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10 horrifying, overused resume words and phrases you must omit from your resume.

This is the third article in a four-part resume strategy series.


We all use bad words sometimes.

If you're like me, sometimes those suckers just fall right out of your mouth before before you have even a moment to construct something a bit more eloquent.

(I try super hard to never have this happen in front of the children, I swear.)

(I mean, I don't swear.)

(Gah, I'm getting off track here!)

The point -- sometimes you speak before you think and dumb words come out of your mouth.

When it comes to your resume, however, you have opportunity to think, consider and strategize BEFORE you throw words down on paper. 

And so, if you have a resume that contains some (or many) of these horrifically overused, say-nothing, cliche words and phrases?

You really should consider a do-over.

10 horrifying, overused resume words and phrases

  1. Detail-oriented (or worse, detail-orienTATed). You can't just tell me that you are into details. Instead, spell out (in a bullet point) something that demonstrates your strong focus on details (and, better yet, explain how your focus on details helped better your current or a former employer.)

  2. Proven track record. You know anyone who has an unproven track record? This is a nothing phrase. Focus instead on developing a resume that makes it abundantly clear that you've got a pretty kick ass track record.

  3. Team player. Good thing you put this down. Because otherwise I might think you can't function on a team. Seriously -- It's assumed that those looking to work in a corporate environment will have the ability to work collaboratively with others. Stop using this awful term.

  4. Outside-of-the-box. You may as well stab the reviewer in the eye when you write something about how you think outside-of-the-box. It feels the exact same on the receiving end.

  5. C-suite. I've been seeing this one a lot lately, for some reason. It's like an emerging stupid cliche. Yes, I'd like for you to spell out your strengths high-level selling, or your skill in counseling members of your company's executive team. Just don't use "C-suite" when doing so. Please.

  6. Responsible for. I've talked about this one 1,000 times. I don't just want to know what you're responsible for -- I want to know the significance of it is, or why I should care that you're responsible for something. Don't just list out duties and responsibilities on your resume -- take it a step further and tell me the "so what?" about that responsibility.

  7. Win-win. I don't care what profession you're in, "cheesy sales person" pops into my head when I see this useless term. Spell out how you created a solution that benefitted all parties, of course. Just don't utter "win-win" as you do so.

  8. Hard working. Oh thank God you're saying this. I would have figured you were lazy and live for the weekends otherwise.

  9. Self-motivated. Again, highlight an instance (or more) that show me how you can direct yourself to the benefit of an employer. Just don't think you can throw "Hey, I'm self-motivated" out there and call it a day.

  10. Proactive. Another nothing word. Do you think I'm going to assume you're reactive unless you toss this into your resume? No, I am not. Instead of using this, consider spelling out an instance that you took charge and the positive result that came from it.

Bottom line... You can't just insert common fluff terms into your resume and think it's going to generate results. You've GOT to make it super easy for the reviewer to make a quick connection between her "Here's what I need" and your "Here's what <YOURNAME> has to offer."

Spell out the awesome. Take out the horrifying cliches.

Need help? The Ridiculously Awesome Resume Kit launches in July. You want to score a significant pre-launch discount (and get a sneak preview) of the kit? Be sure and sign up HERE.

Photo by: Me. That's my nephew; stop scaring him with your resumes, already.

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Reader Comments (7)

Whew! Now I realized I have used a lot of overused words in my resumes..... well, that was a long time ago but at least I wouldn't go wrong if ever I'll apply to another job.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMarck J

:) We'll stick-o-dynamite those words right on outta your resume, Marck! Thanks for the comment, and for following along, man!

July 10, 2012 | Registered CommenterJenny

While I agree that these words are horrible, I also am aware that these may be words recruiters search for in resume banks. Aren't I removing myself from possible consideration if a recruiter is "less than enthused" about reading resumes and does a bunch of keyword searches instead?

July 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDwiz

Putting my recruiter hat on to answer, Dwiz... I don't EVER do keyword searches using these terms. Moreso, I search for specific skills, specialties, etc. Things like "project management" or "robot programming" or "electrical engineering." or "team supervision." And, sooner or later ... if you're in consideration for that job? The resume must be read. If you make it super easy for the reviewer to connect his/her "here's what I need" to your "here's what Dwiz brings to the table"? You increase the odds of being invited in for an interview.

July 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJenny

Thanks for sharing your experience. I agree with several of your points and recommendations, but did have a question. If a job description uses these terms should you include them in your cover letter with examples or in the summary or description at the top of your resume? I've been told to do that because showing words or phrases from the job description or skills section helps the reader make the quickly make the connection that you can do the job.

July 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMC

I review CVs daily to fill roles for experienced project managers and clinical informatics staff in the Middle East. The process:

1) Strip out everything except educational qualifications - where from - date awarded; formal technical qualifications - who from - date awarded; jobs held, company name; month and year started and finished.
2) Review this list. Does it show a training and education background that matches the career progression from leaving school to today?
3) Do the qualifications and job titles match the requirements for the role?
4) Has the author spelt and punctuated everything correctly?

If the answer is "yes" to all of the above I might proceed to interview the candidate.

The following are turn offs:

a) Excessive hyperbole
b) Lists of Universities or other teaching organizations without any qualifications identified.
c) Rubbish use of language, spelling, and grammar.
d) A CV written in the third person.

I NEVER would search for a candidate based on the overused, nonsense-terms listed above (nor would any of my staff).

Good work.

March 10, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterhealthcare recruiter

I am a recruiting Sourcer so my day is filled with reviewing resumes. I have to say that employers are guilty of at least half of this list. One of my favorite phrases is *years of experience* in a fast and dynamic environment.

For people posting their resumes to job boards I would warn against posting too many job titles that they would interact with. Often search string would include -"project manager" -vp, and other higher level positions that we are not looking for. Saying that you're a liaison or interact with these positions automatically excludes a candidate from search research unless we do a broader search string.

March 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Li

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