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Are Resume Buzzwords Destroying Your Job Chances? Watch Out For These Offenders


It seems like there are always resume buzzwords being thrown around. Someone could be “experienced” or “motivated,” “passionate” or “strategic” – and they may think including this language on their application materials will help them land the job. Writing a modern resume though doesn’t necessarily mean using the latest jargon.

Unfortunately, buzzwords like those won’t help your application stand out from the crowd. All four of those words were included in LinkedIn’s 2017 list of most overused words in job applications. 

What’s so wrong with using these buzzwords in your application? 

Primarily, the issue is all these words are vague. What does it mean to say you have “expertise” or “leadership”? At the very least, these buzzwords need to be followed up by specific examples of the quality you mention. At worst, these buzzwords can be filler that don’t contribute to the picture you’re creating of yourself. If that’s the case, you can simply cut them. 

That said, if the job description does use jargon, you can use it – sparingly. In cover letters and resumes, it’s a good rule of thumb to copy the language from the job description when appropriate. For instance, if a company uses jargon for a job duty you performed in the past, adopt their expression in your resume. However, don’t stuff your resume with their expressions; instead, use their language organically. 

Otherwise, you want to keep your use of jargon to a minimum. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to identify buzzwords if you simply read your application materials yourself. 

How can you know when and if you’re using resume buzzwords?

Get a second pair of eyes (and maybe even a third) on your application materials. How many times have you used a word or expression common in your workplace that was totally unfamiliar to your family? Sometimes, we can start adopting phrases that may be jargon – and we don’t even know it. 

Before you send off your application materials, be sure to have a neutral party – preferably someone in your field but not at your company – read through it, circling anything that they’re unfamiliar with or that needs further elaboration. 

What’s more, ask them to consider if you’re using any vague language that needs an example or specific evidence as proof. 

What resume buzzwords are particularly unappealing to hiring managers? A few key resume buzzwords not to use, in addition to the ones already mentioned above are: 

  • Weak action verbs like “responsible for” and “managed.” Replace these with stronger verbs like “guided,” “mentored,” “facilitated,” “designed,” “conceptualized,” or “assessed.” 
  • Vague adjectives like “creative,” “experienced,” or “skilled.” Again, the vagueness of these words render them nearly meaningless. 
  • Words like “expert.” Replace pronouncements like these with more specific action verbs that let you describe your expertise specifically. 

How Can You Replace Resume Buzzwords in Your Application?

Rather than relying only on generic jargon to sell yourself to an employer, here’s what to do instead.

Eliminating jargon doesn’t mean forgoing common phrases or terms.

When you’re job hunting, it’s a good idea to find several job postings similar to the one you want. Then, start noting similar phrases and expressions used throughout the job descriptions. Afterwards, adopt this same phrasing when you craft your own resume and cover letter. Later, you can tweak these common phrases and expressions to more precisely match the job description for the position to which you’re applying. 

“Identify key phrases and skills–you may want to list them or highlight them. Also notice the order in which those skills appear. The higher up they are in the job description, the more important they are to the manager,” says Ivy Exec writer Susan Price. 

Using similar or the same phrases in the job posting helps in two ways. First, it will ensure a person will actually see your materials by making it through the applicant tracking system (ATS), a program that checks for relevance between a candidates’ materials and the job posting. Second, language from the job posting makes it easier for the hiring manager to see how well suited you are for the role. 

Apply selectively enough that you can customize your materials to each application.

The aforementioned tips take time. You need to carefully tailor your application materials to each company that has a position that seems relevant to you. So, don’t apply for job postings that are irrelevant or uninteresting to you. The more positions you apply for, the less time you will have to adequately tailor your materials for each one. Why waste time on applications you wouldn’t be thrilled to be offered?

Using Your Application Materials Wisely

Remember, the top third of your resume is most important. If a hiring manager doesn’t see a connection to the position in that portion, then they won’t continue reading. This time crunch most hiring managers face is why it’s so important to eliminate every resume buzzword if possible. While it may feel compelling to call yourself “passionate” or “motivated,” it is more persuasive to demonstrate those qualities with examples. In resume writing, like in all writing, it’s a better habit to show, not tell.

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