Resume Tip Tuesday: the Best and Worst Words to Use in Your Resume

Posted January 10, 2017

Welcome back to Resume Tip Tuesday! Come to CareerBliss every Tuesday for a brand new resume tip to help you in your job search. Check out the archive for resume tips galore!


Best Resume Words

We all understand the importance of a cover letter when applying for a job - its purpose is to make our application stand out from the crowd, to grab the attention of the recruiter and to persuade them to go on to read our resume rather than consigning it to the trash.

But how many of us put the same care and thought into choosing the exact words we use in our resumes? It's all too easy to assume that once we've passed the initial hurdle of getting our resume into the recruiter’s hands, we are well on our way to - at the very least - an invitation to an interview. There are, however, a plethora of pitfalls to avoid before that interview is even a remote possibility. The words you choose can help you steer clear of most of them.

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Memorize These Two Words: Clarity and Evidence

The two most important things to remember when composing your resume is that a) it should highlight your abilities in clear, unambiguous language, and that b), all achievements and accomplishments to which you lay claim should be backed up by evidence.

Therefore, all those generic words and phrases so commonly used in resumes, but which actually say nothing informative about you, must be avoided at all costs. At best these words are a waste of valuable resume space. At worst, they can provoke a knee-jerk reaction in the recruiter that inspires them to instantly put down your resume and pick up the next one on their pile.

All recruiters will have their own personal pet peeves when it comes to words and phrases they encounter all the time, so here are just a few of the main culprits which you should refrain from using:

Avoid These Clichéd Words and Phrases ‘Like the Plague’

‘Goal-driven.’ This is a meaningless expression, as every task you perform at work is supposed to help you achieve a goal, and move towards an eventual result. Just think how meaningless it would be if a soccer or basketball player were to use this phrase, when it's perfectly obvious what drives soccer players to kick the ball up and down the field!

‘Detail-oriented.’ Every employee in every occupation we can think of is expected to pay close attention to the details of their job - if they don't they are not doing their job properly. Cut this out.

‘Strong work ethic.’ Good for you - but what's the alternative? Trying to avoid working hard? Having a weak work ethic? Employers take it as a given that everyone they employ will at least pretend to work hard during their contracted hours.

‘Motivated.’ Or even worse, ‘Self-motivated.’ Again, this is merely stating the obvious - the only alternative is to be unmotivated, so there is no point in mentioning it.

‘Team player.’ This is often combined with ‘Independent worker’, as in, "I can work equally well as part of a team and independently on my own." This says absolutely nothing and is just a waste of paper. Think how funny it would sound if you described any other action like this: “I can walk equally well in a crowd, and also walk independently alone.” Or how about “I can eat spaghetti equally well with other people at the table, or independently when sitting alone.” Got the point? Hit 'delete.'

‘Synergetic.’ A fancy way of saying ‘Team-player.’ A great word to use to make any recruiter over the age of 21 cringe.

‘Excellent communication skills.’ Far too general. Do you mean you're good at talking? Or emailing? Or Tweeting political memes? Every skill you claim to possess needs to be backed up by evidence, otherwise it’s just what is referred to in the legal industry as an unsubstantiated claim. So in order to prove your excellence in communication, you would need to provide an example of a time when you used this skill to benefit your company or to achieve a result.

Powerful Words to Enhance Your Resume

Most recruiters and potential employers will evaluate you as much on the way you express yourself as on the information you provide. Therefore, it is vital to strengthen your resume by using positive, assertive and powerful language.

Of course it is very important not to exaggerate - you may get away with it in a resume but you will certainly be found out in an interview. On the other hand, you may be perfectly justified in singing your own praises, but make sure you clearly back up all the skills and achievements you list on your resume with firm evidence.

Here are a few examples of strong ‘action’ words to use:

  • Created
  • Implemented
  • Launched
  • Directed
  • Expedited
  • Facilitated
  • Accomplished
  • Formulated
  • Generated
  • Completed
  • Negotiated
  • Liaised (take care when spelling this!)

You should use positive action words such as these to create strong statements which highlight and demonstrate your skills and achievements. Note that these words are in the past tense: this is important as it emphasizes that you have already achieved some notable accomplishments and successes.

How to Add Life to Your Words

Say, for example, that you led a team on a project. Rather than merely saying "led" or "managed", emphasize your leadership skills by using more involved and dynamic words such as "coordinated", "mentored", "mobilized".

Did you hit your target or achieve your goals ahead of time? Draw attention to the fact by using words such as "attained", "outperformed", "surpassed". Did you bring your department's accounting system out of the Dark Ages and into the world of cloud-based software updates? Accentuate the impact of your amazing changes with words like "revitalized", "streamlined", "transformed".

In other words, be creative with the language you use. Don't settle for the same tired old words and stock phrases which recruiters and employers have heard countless times before. You need to catch the hiring manager's eye and grab their attention by making your resume more exciting, more imaginative, more compelling than anyone else’s.

As long as you have actually achieved the results which you are describing, don't hesitate to ensure that the language in which you describe them does justice to your talents and to your triumphs.

A Final Tip….

The biggest insider tip we are allowed to give you is to look closely at the job description for the role you are applying for. This will give you a list of the key skills and attributes which the company is looking for in their perfect candidate – in other words, the keywords.

So make sure you write down as many of the employer's keywords as you can, then use your talent with language (and, if necessary, a thesaurus!) to weave them creatively into your resume. Then sit back and await the results!


Tune in next Tuesday for more great resume, cover letter and interview tips! Same time, same place!

photo of The CareerBliss Team

The CareerBliss Team

CareerBliss cares about your career happiness. That's why we offer a variety of great tools and resources to help you make better-informed career decisions. We believe that if you're happier at work, you'll be happier in life! Check out company reviews, salary information, career advice and, of course, millions of jobs on CareerBliss and choose happy today!

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