaningless. Anyone who has ever had a co-worker can claim to be a "team player." "Do not say you're a 'good communicator' or have 'excellent communication skills.' Who doesn't have these?" says Susan Ach, a career counselor at Marymount Manhattan College in New York City.

A better route to take is describing accomplishments and letting the potential employer make his own judgment. Give specific (preferably quantifiable) accounts of what you've done that makes you an "outstanding salesperson." Likewise, peruse performance reviews for quotable material from supervisors that demonstrates why they consider you a "strong leader." Listing awards or other forms of recognition also can be used as support.

Some words should be avoided because they convey traits that employers consider standard for anybody who wants to be hired. "You're motivated? Hope so. A good worker? So happy to hear that; I didn't want to hire a bad worker," Couper says. Don't take up precious résumé space with unnecessary items.

Also on the "don't" side: Words that seek to overcome what you might think are your shortcomings. "Using 'seasoned' for 'over 50' or 'energetic' for 'inexperienced' looks like spin and smells like spin," Mathison says. Keep the focus on what makes you right for the job.

On the flipside, certain words can make hiring managers do a double-take. Light up their eyes with these 10 terms:

  1. Created
  2. Increased
  3. Reduced
  4. Improved
  5. Developed
  6. Researched
  7. Accomplished
  8. Won
  9. On-time
  10. Under-budget

"We suggest that resume writers include action words to describe their jobs," Ach says. Verbs project the image of someone who has the background and initiative to get things done. Employers can clearly comprehend what you've accomplished in the past and can use that as a basis for envisioning future success with their company.

Think about it: If you were hiring, would you rather take on someone who calls himself a "productive manager" or somebody who states that at his last job he "increased company profit by 3 percent," "reduced employee turnover in his department to the best level in five years," and "improved brand awareness by implementing a new social media strategy"?

Lastly, it can be beneficial to use verbs and nouns that are common to your specific industry. This shows your familiarity with the language of your field and optimizes the chances of getting past an automatic scan for keywords. But remember, too, that all companies tend to speak a universal language: money.

"Terms such as 'on-time' and 'under-budget' are often good. Hiring managers want to know you can get things done with minimum fuss," Mathison says. Tell them what makes you the most profitable choice for the job and employers will tell you the best word of all -- "hired."

Next: The Science of Getting a 'Yes' Answer



Don't Miss: Top 10 Companies Hiring Now




Stories from AARP




Beth Braccio Hering researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues for CareerBuilder. Follow @CareerBuilder on Twitter.

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum

32 Comments

Filter by:
scooter72271

I call in to question Susan Ach's credibility as a Career Counselor with her statement of: "Do not say you're a 'good communicator' or have 'excellent communication skills.' Who doesn't have these?"

Susan Ach must never have conducted an interview in her role as a Career Counselor. As a professional recruiter I've conducted thousands of interviews and tragically I can say the majority of applicants do not possess excellent communications skills. It doesn't make them unemployable, just not qualified for certain jobs.

**Point of information: "communications skills" is not strictly the ability to speak eloquently and professionally, but also the ability to write professionally and effectively.

If you've got it, flaunt it. But you better be able to demonstrate that you can back up your claim. Indeed employers will "decide" for themselves regarding your communications skills, and their evaluation starts with your cover letter (which they won't read) and resume (which will be scanned for keywords). If that's squared away then will you have a better chance to demonstrate your verbal communication skills.

Remember, employers are not hiring your resume, they are hiring YOU! A person. EVERY person is different and unique. And not all have excellent communication skills.

BAD COUNSELING ADVICE from Ms. Ach. She is clearly disconnected from understanding how to get an applicant through an employer’s door.

July 27 2011 at 8:46 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Alan

I agree with Willy on the age thing. I'm a 'seasoned' worker about to turn 55. I work part time in retail so they don't have to give benifits. Haven't had insurance in 2 years. I noticed on my job that it is mostly the younger ones that get the hours.
So, if you're a 'seasoned' worker, put resume emphasis on reliability because the younger ones tend to be less that way cause they want to party on a friday night. Also, no use hiding your age, managers can figure out your age range when you have several years in one place. Good luck to all!

July 27 2011 at 8:12 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
ned342

While the ajdectives are important, the interview and how you come across is the clincher. Once I went through three separate interviews for this mid-management job. I named dropped the person who'd just interviewed me before. And yeah I got the job. Did I last? No! I got burned out. Instead of working with one I had to dealt with all three. Each one thought I worked for them individually .

July 27 2011 at 8:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Barbara

I value all the tips I can get to help me put my best foot forward

July 27 2011 at 8:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ctneasy

Don't even bother looking for a job now if you don't have one. The economy in America is going to completely cave in forever & then next year the entire world is going to end... Why bother getting a job now?

July 27 2011 at 7:57 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
apollo6713

Would this work? I am utterly fantastic and more valuable than anyone you've hired before.

July 27 2011 at 7:52 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
scheibjms

For the 10 seconds it takes someone to look at your resume', you need to list your attributes with exceptional language. Your two sentences have to count. Good luck!

July 27 2011 at 7:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to scheibjms's comment
toddisit

10 seconds is right, and then they want you to prepare for interviews and know everything about the place during an interview? Hypocrites.

July 27 2011 at 7:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Lise Mitchell

How can you advise people not to use words the employers themselves use in their own job descriptions? Most basic jobs don't allow you to "create" "improve" "research" or "devvelop" anything in our jobs. You don't have the whole picture here. Maybe some jobs/careers include the ability to do that as part of fulfilling thier duties - but some jobs - you get written up or fired for trying anything other than what they tell you to do.

July 27 2011 at 7:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Lise Mitchell

How can you say not to use words that the employers use themselves in their own job descriptions?

July 27 2011 at 7:34 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
FREAKINCISI

Ooops, this was about Resume's. Okay here goes.
To Whom it may concern,
I will work a days pay and accomplish what anyone would; making $7.25 an hour.
Where's the broom so I can Lean all day.
OR until I cannot stand up any longer.
Both are acceptable.
Thank you, See you tomorrow.

July 27 2011 at 7:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Search Articles

Top Companies Hiring

Week of Oct 19 - 26
View All

Featured Writers

Meet the team

Picks From the Web