Writing your résumé can be an overwhelming task, to say the least. After all, you’re supposed to compress your professional skills and achievements into one or two pages in a way that makes employers want to hire you on the spot.
But, no matter how awesome your experience, qualifications and accomplishments all look on paper, the language you use to present yourself as a viable candidate can do more harm than good.
Here are the 20 worst, most overused, and inappropriate words and phrases you should never put on your résumé!
What exactly is it that motivates you to get out of bed each morning, go to work and do your job? Is it the money, perhaps? You know, the money you need to pay your rent and bills? Saying that you’re a ‘motivated individual’ gives hiring managers no insight whatsoever into your work ethic, which is probably what you were hoping to highlight here. A much better way to do this would be to say something along the lines of: ‘Motivated to expand my learning horizons and competencies’.
Yawn. Words like ‘creative’ and ‘innovative’ have been so overused that they’ve lost all meaning. Besides, describing yourself this way is your opinion and allows an employer to learn nothing about you. Sure, having creativity is a good thing, but you don’t have to be so cocky about it. A much better way to use this word would be: ‘Worked alongside a team of creative people’ – this essentially links you to creativity without tooting your own horn so loudly.
One of the main reasons employers hire people is because they expect them to see a project through to the end and accomplish the results they had set out to do. Otherwise, why bother? Why hire someone who only does their job halfway and then gives up? In other words, this particular phrase is redundant on a résumé. You could, of course, talk about a target you exceeded or an important deadline you met, but whatever you do, try to avoid saying you’re ‘results-driven’.
4. Extensive Experience
Saying that you have ‘extensive experience’ or that you’re ‘highly qualified’ won’t necessarily make you seem better suited for the job you’re applying for. On the contrary, it might have the opposite effect. Generally speaking, these are filler words and don’t add any value to your professional background. Another phrase you should avoid is ‘seasoned professional’; it makes you seem much, much older than what you probably are and it also conjures up images of barbequed steak.
5. Team Player
Employers want to hire people who are easy to get along with and who are able to collaborate and communicate effectively with others. In other words, they’re looking for team players. The trick here, though, is to show – not tell – you’re one. You can do this by using real-life examples and success stories about collaboration – for example, how you and your team were faced with a looming deadline and came together to deliver the project in a timely and efficient manner.
There are two main reasons why you should never put this on your résumé. One, it doesn’t really say much, unless it’s supported by actual achievements. And two, it becomes all the more comical when your résumé is riddled with spelling mistakes. Essentially, it opens you up to criticism and this, obviously, can be a very bad thing for you.
7. Microsoft Word
Mentioning how proficient you are in software that’s pretty much been around since the dawn of the internet and used by practically everyone is far from impressive. As technology is constantly changing, you’ll want to show how up-to-date you are with all the latest software, so try to use other examples of more specialised programs that are related to the role you’re applying to.
8. Track Record
Doesn’t your résumé essentially act as an overview of your track record for your professional experience and accomplishments? You need to be a little more specific about your ‘proven track record’ by actually providing cold, hard evidence about your outstanding work performance – and you can do this by adding statistics and tangible results to your job descriptions.
Mentioning you’re an honest individual does not quite elicit trust in you. On the contrary, it might make employers suspicious of you and think you’re trying to hide something. Remember that honesty should be a given and not a special talent.
10. Hard Worker
Words like ‘hard worker’ or ‘hardworking’ are simply subjective. Even if you really are a hard worker, stating so on your résumé is not enough to convince an employer to hire you. Besides, it could come across as a gross exaggeration and, therefore, impact your job search in a negative way.
Unless you’re applying for a standup comedian job, you should never put ‘funny’ on your résumé. It’s not professional in the slightest and it will most likely ruin your chances of job search success.
Being punctual is pretty much expected of everyone who has a job and who wants to keep it. There’s really no need to highlight basic things like arriving to work on time. It’s dumb, meaningless and a complete and utter waste of space.
