5 Cliches You Need to Avoid on Your Resume


Think about the last time you worked on your resume. Tools like our free career exploration app‘s Resume Builder feature offer amazing templates to help you create great resume layouts and design, but when it comes to content, you may be at a loss. If you’re like many of your fellow job seekers, maybe you did a quick Google search of “key phrases to put on a resume” in the hopes of making yours stand out in the application pile. You probably found a plethora of results ranging from “strong communication skills” to “proactive” and “excellent leadership abilities.” At first glance, these all sound like the ideal things to put down on a resume.

So you may be surprised to learn that many of these phrases are exactly what you should be avoiding on your resume. These familiar “buzzwords” seem great at first, but they’re actually taking up valuable space on your resume that could contain more meaningful, convincing statements. Think about it this way – if you’re applying for, say, a position in the service industry, then it’s pointless to say that you have good customer service skills. If you’re even applying for the job, it’s already a given–the person looking over your resume will want to see something more.

“Hiring managers prefer strong action words that define specific experience, skills and accomplishments,” says Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder. “Subjective terms and clichés are seen as negative because they don’t convey real information. For instance, don’t say you are ‘results-driven’; show the employer your actual results.”

So what can you do to avoid these kinds of vague space-wasters on your resume, and what should you put instead? Here’s our top 5 list of resume cliches and how you can rephrase them to really make your job application stand out.

1. Team player.

Calling yourself a team player doesn’t actually tell your potential employer anything. Regardless of the type of job you’re applying for, you’re expected to be able to work well in groups and with your fellow colleagues.

Try replacing this overused phrase with something much more specific and experience-driven. For example: “Collaborated successfully in a five-person team to redirect resources into products with larger profits, driving an additional $150,000 in annual sales.”

2. Hard worker, dedicated, self-motivated, strong work ethic, etc.

If you’ve ever searched for a list of resume buzzwords, these probably showed up near the top. But hiring managers have long tired of applicants throwing these phrases around without any kind of evidence to demonstrate that they are, indeed, dedicated and self-motivated workers. Without substantiating your claims with some sort of real action or results, they’re essentially meaningless to your potential employer.

Instead of just saying something like “hard worker,” here’s a better approach: “Created a new business controls system from scratch in just under 12 months.”

Certainly sounds like hard work, doesn’t it? Keep this in mind: you don’t need to put a phrase like “hard worker” anywhere on your resume – the hiring manager should be able to tell from your results and experience.

3. Thinks outside of the box.

Not only is this a tiresome cliche, but it’s also painfully vague and doesn’t reflect your true abilities as a strategic thinker.

Consider using a statement like this instead: “Implemented innovative business strategies that improved and expanded client relationships, increasing sales by 33% and our customer base by more than 50 clients.”

4. Strong communication/leadership/organizational skills.

Let’s face it – many of us have put some variant of this on our resumes at some point during our job hunts. Unlike some of the other overused phrases on this list, you don’t necessarily have to take this one out completely, but it’s also far too weak to stand on its own. As always, you need to strengthen it with examples.

Try revamping it with something like this: “Strong communication and customer service skills that helped increase client satisfaction by more than 15% in just 4 months.”

5. Resolved client difficulties quickly.

While this is certainly a valuable skill to have, this phrase is still subjective and rather ambiguous. Remember, avoiding subjectivity is the key to a solid resume that will clearly set you apart as the best candidate for the position.

If you want to really impress the hiring manager with your customer service skills, try something along the lines of: “Honored with the annual Customers First Award for consistently resolving customer difficulties tactfully and efficiently.”

As you can probably tell from our list, here’s the goal you always want to keep in mind when writing a resume: show, don’t tell. Don’t just say you’re good at something; describe how a past work experience demonstrates those key abilities. Any person can claim to have certain skills, but actions will really prove it. Keep these tips in mind the next time you put together a resume and see the vast difference it makes in your job search!

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