These Words Could Send Your Resume Straight to the Rejected Pile

Nancy Anderson
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No amount of clever formatting can condense a long-winded resume, so every statement should paint a compelling picture of your capabilities. A 2014 CareerBuilder survey reported that 68 percent of hiring managers read resumes for less than two minutes, while 17 percent move on within 30 seconds. Using empty, clich├ęd phrases is one surefire way to get your application tossed, making it essential to drop these tired resume words from your vocabulary.

1. Objective

The days of opening a resume with a summary of your career aspirations are long gone. Hiring managers want to know what you have to offer before they even consider your goals, and an outdated objective wastes space that could be used to showcase your professional strengths. Instead, include a career summary that highlights key skills and accomplishments related to the position.

2. Go-Getter

At 27 percent, "go-getter" was the second most hated word among hiring managers surveyed by CareerBuilder. Employers want candidates who can carry out company objectives, and this flimsy generalization doesn't tell readers what problems you solve or how you approach them. With an achievement-based resume, you can prove your worth by describing how you gained positive results in the past.

3. Out-of-the-Box Thinker

Calling yourself a creative or strategic thinker is pointless if you can't demonstrate why your ideas are unique. Ditch the boring list of duties, and write your job descriptions like mini case studies that quantify your accomplishments. For example, telling hiring managers you created a multistage email campaign that increased purchases among 10 percent of inactive customers offers a measurable example of how you can develop and implement strategies for a new employer.

4. Team Player

Every professional should play well with others, so being a team player or good communicator doesn't make you an extraordinary hire. Replace these subjective resume words with precise action verbs, such as "resolved," "negotiated" or "designed," that make it easy for any potential employer to visualize your experiences.

5. Highly Qualified

The point of a resume is to convince hiring managers you're highly qualified, making it unproductive to state the obvious. Make your competency evident by tailoring your resume to the job you're applying for, showing each employer how your strengths, values and goals complement the company vision.

6. Results-Driven

Unsurprisingly, 16 percent of surveyed hiring managers chose "results-driven" as the worst resume term. After all, how often does anyone start a task without expecting some result? Instead of making hollow claims, load up your resume with tangible numbers and milestones, showing employers exactly how you stack up against the competition. For example, generating a 15 percent budget increase by renegotiating vendor contracts is more impressive than simply reorganizing the budget.

As a rule, you should ditch common resume phrases that could apply to anyone. Hiring managers want to know what qualities make YOU a great hire, and you can't validate your skills by sticking to vague language. To stand out, use relevant stories with action verbs and job-specific keywords to make sure hiring managers can imagine you in the role they're trying to fill within seconds of scanning your resume.


Photo courtesy of winnond at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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  • Darrin Coburn
    Darrin Coburn

    Great advice. I obviously have some work to do given these proven facts. Thank you for moving my Technic outside the box.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Julie Williams thanks for your comment. The standard rule of thumb today is to only include the past 10 years unless you have older history that is necessary. Say that you worked as a quality analyst 15 years ago and now you want to do it again. That information you would highlight while history that is not relevant would be downplayed. Just make sure that you are using keywords from the job posting when you write up your resume. Is there a best practice? Depends upon who is speaking. Again - standard is 10 years of work history plus up-to-date skills and recent education. Why do they do this? Because technology has advanced so rapidly that anything that you did more than ten years ago would more than likely be obsolete. Hope this helps.

  • Julie Williams
    Julie Williams

    How far back do you need to go in job history on a resume? Some hiring managers are only interested in the most recent XX positions, some want to see the last XX years of experience, some want the whole history of experience. Is there a best practice?

  • Phil P.
    Phil P.

    Beware of employment/contract agencies who want to market you, but first they need to "punch up" your resume. Insist on reviewing their work and having the final OK on the changes. One time an agency rewrote my resume, and I swear I didn't recognize it as mine. They had loaded it up with all sorts of skills and experience that I had never heard of! We parted ways.

  • R K.
    R K.

    As someone who has been on both sides of the equation, from being in upper-management going through stacks of resumes either alone or as part of a team, as well as the person who writes resumes and consults with corporate accounts, some of the "advice" in this column is hooey.

    I suspect this author hasn't been trained on what REALLY happens when the resume makes its first stop in HR--if it makes that first stop in HR--versus the few seconds it takes for those in management to decide which resumes get their attention.

    1. The "Objective" part in this article is nonsense--which is obvious the instant we quit parroting what other writers are saying and actually start thinking for ourselves.

    Yes, cliches should be avoided, but if an applicant can give a concise 2-3 sentence explanation of EXACTLY what he brings to the table and a vision of how he can help our SPECIFIC company, that information has the potential to wow. I have personally seen members of my team wowed by objectives, though I have never spoken to a corporate account who felt annoyed by seeing an objective. At best, it wins that interview. At worst, it gets overlooked. The only people who think otherwise are the resume-writing drones who parrot bad advice. Some people will make any claim in order to sound original.

    1. What isn't mentioned in this article yet is the single biggest flaw we find in most resumes: Qualified applicants bury their most pertinent information. As another posted mentioned, the first thing we do when we get a resume is go straight to the skills and job history. Please don't expect us to read and reread the same long paragraphs trying to find whatever nuggets are buried within. We are not archeologists. Tell us what we want, ASAP, or get overlooked.

    2. Don't lie or exaggerate. Ever. We know if you don't really have the skills you claim and can usually see through the exaggerations.

