10 Words to Avoid on Resumes

Written by on May 19, 2014 in Blog, Careers, resume tips, Resumes with 6 Comments

10 Words to Avoid on Resumes

Man trying to decide which words to avoid on resumesDo you struggle deciding which words to use on your resume? Many people do, which prompted me to write this article.

I did another post on impact words for resumes, and also one about how powerful words can be in all of your writing. Today, we’ll explore the opposite side, and talk about the words you want to avoid on resumes.
Resumes are rife with clichés and tired words that mean nothing. When gatekeepers read a resume, they gloss over those words as they try to find something interesting. If you don’t believe me, do a search on the internet for “words to avoid on your resume” or something to that effect. You’ll find a fairly long list.

What’s the Problem

The problem with these words/phrases—besides the fact that they find their way into almost 80% of all resumes—is that they aren’t believable. That’s right. No one will put any faith in what you say about yourself. And for good reason—what else would you say?

This subject could take up several chapters in a book, but I think the chart below should give you a good example of why I say this. You should get the gist of it.

10 Worst Words to Put on Resumes

Phrases Used on Resumes Maybe you should say this instead?
results-oriented I get nothing done
motivated low energy
self-starter I need to be prodded
detail-oriented I let things slip through the cracks
hardworking I’m a slacker
team player impossible to work with
excellent communication skills barely literate
strong leader ineffectual oaf
out-of-the-box thinker can’t think my way out of a box
innovative haven’t had an original thought in years

Didn’t like my ideas of what to say instead?

If that didn’t suit you, perhaps you should consider a new strategy. After all, you said you were a out-of-the-box thinker. I’ve included a few examples to give you an idea. (We don’t have enough space to go into detail for all of them.)

Team player

Besides being a tired, old phrase, this falls into the “show, don’t tell” rule. You can tell someone all day long that you’re a team player, but if you don’t know them they’re not going to believe you. You have to show that you’re a team player through your actions. So instead of saying you’re a “team player” show the gatekeeper something you did demonstrating that you are a team player.

Developed and set up a program to train new engineers in the use of SolidWorks.

Results oriented

Instead of telling the gatekeeper you are “results oriented,” show her.

Designed and implemented a new quality system that improved yields by 13% in less than six months.

How to Fix Your Resume

  • A good rule to remember is this:
    1. Unless your resume backs up the words you’re using to describe yourself, don’t use them.
    2. And if your resume backs up those words, then you don’t need to use them, because you’ll be redundant.

    In other words, don’t use them.

  • A better rule to remember—don’t use adjectives to describe yourself.
  • And an even better rule—don’t ever describe yourself. There’s no reason to.

You should never have to describe yourself on a resume. It’s far better to let your accomplishments show who you are. State your name at the top then detail your work history and accomplishments. That’s it.

BTW: If you use these words because you think they’ll function as good keywords and help you with the ATS (Applicant Tracking Systems), think again. The technology that drives the systems is moving forward, and the AI (Artificial Intelligence) is becoming so advanced that it not only recognizes which keywords are useless, it also takes into account the words surrounding real keywords to counteract the common practice of “keyword stuffing.” (I’ll be covering that in another post.)

If you enjoyed this post, please share. And if you really want a resume that won’t get tossed in the trash, check out our resume services.

Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of gritty crime dramas about murder, mystery, and family. And he also writes non-fiction books including the No Mistakes Careers series.

He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 45 loving “friends.”

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About the Author

About the Author: When I’m not headhunting, or writing, I help my wife take care of our animal sanctuary. At last count we had 45 animals—11 dogs, 1 horse, 6 cats, and 26 pigs. Oh, and one crazy—and very large—wild boar named Dennis who takes walks with me every day and happens to also be my best buddy. For information on my mystery/suspense books, go to giacomog.com .

6 Reader Comments

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  1. avatar Stefan Talley

    Could not agree more with you about the words, I review a lot of resume and when I see those words on there I wanted to scream. One thing I tell people is to used Action Verbs showing your accomplishments and not just your job description, do things that make you stand out.

    • avatar giammatteo

      Stefan, you’re right. I think a lot of people simply use words and phrases that they’ve seen over and over, but they don’t give much thought to “how does this sound?”

      thanks for stopping by.

  2. avatar T.K. says:

    Thank you for this page and your other pages about resumes. It’s interesting to me that a lot of what I read in your resume advice makes me go “Huh! That’s different that advice I’ve seen in most other places.”

    It’s funny; I’m back on the job market after being unemployed for a couple years and then in school for a few years after that, and I’m appalled that my resume got me hired for all my prior jobs. I was proud of it and spent many hours tweaking and improving it after each job, but looking at it now I realize there’s so much wrong with it! Age/experience and design school will do that to one’s perspective I suppose 🙂

  3. avatar T.K. says:

    Also, I know these likely fit into your guidelines but I think these would make good runners-up to the Top 10:

    Strong Work Ethic
    Fast Learner
    Multi-Tasker / Multi-Tasking

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