Resume Clichés and Buzzwords

Resume Clichés and Buzzwords

Selecting the words for your resume requires a thoughtful strategy. This is not an overstatement; the right words will absolutely make or break your resume.

If you fail to include the necessary keywords, the applicant tracking system (ATS) will reject your resume.  If you include age cues, you may experience age discrimination. Then there is the most common mistake; rely on resume cliques and buzzwords, and you will fail to set yourself apart from other applicants.

This article defines resume clichés and buzzwords and provides examples. After that, it sets out what to do instead of relying on these common assertions. Furthermore, additional tips are provided on selecting the best words for your resume, such as why meticulous or multitasker are the wrong choice.

Resume Clichés

What is a Resume Cliché?

A cliché is a phrase that has become lacking in substance and originality through overuse. Typical resume clichés include ‘extensive experience’, ‘results oriented’, and ‘proven record of success’. These phrases are so frequently used that they are now meaningless.

Example Resume Clichés

  • Client Focused
  • Customer Focused
  • Detail Oriented
  • Driven
  • Dynamic
  • Entrepreneurial
  • Excellent Communication Skills
  • Extensive Experience
  • Focused
  • Go-Getter
  • Has Talent for
  • Highly Motivated
  • Innovative

Why should you avoid using resume clichés?

You should avoid using resume clichés because, above all, they do nothing to set you apart from other applicants. First and foremost, the core purpose of your resume is to differentiate yourself from the competition and secure an interview. Using cliches doesn’t support this goal.

Terms like ‘dedicated professional’, ‘team player’ and ‘entrepreneurial’ do not provide insight into who you are, what you have achieved, and what you can bring to the role you are applying. Also, there is a cringe factor that accompanies resume clichés. Alongside failing to showcase your uniqueness, you risk making an unfavourable first impression using these phrases.

Resume Buzzwords

What is a Resume Buzzword?

A buzzword is a word or phrase that is having a moment. That is to say, the word or phrase has become popular or fashionable. Resume buzzwords often reflect current business jargon or corporate speak.  For example, ‘value add’, ‘bottom-line’, or ‘synergy’. Other current resume buzzwords include ‘stakeholders’, ‘methodologies’, ‘transformative’ and ’empower’.

Buzzwords can be resume clichés in the making. In other words, they haven’t quite hit peak cringe yet, but are on their way!  Some 2021 examples are ‘agile’ and ‘pivot’.  Whereas five years ago, pre-pandemic buzzwords were less about adaptability. Instead, job seekers were strategic, passionate and focused. Ten years ago, it was all about entrepreneurialism and innovation.

Resume Buzzword Examples

  • Agile
  • Blue-Sky Thinking
  • Bottom-Line
  • Circle Back
  • Disruption
  • Evangelist
  • Guru
  • New Normal
  • Quality Driven
  • Transformative
  • Value Add
  • Values Oriented

Can I use Buzzwords in my Resume?

While resumes cliché s have a clear rule: keep them away from your resume! Buzzwords are a bit more complex.  It is also complicated because the terms ‘resume keywords’ and ‘resume buzzwords’ are frequently used interchangeably.  Often, you will see resume buzzwords used to describe essential key terms or vital action verbs. However, buzzwords are neither of these. It is more accurate to define buzzwords as words or phrases used as an attempt to impress, but that often offer little meaning. Think, ‘circle back’,’ new normal’, and ‘close the loop’.

The best rule for buzzwords is to proceed with caution. Most buzzwords can go on the banned list, but there may be exceptions. Not least because employers also frequently use buzzwords in their recruitment advertisements.  As evidenced by the use of ninja here:

buzzwords in recruitment ad 'ninja'

It is unlikely you will get offside with this employer by referring to yourself as a ninja. Although, you still need to be tactical with how you use buzzwords. A buzzword included in a vague and generic statement will have no impact.  If you use a buzzword, make sure evidence supports your claim.