    3. Hard and Fast Rules usually are not. Taylor each resume to the company and learn as much as possible about those making the hiring decisions.

  • Jose Perez
    Jose Perez

    Consider also that Albert Einstein information received said he had problems with mathematics at young age, probably our now days "HR Experts" will not consider him for a Nuclear Scientific Job. A lot of people does not hire or pay a resume writer to do it, that does not disqualify for a job, an HR expert should be able to spot the difference, probably that is not able to be done in 30 seconds. Try to see the esence of the applicants, if you know how to do that, Thanks.

  • Jose Perez
    Jose Perez

    Just one small comment about "HR Experts", that use a computer to analyze the received resumes and if they catch a bad word, bam, out of their grace !

  • eva h.
    eva h.

    Thank you Nancy for all your information, very helpful.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Kelly Clarke thanks for the comment. True, sometimes you might have to use these words if they are specific to the job posting. Some companies do use these while some HR experts recommend that you don't. I guess it's a catch-22. So very true, if these words are in the job posting you might want to consider putting them in your resume as the ATS could be scanning for them. Always check the job posting and try to catch the keywords that are important so that you can include them in your submission. Thanks again.

  • Kelly Clarke
    Kelly Clarke

    Agree these phrases are trite at best. However, as a job seeker, they're terms I come across pretty frequently in postings. Net-net? If you're going to SEO your resume for the position, use the correct keywords!

  • cynthia j.
    cynthia j.

    thank you for the information. I must refresh my resume.

  • LORI R.
    LORI R.

    Thank you for the information. My resume is in need of a refresher. I have been using the older buzz words. It's nice to receive advice about how to write a resume with a career transition which would include an advanced education and achievements.

  • DEBORAH CURLE
    DEBORAH CURLE

    This is a very good article and I really need to review my resume and make changes

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. @John P thank you for your comments. It's always nice to hear from the "other side". We try to always get across to job seekers that honesty is still the best policy. Why try to lie on your resume? Why fudge on the number of years in a position or say that you have a particular skill when you don't? It only holds up the process for everyone. And it's great to know about the blacklist. Hope everyone is reading this! The world truly is very small anymore and, with social media at the forefront, lying just is not an option. It boggles my mind that someone would even try to bluff their way through. What happens on day 1 on the job when you find out that they lied? Of course they get fired and the whole process needs to start over. We sure do appreciate your insight. We always get comments from job seekers asking to hear from a hiring manager. Well folks - here it is!

  • Rafiq D.
    Rafiq D.

    Thanks for the tips

  • JOHN P.
    JOHN P.

    Just remember if you "fudge" on your resume and it is caught (which in IT it will very quickly) this is a black mark on your record you are unlikely to ever remove. When I catch this the first thing I do is send the resume to all my colleagues (other hiring managers) so they are aware. We actually keep a database of these people so remember...honesty is truly the best policy with your resume.

  • JOHN P.
    JOHN P.

    I've been a hiring manager for going on 15 years now I've hired over 300 people so you can imagine how many people I've interviewed let alone resumes I have reviewed.
    I can't speak to what recruiters look for (I still don't fully understand what they do) but I can tell you as a hiring manager none of these words would factor into my decision of next steps. At all.
    It's very simple when I get a resume the very first thing I do is look at current and previous companies what I'm wanting to see here is do I know people at these companies. Next I look at skill sets (core competencies) I work in IT and so it's pretty black and white as to whether the resume includes the skill sets I'm seeking.

    The problem I see today is so many people open quotation fudge close quotation the resume (i.e. list skill sets they truly don't have) and all this does is slow the process down for everyone else. I have caught people red-handed who have admitted daylight on the resume and upon asking why they said they wanted to at least get their foot in the door to see if they could learn on the go. This is why the most important thing I look for our known commodities. My device to jobseekers is just list the skills required and hope to get a phone screen and then at that point your talent will begin to be evaluated.

  • Nirpattie O.
    Nirpattie O.

    Great advice.

  • Joanne T.
    Joanne T.

    I am in the process of changing career path after being out of my chosen profession for 4 years. I have found potential employers are mostly interested in previous job experience. I have 2 degrees and it doesn't seem to matter when you're changing professions. I change give them the names of the companies and what you did and the time. And the rest is incidental and put it on a secondary experience should be based upon what the requesting per job you're applying.

  • Christina K.
    Christina K.

    With resumes, I have found the best thing to do is tailor it to the company or type of position you are applying for. I don't follow any hard and fast rules (but obviously I forgo some of the overused terms listed above). Thanks Nancy for posting these great articles!

  • CAREN R.
    CAREN R.

    Problem now a days are. They all require a degree . 2 they don't look at knowledge or years ddedication.3 they hire people for requirements but I the long run mistakes & errors cost them in stead they over look thurow people that apply.

  • Regina B.
    Regina B.

    Great information

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Leah S - thanks for your comment. The objective used to be a requirement on resumes but times have changed. Companies don't really want to see an objective statement whether changing careers or not. They just want a quick couple lines that summarize what you are seeking. I think of it as my elevator speech - two or three sentences and then move on.

  • Leah S.
    Leah S.

    I'd be interested to know if the word "Objective" is also distasteful on the resume of a person changing careers. Is there an accepted protocol for that?

  • SHEILA S.
    SHEILA S.

    Extremely helpful, thanks

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