Some words you should, and should not, use in your next resume

Some words you should, and should not, use in your next resume

What makes your resume standout in a pile that could easily be several hundred thick?  Competition for jobs increases as the economy continues at a sluggish pace, and “being qualified” for a position is not enough to get you a phone interview.

You must get through the initial cut that will introduce 80% of the resume pile to the green recycle bin. Only those who make it past the first stage of cuts will be invited to participate in an interview with a prospective employer. Your resume must speak loud and clear for you, as no one else will at this early stage of the game.

I spent time reviewing a friend’s resume, and while it was a good first draft, it needed polish and refinement. I completed several Google searches for tips on good resume writing, and found vast amounts of common, and not so common, sense tips.

Websites like and have great information on solid resume writing practices, and it made me think about the impact of word choice in resumes.  With a little more digging, I found information on both “good words” (image building) that should be included and “bad words” (over used, vague) that should be avoided in a resume.

This is not a comprehensive list, and I would encourage you to review the wealth of information that is online before you send out your next resume. Resumes matter so the extra research time is well worth the potential reward of a job offer.

Please understand that careful choice of words in your resume will dramatically help, or hurt, your attempt to standout in a packed crowd.

Words that should be included in a resume:

  • Strategic planning
  • Change management
  • Cost reduction, cost containment
  • Organizational development
  • Team building and staff development
  • Leadership
  • Product positioning and life-cycle
  • Project planning or project management
  • Performance and productivity improvement

General style and content that should be avoided in a resume:

  • Long passive phases
    These tend to put your audience asleep, so write your resume in the present tense.
  • Unrealistic accomplishments
    This is really important as it goes to credibility.  If you have a truly unbelievable achievement, be prepared to offer supporting documentation. Be realistic in your skill-set, no one is an expert in everything.
  • Appearance and age descriptors
    You do not know what the employer is looking for, so do not guess and sell yourself short. Minimize age descriptors in your resume as much as possible. Make sure you dress appropriately for the interview by knowing the environment you are about to enter.
  • Overly technical information and jargon
    This is a common problem for the technical people.  You need to include what you know, but do not make it a list of every single acronym that you can find.
  • Personal unrelated activities
    You have no idea how the person who is reviewing the resume will react to your personal activities. Would the interviewer consider your personal activities too boring, risky, or not represent the “image” they are looking for in an employee? It is not worth the risk at this stage.  Be observant in the interview and bring it up if the interest is shared, or you feel it would enhance their opinion of you as a candidate.

Words that should not appear in a resume:

  • Excellent communication skills
  • Goal driven
  • Flexible
  • Motivated
  • Strong work ethic
  • Reliable
  • Multi-tasker
  • Independent
  • Detail oriented
  • Self motivated

Most of the words that are in the “do not use in your resume” list are resume cliche words. They have been used for so long that they no longer carry any weight, and frankly, these attributes are taken for granted as the price of admission to the modern work force. Obviously, if one of these words is a key attribute for the job you are seeking then they should be used.  However, as a key attribute, you should make them powerful by expanding on the concept in your resume.

Pay close attention to the job posting, and read it a few times to make sure your resume is directly addresses the job requirements and qualifications the potential employer is seeking. Look for key words and phrases that are contained in the job posting to get some ideas about possible good language choices.  It is advisable to spend time on the website of the potential employer to see if you can further tailor the resume for the specific company.

Your resume should convey a message of excitement and energy. The use of active and positive words helps to bring out the correct tone and message.  Take time to thoroughly review, and re-review your resume before you send it.  Remember, you have one shot to get past the first round of cuts, so make it count by using the rights words in your resume.

Do you have any words that you feel should be included or excluded from a resume? Share your knowledge and experiences.

6 thoughts on “Some words you should, and should not, use in your next resume

  1. One good way to make resume summary stand out is to incorporate keywords found in the job description. Use those keywords in your resume. This will increase your chance of getting a call for interview.

  2. Useful information for job hunters.
    I want to know whether can I use I in the resume objective or not?. I have received job tips from leading job portal that, I must not include I in the resume. I don’t know how to avoid it.
    I have used in my resume objective as, To be a member of quality company in Customer service team this utilizes my knowledge and technology exposure in the various domains, stream of web, customer web troubleshooting, Softwares. I portray excellent Computer technology saviness, financial knowledge, proactive nature and determined approach. Is usage of I right or wrong?. Which ever, resume expert comes across this comment, please help me by letting me know the answer for the above question.
    Thanks in advance.

  3. I found the information on resume writing which I was searching and found this useful, thanks for the info

  4. The “do not use” list is cliche, but more than that, they are features without benefits. If the word is part and parcel of a benefit, and presented that way, go ahead and use it.

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