Despite the fact that hiring managers now ask for a variety of application materials, resumes are still an extremely important part of the process. And because they’re so important, people usually feel the need to use old-fashioned, stilted, and even cliché language when writing them.
While this might not sound like a huge issue, take a moment to remember that your resume is just one of many that are being reviewed for the position, often times, by just one person. If the person reading it can’t understand what you’re trying to get across, or is mildly annoyed by your fluffy word choices, or is getting déjà vu from a similar resume, you have a problem. Remember it’s the hiring manager’s job to skim your resume, not to read between the lines and decipher what makes you unique.
To make sure you don’t suffer from language that will get your resume placed in the “no” pile, remove these six words from your resume.
We all do this. Something about the word “use” feels too simple, and in a vain attempt to make our work seem more significant, we use the word “utilize” instead. Let me get straight to the point: It’s not working. Go back to the basics. Or I should say, use the basics. If you want your resume bullets to be impressive, quantify your results in the same line. Don’t use flowery language that doesn’t mean anything.
On the other end of the spectrum, sometimes job seekers will be a little too humble when it comes to listing their achievements. One way they do this is by overusing the word “assisted,” when they really mean “collaborated” or “contributed to.” Don’t sell yourself short by making it seem like you fetched coffee while everyone else on your team did the real work. Take credit if it’s due to you.
3. “Responsible For”
These are words you’ll find in a (bad) job description. These are not words that should be in your resume. Aside from being boring, using the words “responsible for” prevents you from being able to list out your accomplishments. Fix this by using active and specific verbs at the beginning of your bullets. “Proposed and implemented new procedure to…” sounds a lot better than “Responsible for maintaining…”
Note how in the previous paragraph I said “active and specific.” Being specific with your verbs is important, because your goal is to paint a picture for the person who is reading it. The word “worked” doesn’t really do that. It’s just too vague. Avoid it and go with something more precise, like “calculated,” “facilitated,” “doubled,” “launched,” “reduced,” and so on. You get the picture.
This isn’t really a word, but anything that ends with -ly is typically an adverb—and adverbs are almost always superfluous on a resume (and some would argue in most writing). You don’t have a ton of space and they don’t add much, especially if you’re using the right verb. Instead, rack your brain to find that perfect verb. (Or browse this list of 185 of ’em.) It makes a much bigger impact.
Let me clarify. If the word “objective” shows up in one of your bullets, that’s likely fine. What I want to caution against is having it in your subheadings. This is about as old-fashioned as it gets. On a modern resume, there is no need for it. If you do want to have some kind of introduction section to your resume, consider a summary statement. Here’s more on how to write one.
Okay, so that was technically seven words (or more if you count the endless number of adverbs). This was the long way of explaining the importance of choosing the right verbs for your resume bullet points. You don’t want to sacrifice clarity and be needlessly complicated, but you also don’t want to over simplify and become too vague. And if you think my emphasis on verb choice is a bit overkill, consider this: Which words on your resume can you guarantee a recruiter or hiring manager will read when they’re skimming hundreds of resumes? Aside from your company and job title, it’s going to be the very beginning of each bullet. So get their attention by using strong, powerful, specific words that make you stand out.
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Lily Zhang serves as a Career Development Specialist at MIT where she works with a range of students from undergraduates to PhDs on how to reach their career aspirations. 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