Best & Worst Terms to Use in Your Resume

By Joe Stein

The resume is often the first impression a Job Seeker provides to a Recruiter or Hiring Manager during the selection process. The document, when reviewed, causes the reader to quickly reflect on the applicant and decide whether to further pursue the person. All of this occurs, on average, in only a couple of minutes (or less) elapsed time (so you need to grab the attention quickly!)
A Job Seeker sometimes can spend so much time obsessing over the format and overall appearance of the document that focus can be lost on what is actually being written. The specific words you choose to include on your resume can significantly determine whether they will continue to consider you. It is not that the appearance is not important (it is), but ultimately decisions are made based on the content of what you write, not on what font is being used.

On this topic, a recent national U.S. survey conducted by Harris Poll of over 2,000 Hiring Managers and HR Professionals (can’t believe they missed yours truly when collecting data!), actually determined what the best terms to include on your resume are and what you would be much better off avoiding. As you might have expected, the readers of resumes prefer specific terms that provide description rather than words that are generic and subject to wide interpretation. Since we write resumes, not for ourselves, but rather based on what the reader would like to see, we should consider the feedback seriously.

When writing your resume, you may want to have easy access to a thesaurus in order to guide you in selecting the best terms to write. This tool can also assist in ensuring you are not overusing certain terms, by providing you with different word options. Furthermore, you can have your resume read by a couple of different people for feedback. I suggest you have your readers not only focus on proofreading, but also on word selection (and overall content).

The “worst” terms on the list are items saturated with cliché. Stuff like “best of breed”, “go-getter”, and “think outside of the box”. Yes, “team player” and “hard worker” were also on the list; albeit further down than I personally would have placed them. The reality is that all of these items are self-described terms that no one really uses to describe someone and does not actually tell anyone anything specific. You are much better off using terms that lead you to describe what you did or achieved, not some business catch phrases or jargon. For example, rather than using “go getter”, note how you “volunteered” for stretch work assignments, especially if done in a time of need for the business. Similarly, instead of “hard worker”, note any awards you won for perfect attendance. Finally, instead of being “detail oriented”, quote how you “achieved” a certain accuracy or quality percentage.

The list of “best” resume terms are primarily strong verbs that serve as the link to describe what you have experienced or accomplished. It should be easily apparent how these terms provide a much better description to the reader. Words such as “achieved”, “created”, “increased” (or “decreased” depending on what is being referenced) can be powerful terms that will lead to a very descriptive reference. For example, a person that “created” a new standard operating procedure for “x” is much more impressive than someone who merely “thinks outside the box”. Similarly, a person who “decreased” budget spending by 10% while “increasing” customer service satisfaction scores by 15% is much more compelling than someone who is concerned with the “bottom line”. If you noticed in the last example, I used specific percentages; doing this usually draws the attention of the reader.

Have you examined your resume lately? How many of these terms listed above do you use on your document? Since we are currently enjoying springtime in Western New York, why not conduct a cleaning of your resume? You know the old saying…out with the old (worst terms) and in with the new (best terms). You may just find that you are leaving a better first impression and generating more interviews by doing this. Of course, more interviews can lead to that new job you have been working towards.

As always, best of luck in your job search!