A few days ago I was chatting with my career advising colleagues at the office about common issues we see when reviewing resumes for clients. Examples came fast and furious, including several words and phrases that we see over and over again, and that we know work against rather than in favour of job seekers. It didn't take long to come up with a list of items we felt should be removed from all resumes immediately.
Here are some of the top terms we recommend removing, and alternatives that will impress recruiters and improve your odds of getting interviews:
- 1) Template: Okay, we're starting with a word you wouldn't find IN most resumes, but it is one that many people put their resumes IN. Some online templates are decades old, and resume style has evolved significantly in the past several years. Templates may also not fit your unique job search situation. If you see a template style you like, by all means use it as a base, but be willing to chop, change and adapt the format and content to fit your industry and circumstances.
- 2) Objective: Objective statements have been around for ever, and appear in many templates. The problem is they focus on you, describing what you hope to gain from a job or organization, when we all know what you really want is the job. In addition, recruiters don’t care what you want at this stage; they're much more interested in what you offer and how you can help their organization succeed. Once you're offered the position, then they may start to care about your wants and needs. A profile summarizing experience, skills and achievements and highlighting ways you can contribute to organizational success is a far more effective way to start your resume.
- 3) Strong communication, both written and verbal, 4) Multi-tasking, and 5) Able to work independently or as a member of a team: Unsubstantiated buzz-terms like these and "attention to detail" or "goal-focused" are so overused that they no longer hold any meaning or value for recruiters. If your goal is to set yourself apart from other job candidates, why use the same terms they're using? Instead, showcase your unique qualities by giving specific, skill-related accomplishments. If you want to use one of these buzz-terms as it's a key word in a job posting, give a real example of how you used the skill in a work context.
- 6) Quick learner, and 7) Versatile: Terms like these are commonly used by candidates who lack direct experience for a role. Unfortunately, both also carry a negative sub-text: "Quick learner” and “versatile” seem positive on the surface, but recruiters may read them and assume “much to learn” in the first case and “not a specialist” in the second. If you're thoroughly under-qualified, consider not applying, and if you're only missing a few requirements, focus positively on your relevant strengths.
- 8) Responsible for, and 9) Tasked with: Bullet starters like these typically introduce a laundry list of job description duties, and don’t describe job performance. You're better of describing what you actually did on the job, the scope of your work, and the impact you made on your team or organization’s bottom line.
- 10) Assist, 11) Support, and 12) Participate in: Vague “helper” terms give little insight on your knowledge, skill or contribution. Did you assist by making coffee, or by doing everything up to final sign-off, or something in between? Be specific about your activities, scope and impact.
- 13) Various, and 14) Numerous: Imprecise catch-alls like these can give the impression you’ve forgotten what you did, or are perhaps lying or stretching the truth about a duty or accomplishment. Better to provide 2 or 3 examples of tasks or projects, or a precise number of clients or reports.
- 15) Outstanding, and 16) Exceptional: Adjectives like these that self-evaluate skill and performance are subjective (your opinion), and add no value. If you're an "outstanding" team player or have "exceptional" people skills, remove the adjective and replace it with a KPI or example that proves it. Same goes for "excellent," "proven," "demonstrable" and the like.
- 17) References Available Upon Request: Another template favorite, this standardized ending is a real throw-back. Recruiters will assume you have references prepared, and will expect you to provide them when asked, so there's no need to waste valuable real estate on this.
While this list is not exhaustive (there are other items that crop up from time to time), my colleagues and I were in agreement that these are the worst offenders. If you'd like to improve your chances of getting selected for interviews, review your current resume to see how many of these terms appear, and make changes sooner rather than later.