If there are any unexplained gaps in your employment history, employers will deduce that you were unemployed during that time – and there’s really no point drawing more attention than necessary to the fact you were out of work for X amount of weeks or months.
14. Best of Breed
While applying for jobs may often feel like being in a dog show, in which you and dozens of other applicants flaunt yourselves in front of a panel of judges in the hope you’ll win the grand prize (in this case, the job that’s being offered), one way to avoid describing yourself is ‘best of breed’. Besides, anyone can say that they’re ‘best of breed’ – it doesn’t prove anything.
By ‘hobbies’, I mean including unrelated personal interests and activities. Remember, this is a professional document whose sole purpose is to provide recruiters with insight into your skills and achievements – it is no place to talk about your love of hiking or, worse, socialising with friends. Unless they’re relevant to the job you’re applying to, you should leave your hobbies off completely.
16. Communication Skills
Your résumé should be as different as possible from that of the competition. That means avoiding overused words and phrases like ‘communication skills’ which appear on practically every application a recruiter comes across. And what exactly does ‘excellent communication skills’ even mean, anyway? Does it mean you can type an email? Does it mean you’re able to speak? Remember: a well-written résumé will demonstrate your communication abilities, so there’s really no need to highlight them under a heading.
17. Duties Include / Responsible For
Your résumé shouldn’t be a rundown of all your duties and responsibilities. It should, rather, highlight the things you’ve accomplished in the jobs you’ve held. Remember, employers don’t want to read plain, old job descriptions – in fact, they’re most likely familiar with what exactly each position entails.
18. Salary Negotiable
The word ‘salary’ should not be used anywhere on your résumé. It’s just tacky. And combined with the word ‘negotiable’, it’s even tackier. Leave talk of salary expectations for when you receive a job offer – otherwise, you might not even receive one at all. It’s one of the worst things you can ever put on your résumé.
19. References Available Upon Request
It used to be standard protocol to include references or the phrase ‘References available upon request’ on your résumé. The keyword here is ‘used to’. Nowadays, it’s generally discouraged. In fact, it’s viewed as wasting valuable real estate which could instead be better utilised by elaborating on your professional skills and career achievements. Besides, recruiters expect you to have two or three references on standby, so there’s no need to mention that they’re ‘available’. Remember to only supply them when you’re asked for them, though!
20. Curriculum Vitae
Thanks, Captain Obvious! Who would have guessed that the document you submitted along with your job application is your curriculum vitae and not a cooking recipe? (On a related note, a certain Heather McNab accidentally attached a Jamie Oliver chilli beef recipe to her application rather than her résumé back in 2015 – needless to say, she did not get the job.)
Other Words to Look Out For
Apart from the 20 words and phrases listed above, there are some other things you should avoid like the plague:
- Acronyms: For example, ‘PA’ instead of ‘Personal Assistant’. Write out the full names of job titles, employers and qualifications to avoid confusing employers. Of course, there are some exceptions – after all, you wouldn’t say ‘General Certificate of Secondary Education’ but rather ‘GCSE’.
- Misspelled words: Always, always proofread your résumé for grammar and spelling mistakes. Use a spell checker but don’t rely on it 100% - get someone to read through it in case you miss a potentially embarrassing typo!
- Pronouns: Adding pronouns (I/he/she) on your résumé is simply unnecessary. After all, your name will have (hopefully) been included at the top of the document, so employers will assume that the experience highlighted here is yours and no one else’s. Avoiding the use of pronouns also helps save valuable space. (Remember to write your résumé in the first person!)
Can you think of any other inappropriate words and phrases that should be avoided at all cost? Perhaps you’ve learned the hard way and have some résumé tips and tricks you think will help fellow jobseekers? Join the conversation down below and share your thoughts and experiences with us!
Meanwhile, don’t forget to check out what other mistakes you should avoid making on your résumé.