Are These Resume Buzzwords Killing Your Chances?

Resume terms to use

Zillions of resumes are useless except perhaps for lining a bird cage's floor. The main cause? Resume advice has changed little over the decades, so most resumes today feel moldy, cliche-larded, as if spewed from resume software or a hired gun from the disco era.

As a result, most resumes make savvy employers roll their eyes. Examples of hopelessly dated resume advice include:
  • Use power verbs -- "I spearheaded..." Yuck.

  • Sell yourself -- "I'm uniquely qualified for the position." Yuck.

  • Use business buzzwords -- "I delight in exceeding customer expectations, being a team player while being a self-starter, always driving initiatives to achieve bottom-line results." Some other word. Double-yuck.

  • Quantify -- "I saved/made the company $X zillion dollars." Employers are now wise to that tactic and often view such numbers as more inflated than a burst balloon. Indeed, if you added up all the dollars reported on resumes, it would exceed the Gross Domestic Product.

Use all those antiquated resume rules and, voila, you have a resume that makes the employer much more likely to click "delete" than to grant you an interview.

There is a better way.

You can replace employer suspicions with intrigue about you -- by telling a story. Stories are far more credible than are self-aggrandizing verbs and adjectives.

More: Avoid These Dangerous Resume Mistakes

Put yourself in your target prospective employer's shoes. What one-paragraph story could you tell that would make that employer want to interview you? Use what I call the "PAR" approach:
  • Tell a problem you faced.
  • Explain the way you approached it.
  • And then detail the positive result.

Here's an example from a resume written by an individual contributor.

  • The Problem -- "Everyone was hating the new talent management software."

  • The Approach -- " I was just a worker bee so I asked my boss if she might send an email to everyone asking them to write why they prefer the old software. That might help her decide what to do. "

  • The Result -- "She took my advice and, as a result, it was clear we were better off with the new software, but that the vendor needed to tweak the interface and provide a targeted training session. That all happened. In truth, still, not everyone is crazy about the software, but everyone is much less frustrated now."

Why This Works

It has an informal tone that seems authentic: "I was just a worker bee" and "not everyone is crazy about the software." True, that will turn off some employers but more will prefer it, feeling they're reading an honest yet intriguing resume from a real human being, not an assemblage of verbiage pulled from a resume-writing guide or cranked out by a resume-writing automaton who barely knows the applicant.

Of course, your resume needs to be in your voice, one you're comfortable with. But whatever the tone, a rule of thumb is to include three PAR stories in your resume. Recent ones are preferable but more important is that they be stories likely to make your target employer think, "Hmm. She could be good in that position. I'll interview her."

Shouldn't these stories be saved for the interview or cover letter?

You should use them in cover letter, interview and resume. Perhaps use one in a cover letter, and you certainly can retell a story or stories in the interview. Most employers are overwhelmed with input from lots of job seekers. Usually, employers appreciate your repeating an illustrative story.

Indeed, tell your true, impressive stories in resume, cover letter and interview, and you're more likely to be hired and less likely to have your resume line a bird cage floor.

Ban These Words from Your Resume

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masud rana

Writing a resume is a pain. I just came across the site that has a great collection of resume writing tips for a resume novice. With their free resume samples and tips I was able to pull together a resume in less then an hour.


June 23 2013 at 4:38 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
isabella mori

totally agree with you re stories. not sure what you were trying to say re "i spearheaded" - more info? and i disagree with the numbers. employers absolutely want to see numbers, for more than one reason (e.g. it actually makes the resume easier to read).

why not combine the two? here's an example from a winning resume:

"Decreased time needed to balance cash registers by 45% by understanding error patterns and devising a system which guaranteed an error-free result"

December 10 2012 at 12:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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