To demonstrate, compare this vague claim:

A transformative and agile leader with a record of turning around team performance.

to this achievement story:

Introduced an agile team structure and achieved a 50% increase in projects delivered ahead of schedule

The Solution: What to Use Instead of Resume Buzzwords and Clichés

First of all, the solution is not to simply replace the cliché or buzzword with a synonym. Replacing ‘passionate’ with ‘ambitious’ or ‘expert’ with ‘guru’ will not dramatically improve the overall quality of your resume. Instead, you should set yourself apart from other applicants by providing compelling evidence of your skills and expertise.

The best approach is to include achievement stories. An achievement story describes a past accomplishment, setting out your results and how you achieved them. Within these stories, you should incorporate resume keywords and action verbs.

For more information: How to Write an Achievement Story

Resume Keywords

When you submit your resume, it will often be scanned by software designed to sort through resumes and assess fit. When this occurs, the software searches your resume for keywords. If your resume contains the right keywords, it will rank higher in the search results.  You can use the job advertisement and position description to identify the keywords. Additionally, a helpful tool is Jobscan. Jobscan helps not only to identify keywords but also checks your resume for matches.

For more information on targeting and optimising your keywords: Targeting & Keyword Optimisation

Resume Actions Verbs

An action verb, or dynamic verb, expresses an action. Each bullet point (or achievement story) in your resume should start with one. For example, ‘created’, ‘increased’, ‘resolved’, ‘shaped’, ‘headed’.

Example Action Verbs

  • Achieved
  • Analysed
  • Built
  • Cared
  • Collaborated
  • Documented
  • Drafted
  • Eliminated
  • Guided
  • Headed
  • Improved
  • Negotiated
  • Overcame
  • Oversaw
  • Provided
  • Queried
  • Ran
  • Reduced
  • Reported
  • Resolved
  • Supervised
  • Wrote

Some Additional Guidance on Resume Words

Words with Nuanced Meaning

In addition, to resume clichés and buzzwords, it is a good idea to be mindful of words that have nuanced meaning.  Most importantly, words with a negative connotation. The connotation of a word refers to the implications associated with it.

An example is meticulous. Compared to its synonym diligent, meticulous has a slight variation in meaning. While diligence is seen favourably, meticulousness can imply a fussier and hindering attentiveness. For this reason, it would be best to use diligence rather than meticulousness. Similarly, be cautious of using perfectionism. Another is workaholic.

Consider also multitasker or multitasking.  The reality is that if we try to engage in many activities at once, we perform more slowly and less accurately, resulting in lower productivity levels. In other words, multitasking is a myth. While some employers may believe the legend, others may look at multitasking negatively.

First-Person Pronouns (We, Us, I, My, Me, Myself)

While classically, resumes have been written in first-person implied, writing your resume in the first person is acceptable. This means you can use ‘I’.

Related: First Person Resume Example

Avoid Age Cues

Agism results in discriminatory behaviour occurring in the hiring process. Therefore, you should carefully select the words included in your resume to avoid providing clues to your age.

Related: How to Hide Your Age on Your Resume

Another Word for ‘Skills’ on Resume

If you think you have used the word ‘skills’ on your resume too often. You probably have. You don’t need to use the word ‘skills’ nearly as often as you might think.

Related: Another Word for ‘Skills’ on Resume

Related: You Don’t Need a Synonym for ‘proficient’

Resume Speak

Finally, an additional consideration for the words in your resume is the unique set of writing conventions that apply specifically to resumes. These include writing in first person implied, omitting articles, and using short sentences. 

For more information: Resume Writing Conventions

Article Summary

  • A resume cliché is a phrase that, through overuse, has become meaningless, e.g., ‘proven record of success’ 
  • You should avoid using resume clichés because they fail to set you apart from other applicants (and make the hiring manager cringe!)
  • A resume buzzword is a word or phrase that is currently fashionable, e.g., ‘value add’
  • You should use buzzwords cautiously and make sure you back your claims up with actual evidence
  • In place of resume buzzwords and clichés, you should use keywords and action verbs and provide examples of your achievements

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