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When you're writing your resume, every word counts. You have a mere two pages to sum up your whole life's work, future ambitions, talents, skills, interests and personality.
That's why it's all the more important not to fill your resume with meaningless filler words.
You know what I'm talking about. If you write in your resume that you're a "hardworking, goal-oriented go-getter with a passion for getting the job done, who works equally well as part of a team or individually..." congratulations, you've just made every Hiring Manager who reads your resume roll their eyes.
Just as in fiction, there are certain cliches and horribly overused phrases (such as starting your novel with "Once upon a time," or "It was a dark and story night"), so too in Human Resources there are certain words and phrases that the Hiring Manager encounters so often that he or she may develop a nervous tic in the eye upon reading them.
The following are some examples of the worst offenders, as rated by real HR people.
1. "Thinks outside the box."
Have you ever played Meeting Buzzword Bingo to keep yourself awake though one of those three-hour-long company meetings that really should have been a three-line email? Anything to do with 'The Box' is considered corporate lingo, and tops the list in every list of cliches.
So whether you think outside of the Box, way outside of the Box, or so far outside the Box that you're now in a completely different Box zone - just don't mention the Box, unless you want your potential new boss to think you're a time-traveler from 1982, when that phrase was considered new and exciting.
Just for fun, here are some more Buzzword Bingo terms to while away the time during that next corporate snooze-fest:
Drop the Ball
Out of the Loop
2. "Detail-oriented/ Strong attention to detail."
Writing this in your resume is almost like setting a challenge for the hiring boss to get out a magnifying glass and trawl through your resume, carefully looking for mistakes. It's a popular game that bored HR Managers like to play. One tiny mistake after making this pronouncement - an apostrophe in the wrong place, a missing capital letter in a company name - and you lose your side of the game, which gives the Manager a free pass to toss out your resume.
3. "I'm an enthusiastic/ passionate/ go-getting/ charismatic/ spark-plug of a person."
Even if you are indeed that wildly amazingly brilliant fiery person that you have so elegantly described in your adjective-stuffed resume, writing such fluff will bring one thought to every hiring manager's mind: "Says WHO?"
In other words, anyone with fingers and a keyboard can describe themselves in wildly dynamic terms. The most timid mouse of a person can write they have the courage of a lion, but that doesn't make it so in real life. If you feel compelled to describe yourself in flowery terms to your potential new boss, make sure you qualify each adjective with a real-life example telling them when you actually demonstrated that quality:
"Brave: I journeyed to the heart of the Amazon and survived both malaria and a major Monsoon season to pitch our company's services to XYZ company."
"Passionate: In my single-minded drive to save every dog at our animal shelter, I printed and hand-delivered 10,000 fliers for our adoption event, then drove 200 miles to deliver the last few dogs to their new homes."
"Customer-Service-Oriented: In response to a complaint from an elderly gentleman regarding our product, I made a personal visit to his house and stayed five hours not only making sure the product (which he had broken trying to fix) was replaced and tested, but an extra product was installed, which I personally paid for to make up for his inconvenience. We now have a very happy customer."
4. "Works well in a team or individually."
Your heart is in the right place, but unfortunately this phrase, which is meant to assure the company of your adaptability, has been so over-used that it now means nothing. You may as well write, "Works well at a desk or in a cubical" - "Works well with tall people or short people" - "Works well with both cat lovers and dog lovers."
Get the point? Ditch the phrase.
5. "Responsible for..."Everyone with a job is responsible for something. It goes without saying. The guy who sells donuts is responsible for donut sales. Responsible is a passive word, heavily laden with a dreary, pedestrian quality. Being responsible sounds so tiresomely dull, and is worryingly close to that other resume cliche, 'Duty.'
How to replace this over-used and snore-inducing phrase? Pick an action word (a word ending in '--ed') and add it to the start of the sentence instead, along with some impressive figures to make your responsibilities sound exciting.
NO: "Responsible for donut sales"
YES: "Achieved donut sales of 35% above company average."
NO: "Responsible for customer service."
YES: "Exceeded customer service goals 2 years running."
6. "Excellent track record/ Amazing results-oriented salesman/ Fantastic communicator."
Any self-praising sentences should be stripped out, for reasons given above. Your work should speak for itself on your resume, and if it doesn't, you haven't done a good enough job in presenting it.
If you remove the self-given words of praise from the above three phrases, they can be easily re-written to speak for themselves:
"Track record that includes over $2M of profits in my first 2 years at the company."
"Results-oriented salesman who doubled the profits of the previous year in every global sales territory."
"Official company communicator in charge of all external and internal corporate communications."
7. "Strong work ethic."
The person who's potentially hiring you certainly hopes so, but how do you prove that without adding this over-used cliche to your resume?
Try describing a particularly productive streak you had, or give details of a project you worked on where you went above and beyond. This will impress your new boss more than just telling them that you're a hard worker.
8. "I am seeking a job/ career/ company/ position as a..."
It's been drilled into us over the years that we have to start our resume in this way, but you know what also lets the company know you're seeking a job? The fact that they're holding your resume in their hands.
Skip this whole section and start with a bullet-pointed summary of your 3-4 biggest career achievements. Blow them away, right out of the starting gate, and you'll be off to a stronger start than most of your competitors.
The word 'professional' can be applied to anything under the sun, and will still mean nothing. It's the resume equivalent of fluffing up your feathers. "Professional photographer." "Professional pancake maker." "Professional door-knob polisher." "Professional road-kill picker-upper."
Unless you have an actual paper certificate that calls you a professional something, such as in the case of required medical or IT training that you have had to take a course to pass - or if you have 20+ years of experience that will automatically qualify you as a 'real' one of whatever job title you have - don't call yourself a professional. Show them you're a professional by presenting an amazing resume.
10. "References available upon request."
The biggest cliche of the lot. Every resume on the planet has this meaningless phrase typed at the bottom, and yes, meaningless it is. If a company wants references to support your application (an outdated practice, but that's another story), you can bet your bottom teeth they will go ahead and ask anyway. Why waste space telling your new employer they can ask you something they are probably going to ask you anyway?
Trash it and instead replace it with one or two choice LinkedIn Recommendation quotes. If you're not on LinkedIn, you can ask two or three friends at your current job (ideally friends with impressive job titles such as those on VP or Executive levels) to write you a two or three line performance review, which ideally would go something along the lines of:
"(Name) is a wonderful person to work with. She is always the first one at work and the last one to leave. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend her to another company."
Put these 'mini-reviews' at the end of your resume, along with the person's name, job title and contact email, and bingo! You've saved the company the job of requesting your references.
Tune in next week for more fun resume (and cover-letter) tips. Same time, same place!