Work & Career
16 Words and Phrases You Should Never Have on Your Resume
Leaving weak words and phrases on your resume takes up valuable space. Here’s what to delete—and what to add—to improve your chances of landing the job.
References available upon request
If the job application already required you to submit contact information for your contacts, there’s no need to repeat your willingness to share. In fact, your “willingness” could seem like a red flag. “The notion that you would refuse to produce a reference if requested is a toxic one,” says Nate Masterson, human resources director for Maple Holistics. Use that valuable space on your resume to brag about your accomplishments instead. Here are some more secrets HR won’t tell you about your resume.
The most attractive job applicants have turned their responsibilities into successes, and your resume is there to back that up, says Natalya Khaykis, career expert with ZipJob. For instance, change “Responsible for establishing online marketing campaigns to increase sales” to “Increased revenue by 21% by establishing new paid marketing channels which included Google Adwords and Facebook Ads,” Khaykis suggests. Specific examples of what you’ve “implemented,” “improved,” or “achieved” show you don’t just do your job—you excel at it.
An “objective” section looks like a useful way to prove you’re gung-ho about a position, but it’s just a waste of space—and might even work against you, says Bruce Hurwitz, PhD, executive recruiter and career counselor with Hurwitz Strategic Staffing. “If the Objective lists the title for the job for which the person is applying, the recipient will think the applicant changes it for each job. In other words, it is meaningless,” he says. “If it is different, the recipient might think the person does not really want the job.” The reader already figures the job lines up with your career goals, so don’t do anything to make him or her question your seriousness about the position. Check out these 20 words you should never put in a cover letter, too.
There’s nothing wrong with buzzwords like “innovative,” “disruptor,” or “thinks outside the box,” as long as you have proof, says Debra Mastic, CEO of Virtual Resume Coach. For instance, highlight how sales boomed after you made a drastic change to the company’s strategy. A solid example will showcase that not only are you creative, but your ideas can bring actual benefits.
“You should be driven by results. Otherwise, why would you be working?” says Jennifer Magas, vice president of Magas Media Consultants. You’re better off outlining those brag-worthy results that have kept you motivated. Have you surpassed the goals your manager made for you? Implemented a program that brought in extra revenue? Those results speak for themselves. Check out more tips to write a resume that will get you hired.
If your experience with Office is limited to Word, the fact that you used the program to create your job application speaks for itself, says Andrew Selepak, PhD, telecommunication professor and director of the social media graduate program at the University of Florida. Plus, you might be lying about your skills without realizing it. “While most people put Microsoft Office, they don’t actually know how to use the complete Office Suite including how to make a PowerPoint or how to calculate and manipulate data in Excel,” says Dr. Selepak. If you really can use the entire Microsoft Office Suite, though, you should include that if the job posting mentions it, says Mastic. Include the keyword in the context of an accomplishment, like how you used Excel to analyze key metrics for your company, she says.
“My definition of ‘great,’ ‘big,’ or ‘very’ might not be the same as yours,” says Mary Fox, co-founder and CEO of executive career coach platform Marlow. “Paint a picture with exact experience, making sure to use data wherever possible.” For instance, instead of saying you drove a “huge amount” of traffic to your company’s website, specify that you spearheaded a campaign to bring in a 200 percent growth in visitors, driving revenue up 150 percent, suggests Fox. See how much more compelling that is?
Own the fact that you’d make a valuable asset to the company. “You are not selling a dining room table on Craigslist where you will take the best offer,” says Laura Poisson, president of leadership development and career coaching firm ClearRock. The company will likely already have a salary cap in mind but won’t be surprised if you negotiate. Don’t sell yourself short by suggesting you’ll take any offer. Find out the 17 soft skills most attractive to employers.
Strong leadership skills
Your resume is meant to prove your skills, so make sure it backs up your claims. “Just because you have keywords of ‘leadership’ doesn’t mean you’re a great leader,” says Mastic. While you can—and should—highlight those skills, provide examples to prove it’s not just in your head. For instance, specifying that 12 of your direct reports have been promoted demonstrates you are great at shaping those under you. Same goes for any other soft skills you claim to have, from “excellent communication” to “detail-oriented.”
Proven track record
OK, so you have a “proven track record”—now where are your numbers backing up that claim? “If you want to showcase your track record, give a list of accomplishments or actions that outline your track record,” says Magas. Don’t miss the words you should be adding to your resume to make it stand out.
Summaries tend to list those soft skills and vague descriptions you now know to keep off your resume, so leave the self-praise section off, says Hurwitz. “No employer cares what an applicant thinks of themselves,” he says. “Employers only want to know what an applicant has done for other employers.” Replace the summary with “Select Accomplishments,” using a few bullet points to highlight your biggest, most relevant achievements, Hurwitz suggests. Those proven successes will immediately catch the reader’s eye.
Watch out for acronyms your company uses but that others might not, says executive recruiter and coach Suzanne O’Brien. Even if the abbreviation is standard in your industry, spell it out if you’re switching careers or aren’t 100 percent confident the reader will know what you’re talking about—a hiring manager won’t take the time to look up words on your resume. Also, double check your resume for words that are specific to your current job and not the one you’re applying for so the reader doesn’t need to connect the dots for you, says O’Brien. “If you’re interested in moving from a marketing role in higher education to a marketing role in the travel industry, you’ll want to reference ‘consumers’ or ‘customers’ instead of ‘students’ on your resume,” she says. Find out how to secretly apply for jobs while you’re still employed.
Willing to try…
You might be excited to try a new responsibility, but don’t mention the specific tasks your “quick learning” could help you learn. Not only does it highlight gaps in your skill set, but it could actually imply laziness instead of eagerness. “Expressing a willingness to try specific things suggests that there are tasks and responsibilities at which you would balk,” says Masterson. “You should be open to anything and everything in order to get the job.” If you’re applying, the hiring manager assumes you’re willing to do everything the job description requires.
Email or phone
Simply include your phone number and email at the top of your resume, without including the word “phone” or “email,” says Poisson. It will already be obvious what they are. Use these 10 savvy ways to become indispensable at work and let the compliments roll in.
Practically any employee works on a team in some capacity, but if your interpersonal skills are particularly strong, find examples to prove it, says Mastic. These won’t necessarily be number-driven, so you might need to get creative. Make note of when you’re informally recognized at a meeting or when co-workers make a flattering comment about how easy you are to work with, she suggests. Those quotes will show your team agrees you’re a team player—and that’s what matters.
“Your resume should zero in on your field of interest, detailing the path you’ve taken and the extra steps you’ve made to stand out,” says Magas. As a potential employer is reading through it, the fact that you’re a passionate, motivated, go-getter should be obvious. Next, don’t miss these other nine resume mistakes that could cost you the job.