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The best (and worst) words to have on your resume

CareerBuilder | March 13, 2021

Employers don’t simply want to know what you think about yourself; they want to see results.

A recent CareerBuilder survey found there are some words hiring managers and human resources pros just don’t want to see on your resume. And if you’ve called yourself a go-to person, a team player or a strategic thinker, you’ll need to make a few changes before you send your resume to anyone else.

The deal-breakers
Unless you want to end up on an employer’s “Do not call” list, think twice before you put any of these empty words on your resume — they won’t accomplish as much as you might hope:

  1. Best of breed: 38 percent
  2. Go-getter: 27 percent
  3. Think outside of the box: 26 percent
  4. Synergy: 22 percent
  5. Go-to person: 22 percent
  6. Thought leadership: 16 percent
  7. Value add: 16 percent
  8. Results-driven: 16 percent
  9. Team player: 15 percent
  10. Bottom-line: 14 percent
  11. Hard worker: 13 percent
  12. Strategic thinker: 12 percent
  13. Dynamic: 12 percent
  14. Self-motivated: 12 percent
  15. Detail-oriented: 11 percent
  16. Proactively: 11 percent
  17. Track record: 10 percent

You don’t have much time
Given the amount of time your resume has to make an impression, it should come as no surprise that your choice of words can be exactly the reason you aren’t brought in for an interview. In fact, if you get more than a couple minutes of attention, you should consider yourself lucky.

Sixty-eight percent of hiring managers and human resources pros will spend two minutes or less reviewing each resume they receive; 17 percent will actually spend 30 seconds or less.

“Hiring managers prefer strong action words that can be used to define specific experience, skills and accomplishments,” says Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder. “Subjective terms and clichés are seen as negative, because they don’t convey real information. For instance, don’t say you are ‘results-driven;’ show the employer your actual results.”

The words they actually want to see
If you felt like you really had something when you called yourself “hard-working,” there’s a lot of room for improvement. (Besides, that’s something almost everyone would say.) Employers don’t simply want to know what you think about yourself; they want to see results. If you really are a hard worker, prove it by backing up that claim with some data.

Rather than focusing on your previous duties to capture your relevant experience, focus on what you’ve been able to achieve using your relevant skills. The following terms — mostly verbs — should help you refocus your resume on what truly matters. As an added bonus, hiring managers would love to see these terms:

  1. Achieved: 52 percent
  2. Improved: 48 percent
  3. Trained/mentored: 47 percent
  4. Managed: 44 percent
  5. Created: 43 percent
  6. Resolved: 40 percent
  7. Volunteered: 35 percent
  8. Influenced: 29 percent
  9. Increased/decreased: 28 percent
  10. Ideas: 27 percent
  11. Negotiated: 25 percent
  12. Launched: 24 percent
  13. Revenue/profits: 23 percent
  14. Under budget: 16 percent
  15. Won: 13 percent

The bottom line: You can’t afford to make a bad first impression, and you don’t have a lot of time to make a good first impression. With some hiring managers, you’ll have 30 seconds to make your case, and the numbers say you probably won’t make it past two minutes.

Highlight your accomplishments and sell just how important your skills have been. If you’ve received honors or awards, make sure to find room for them. Focus on what you think will cause hiring managers to stop and take a second look at your name — you can likely find more unique things to say about yourself than “I’m a hard worker.”

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