Many people think that the bigger the word you use the better it sounds. They seem to equate the number of syllables, or scarcity of word usage to sounding scholarly. What these people don’t understand is that the trick is not to find the biggest word, but the word that works best in that situation.
I was reviewing a resume the other night and the person had used the word “utilize” eight times in a two-page resume. Let’s not even talk about the number of times; instead, let’s discuss utilize and whether it should be used on resumes.
The definition of utilize is below:
uti·lize transitive verb \ˈyü-tə-ˌlīz\
- : to use (something) for a particular purpose
Examples From Resumes
(BTW, I had 548 resumes that had utilize on them.)
- Able to utilize PC-based software including: Word, Excel, and Microsoft Project.
- Utilize Pro Engineer tools for all mechanical designs.
- Seeking a challenging manufacturing position to utilize my diversified experience and qualifications.
In all of these cases we could have substituted used for utilized and not only would we have saved space, it would have sounded less pretentious. In fact, if you search the Internet for pretentious words used in business, you’ll likely run across our friend utilize in one or two of the lists. But utilize is far from a lone offender. Business writing, and resumes in particular, are rife with examples.
Consider these gems pulled from resumes.
- A drug being developed by XYZ Co. is expected to commence Phase II clinical testing in 2014.
- Focuses on the overall picture to ascertain needs and goals, identify difficulties, and design effective…
- Hired outside contract engineer to finalize the drawings.
- Facilitated transition of product line from…
In each of these statements, the person would have been better off using a simpler word. Instead of…
- Commence—use begin
- Ascertain—use determine
- Finalize—finish or complete
- Facilitated—helped or eased
Resumes are not the place to practice your vocabulary. This is not a contest to see who can send the gatekeeper to the dictionary first or most often.
Resist the urge to use big words. Never pull out a thesaurus. And make sure you’re not being redundant. Simple is good when it comes to word choice.
Here’s another suggestion—any time that you think you’re being clever or smart by using a word that will wow someone. Stop! Look at the word you used. Is it the best word? Does it say exactly what you want? Can you find a better, simpler word to use? If you can, do it.
Nobody is ever going to look at your writing and think, he should have used “commence” instead of “begin.” Or, she could have replaced “used” with “utilized.” I promise you. It will never happen. But the flip side of that might, and will, happen. So do yourself a favor. Take a hard look at your resume, and all of your writing. Seek out the $2 words, and replace them with 50c ones. You, and whoever is reading your resume/email/contract or any other document, will be happy you did.
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Two-Dollar Words – download pdf