The most cringe-worthy and overused resume buzzwords

Ghina Fahs
April 12, 2023
The most cringe-worthy and overused resume buzzwords
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Okay, hear us out. Think of how many emails, job applications, and resumes HR people have to sift through on a daily basis. Now, think of how many times they’re reading “results-driven professional” or “dynamic, transformational thought leader” over and over again. We hate to say it, but most of the time, reading these lines will have their eyes rolling right over to the next resume in the stack.

While it’s true, much of this business jargon has been increasingly popular (especially on LinkedIn), using them doesn’t always mean you’ll get to where you’re trying to go. In fact, even though you mean well, sometimes the use of these phrases can be counterproductive and dull the shine of your individuality.

When you’re presenting yourself through writing, whether it’s on your resume, a cover letter, or an email, stand out from the crowd by choosing the words that authentically represent who you are, along with your talents, capabilities, skills, and passions—not the words everyone else is using. By all means, use the right terms in the right context, but avoid using them unnecessarily or choosing words and phrases that are just too overused.

It's also important to remember that while these terms may be useful in describing your skills and abilities, it's better to provide specific examples and evidence to back up your claims. This will make your application less generic and demonstrate your qualifications in a more concrete way.

Here’s what to avoid, and what you can do or say instead:

“Excellent communicator” or “excellent communication skills”

Don't waste precious space on your application to brag about things that you can show during the interview process. Communication skills are needed for every job to some extent, so employers won't assume you don't have them just because you didn't mention them.

When you get to the job interview, that's when you can really show off your communication skills. Employers will ask you specific questions to see how you function within a team and handle pressure. So, leave the discussion of soft skills for the interview and focus on your tangible accomplishments in your resumes and cover letters—proof points and all.

“Results-oriented,” “results-driven,” or “proven ability to deliver results”

Ah, the classic resume buzzwords. It's not that these phrases are inherently bad, it's just that they've been used so much that they've lost their impact.

Think about it: every candidate wants to show they can get results, so just saying it doesn't really differentiate you from the pack. So, what should you do instead? The key is to provide concrete examples of the results you've achieved in previous roles. Use specific numbers, percentages, and data to illustrate how you've made a real impact. Without real numbers and evidence, these are just buzzwords that will drift right over the hiring manager’s head.

“Ability to excel in fast-paced environments”

Another one of those resume phrases that's been done to death. Sure, being able to work in a fast-paced environment is important in many jobs, but just saying it doesn't really make you stand out from the hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of other applicants that are saying the same thing!

What should you do instead? Well, rather than using a generic phrase, you could provide an example of a specific time at work where you were able to achieve targets or perform well under pressure.

“Accomplished professional,” or any statement that includes the word “professional”

Instead of using the same old tired word, switch it up with the job title you're actually aiming for, like customer service manager, project manager, or chief executive officer—you get the gist.

Being more specific is key because it'll give the hiring manager a better idea of your skills and experience, and how they might be transferable to a new gig. Plus, using those exact job titles might help you stand out if the employer is searching for specific keywords related to the job description and responsibilities.

“Team player”

Look, we all want to work with someone who's easy to get along with, but this phrase has become so cliché it's lost its meaning. Instead, describe how you collaborate with others or share some anecdotes about a successful team project you've been a part of, and take advantage of the interview process to show off your team player mentality through the way you communicate. Ditch the actual terminology and instead, use specific examples to highlight this particular strength.

“Seasoned/dynamic/transformational thought leader”

While they may seem impressive and attention-grabbing at first, these terms have become a little too predictable—not to mention they’re annoyingly braggy. Unless, of course, you’re actually a leading or globally influential voice or subject matter expert.

Instead, try to showcase your leadership qualities through concrete examples and stories. Talk about specific projects you've led, challenges you've overcome, and goals you've achieved.

And why don’t you try brainstorming some creative, out-of-the-box ways to describe yourself and your achievements? Who knows, maybe you'll come up with the next big buzzword!

Remember, show more than tell

By giving specific examples of your achievements, showcasing your soft skills during the interview process, and showing up as your unique, authentic self, you're showing the hiring manager exactly what you bring to the table and how you can help their organization achieve its goals. So, ditch the ever-present buzzwords and don’t be afraid to show them what you’re really about. Good luck out there!

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