Thursday, July 09, 2009

Deadly Phrases on Your Resume?

The following over-used resume phrases are “ones to seek out and destroy in your resume as soon as possible,” according to Liz Ryan's post 10 Boilerplate Phrases That Kill Resumes.
Results-oriented professional
Cross-functional teams
More than [x] years of progressively responsible experience
Superior (or excellent) communication skills
Strong work ethic
Met or exceeded expectations
Proven track record of success
Works well with all levels of staff
Team player
Bottom-line orientation

Liz's post created quite a stir amongst career counselors and resume writers on Twitter, LinkedIn, and private emails. Hats off to you, Liz, for bringing up this topic!

Following are comments I've gathered from the chatter, including my own.

My thoughts:
If you're having trouble coming up with an original knockout phrase and feel you must resort to one of the overused resume phrases on that list, don't resist... on the first draft of your resume, that is. Then do your level best to reword the hackneyed phrase so it paints the picture of how you'll use that qualification on the job mentioned in your job objective.

For example, if you’re a teacher you probably want to convey that you have “excellent communication skills,” a must for any good teacher. So write that ho-hum phrase in your Summary of Qualifications section and then rewrite it to say exactly what communication skills you will use as a teacher (perhaps something like: “Classroom teaching style that works well for students with different learning styles and from diverse cultural backgrounds.”).

The latter phrase capitalizes on your resume real estate by addressing an obvious job requirement (good communication), and makes the potential employer envision you as a valuable educator - hopefully at his school! That's the kind of marketing your resume should achieve, line-by-line.

Ronnie Ann at Work Coach Cafe:
Sometimes when we read articles, we are given absolutes. It’s a much more exciting way to write than “maybe you should do this or maybe you should do that.” But there are very few absolutes in the world of job hunting. If you wind up using one or two of these dreaded phrases, you can most likely still land the interview. These are just reminders not to let your resume be filled with empty crap. Substance over trite is always a good way to go. But please don’t be scared if you’ve already sent out resumes with one of the forbidden ten (or any of their cousins). In the majority of cases, they are not deal breakers. (Now if the whole resume is like that…ouch!)

Paula Wagner of LifeWork Careers:
I agree in general about avoiding those 10 hackneyed resume phrases. But I also think it's actually a bit more complicated than that, since those are often the very phrases used in job descriptions. So if these are code phrases, a candidate has to address them. And they do have meaning on the job! Imagine, for example, if the candidate hired didn't have these skills.

The trick is not use them as stand-alones, but rather demonstrate clearly and succinctly how they actually fulfill the job requirements. This can be done quite easily by linking the phrases with hard evidence of achievements (e.g. sales %, time and $$ saved, projects managed, clients' lives improved, etc.). In other words, if you breathe fresh life into these phrases by naming and claiming them as your own, they should regain their original meaning on your resume. (And the hiring manager or recruiter will hopefully feel refreshed enough to set up an interview right away!)

Maureen Nelson, Career Counselor, Oakland PIC One Stop Career Center, EastBayWorks:
I'm not going to stop my clients from putting their years of experience in their profile paragraphs, nor discourage them from using "increasingly responsible" if they've gotten promoted several times at the same place.

I think I will fold this list into my "Top 10 Tips to Avoid Cookie-Cutter Resumes" handout. I've had people come in with nothing but these phrases as their "Objective." They're the people who need to know how meaningless these phrases have become. There are other ways to convey the same thoughts, tying them to their experience.


ICT said...

Very often, your cover letter will be the first thing that a recruiter looks at when he sits down to do that all-important first sift. It is your first opportunity to leave a lasting and favorable impression and as such it should work every bit as hard as your resume, if not more so, to convince him that you are the best match for the job. Remember, the employer is looking for a really outstanding candidate and if your cover letter is in any way sub-standard or does nothing to tempt him into reading your resume, then he will not waste any further time on your application.

Willr said...

It seems to me that most recruiters/HR folks are NOT reading cover letters anymore (at least as part of the screen). If you had 200 resumes and cover-letters in front of you, how would you likely go through them? If you are like most, you throw out (or ignore) the cover letter and go right to the background/skill match. Why would you even consider starting with the cover letter if you have a large qualified candidate pool?

Will at

Susan Ireland said...

Not all recruiters and hiring manager sift through resumes the same way. However, whether they start with the resume or the cover letter, I believe a cover letter is important.

Think of the resume as a word-picture of you on the job you're applying for. Think of the cover letter as a word-picture of you at the job interview (it gives a sense of your personality and what you want to discuss). The two documents serve two compatible purposes.

It's true that a manager might read an applicant's resume first. But when a resume catches his interest, he's likely to then read the cover letter.

Chef Shane said...

I find it amusing that these are the very same boring, pointless, monotone, meaningless phrases that the HR managers still use to this very day to describe the ideal traits that they look for in their 'ideal candidate' - a rigid and lengthy profile designed to reject many excellent and suitable candidates until they eventually find some idiot that fits every tick box but is probably unsuited to the role.
A better focal point may be to craft the resume to the type of employer you would have the best fit with - and not just for a job.
I have been guilty of, and see so many others, sending CV's for jobs which they would like.
A better solution is to interview the employer rather than have them interview you. Do the research and 'shortlist' the ones who don't carry on like mindless corporate drones with doublespeak, rubbish policy and no imagination or understanding of their candidate base.
JMHO - and BTW, not sour grapes from the unemployed - I have a great job but have been through all of this and realised that the best CV doesn't have a 'format' or list of suitable phrases. It is a document that portrays your individuality, personality and benefit to the employer - an employer who matches your individuality, personality and work skills & attitudes.