Resumes don’t always leave a lot of room for personality. And, as anyone who’s tried to spiff up his or her resume knows, trying to tell a coherent story in bullet form is tricky. So, it comes as no surprise then that the summary statement is getting to be a pretty popular way to kick it off.
With a summary, you can cherry pick your most impressive accomplishments, spell out what your expertise is, and give an overall sense of what your career path has been. What’s not to love?
Nothing. Unless, you know, you’re doing it wrong. Just like in the rest of your resume, you’re better off quantifying your results and backing up your skills with numbers, rather than using cliché phrases.
To help you better differentiate between what is legitimately impressive and what raises eyebrows (in a “ugh, not another one…” way), here are three common descriptions that you should avoid at all costs.
1. Big Picture Thinker or Out-of-the-Box Thinker
While not everyone’s actually an out-of-the-box thinker, the phrase is used so much now that it just doesn’t feel very special. As Muse writer Sara McCord says, “Seriously, though, if you are someone who thinks outside the box, why not do just that…”
Along those lines, provide anecdotes that illustrate the concept. What stands out are examples of times when your big picture or out-of-the-box ideas actually helped impact a project. Rather than focusing on abstract descriptions of your strengths, go for actual accomplishments that showcase them.
2. Thought Leader or Inspirational Leader
The thing about being a leader is that it isn’t really something you can just bestow upon yourself—other people have to vouch for you and, you know, follow you. So, it’s a little strange to call yourself a thought leader, an inspirational leader, or any kind of leader on your resume. It’s like knighting yourself. You can’t do that.
You can, however, point out times that you’ve led. Yes, this is where you include the time you led your team to complete an impressive task (ideally, against all odds). But, it’s also a place to include all the other things that make you a leader, too, such as when you’ve presented to groups, eased organizational transitions, or developed your employees’ skills.
3. Innovative or Visionary
This is kind of like describing yourself as “passionate.” It’s not a bad thing, but it’s so overused that it’s stopped meaning anything useful. A lot of people throw it around, but they don’t actually have proof to back it up.
Instead, as you can probably guess by now, give examples of times you actually innovated. Start a bullet with “Invented…” or “Created new…” Calling yourself a visionary or describing your work as innovative just doesn’t leave an impression, and frankly, isn’t that believable.
Resumes are often times hiring managers’ first impression of you. Don’t waste any of the precious space you have on fluffy filler words. Give them something real to work with.
Lily Zhang serves as a Manager of Graduate Student Professional Development at the MIT Media Lab where she works with a range of students from AI experts to interaction designers. When she’s not indulging in a new book or video game, she’s thinking about, talking about, or writing about careers. Follow her musings on Twitter @lzhng.More from this Author