Words that Sabotage Your Resume

By Alesia Benedict , CPRW, JCTC

Creating a winning executive resume isn't always easy. The strongest first step you can take is to build a strategy and choose the right words. This may seem simple, but in my experience working with thousands of resumes, one of the most common resume mistakes candidates make is not paying enough attention to strategy and word selection.

When most job candidates write their own resumes, they don't consider word choice. Their primary concern is getting down the basic information. What you might not realize is that verbiage is critical, and the wrong word choice can sabotage your resume.

When writing your resume, it's important to consider your audience. The average recruiter and/or hiring manager sees hundreds of resumes from qualified candidates for any given job opening. Resumes begin to look and sound the same. Using run-of-the-mill wording in your resume hurts your candidacy; you end up fading into the pile of hundreds of others instead of standing out.

Don't let this happen to you! Here are some words and phrases to avoid.

Soft-Skill Descriptions

A lot of job seekers feel they need to communicate their soft-skills to the employer to make them appear unique. There is nothing further from the truth. Soft-skills are claimed by nearly all job candidates and are so common that hiring managers pay no attention to them.
Soft-skill phrases to avoid or severely limit

  • excellent communication skills

  • goal-driven

  • strong work ethic

  • multi-tasker

  • personable presenter

  • goal-oriented

  • detail-oriented

Don't bore your reader with these overused and tired phrases. After all, no one writes that he/she takes long lunches, is lazy, and argues a lot with peers. Hence, it is much more effective to write descriptions that are action-based and demonstrate these abilities rather than just laying claim to them; show, don't tell. For example, rather than just stating you are an "excellent presenter," you could say something like "Developed and presented 50+ multi-media presentations to C-level prospects resulting in 35 new accounts totaling $300,000 in new revenues."

Age, Health, Appearance

Many executives haven't had to write a resume in years. Either they've been promoted progressively from within or have been recruited aggressively by other companies. Now they're facing that scary time known as pre-retirement, and they fear age discrimination. They feel they can counter this perceived hurdle by giving a description of their age or health to "prove" they are not ready for the nursing home! But rather than helping your resume, this approach significantly hurts it. Not only are you toying with hiring laws, but you also make the very issue you are trying to hide stand out in neon letters.

Age, health, appearance phrases to avoid:

  • young

  • energetic

  • youthful

  • athletic

  • fit

  • healthy

  • professional appearance

  • mature

I recently saw the following on a resume: "Healthy, young-at-heart executive ready to make a difference rather than play golf all day. Trim, fit marathon runner seeks position as National Sales Director." This person might as well have written "57 year old male terrified of age discrimination and worried that he'll be passed over for a younger candidate". While being a marathon runner is an accomplishment at any age, it doesn't belong on your resume.

Passive Voice

Many people write in passive voice because it's how we've been taught to write "formally." This habit-driven writing style is prevalent in self-written resumes. The problem with passive voice is that it is just that - passive! A resume needs to have punch and sparkle and communicate an active, aggressive candidate. You can't achieve that while using the passive voice.

Phrases indicative of the passive voice:

  • responsible for

  • duties included

  • served as

  • actions encompassed

Rather than saying "Responsible for management of three direct reports," change it to "Managed 3 direct reports." It is a shorter, more direct mode of writing and adds impact to the way the resume reads.
On the other hand, while action verbs are great, be sure you don't overdo it.

Here are some over-the-top phrases I have actually seen on executive resumes:

  • smashed numbers through the roof

  • electrified sales team to produce

  • pushed close rate by 10%

Remember to keep your resume professional. Don't go overboard trying to use phrases with shock value!

Myers-Briggs and DISC Profiles.

Many job seekers have gone through personality and style profiles such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or the DISC Profile. While the results from these evaluations can be invaluable to the job seeker for evaluating an opportunity in terms of "fit", employers and recruiters are more interested in performance results. Do not inadvertently "pigeon-hole" yourself by including your profile results in the resume.

Carefully Considered Word Choice

A resume is a marketing document for your career just as a brochure is a marketing document for a product or service. Companies put careful thought and consideration into each and every word that goes into marketing copy and you should do the same in your resume. These words represent you to the recruiter when you cannot be there to speak for yourself, so they need to showcase you in a powerful way. In a perfect world, these things would not matter, but in the reality of job search today, they matter a great deal. Be wise -- stop and give some thought to the words you choose to use.

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