This week, another career coach sent me an article on the 10 words hiring managers find most irritating on resumes. The story resonated with me because nearly every resume job seekers send me has a few of these words—and sometimes all of these words–on it.
The 10 words that irritate managers the most, according to this research, are:
- Proven – 73%,
- Dedicated – 70%,
- Adept – 65%,
- Great – 61%,
- Motivated – 57%,
- Committed – 53%,
- Excellent – 49%,
- Strong – 44%,
- Best – 40%, and
- Passionate – 38%.
Percentages after each word indicate the percent of managers surveyed that found these words “irritating.”
The problem with all the above words is that they mean different things to different people. We briefly discuss each word below, and then suggest an alternative writing approach that will yield better results.
I’m adding my own least favorite resume word to the list—successful—and its adverb relative, “successfully.” That’s why we’re talking about 11 words to avoid.
What does it mean to be a “proven distribution manager?” Are you a proven manager if you have had five jobs in your specialty during the past ten years, even if you did not advance to greater responsibilities? Some hiring managers and recruiters may be fine with this. Others may insist you are only “proven” if you started in the distribution warehouse and worked your way up to Vice President of Distribution. Both may be correct, depending on the industry. Regardless, nearly three-quarters of managers surveyed are “irritated” when they see this adjective used, so avoid saying you are a “proven expert.”
Dedicated or Committed
Most of us feel dedicated or committed to our jobs or businesses. In my opinion, I am dedicated to helping job seekers with their resumes and LinkedIn profiles because I dedicate at least a few hours every day to my clients. Many entrepreneurs would say I am not dedicated and do not show serious commitment because I start most days at 9 a.m. instead of 6 a.m. Arguably, a committed and dedicated entrepreneur works 16 to 18 hours a day or more.
The terms dedicated and committed are subjective and means different things to each reader. The survey says 70% of respondents are turned off by the word “dedicated” on job seekers’ resumes.” More than half of managers who responded disliked seeing the word “committed.”
My first year B-school behavioral science professor told the class we are all motivated by something. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we are all motivated by five needs. “From the bottom of the hierarchy upwards, the needs are: physiological (food and clothing), safety (job security), love and belonging needs (friendship), esteem, and self-actualization.” It is no surprise, then, that 57% of managers surveyed are irritated when they read the word “motivated” on dozens or hundreds of resumes. Everyone is motivated by some need, so managers won’t search their ATS for “motivated” people.
Great or Adept
I’ve seen a lot of resumes from job seekers that claim they have “great customer service skills,” or that they are “adept at financial analysis.” Anyone can claim great customer service skills, so managers are not going to search in their ATS for someone making this claim. They may look, though, for someone with 96% customer satisfaction scores or someone receiving 99% 5-star reviews. So, there is no need to claim great skills. Instead, document your greatness with results.
It may be even easier to prove you are adept at analysis of some kind because you can talk about the results of your analysis.
More than 60% of managers surveyed are irritated by the words “great” or “adept” on resumes they receive from their job candidates.
Excellent and Strong
Most of us feel we are excellent or strong at our job or some aspect of the job. Nonetheless, nearly half the managers surveyed are unhappy with job seekers who say they are “excellent.” Claiming you are excellent is an unproven assertion that will not carry much weight.
Similarly 44% are unhappy with job seekers that call themselves strong. Is a financial analyst “strong” because he or she manipulates Excel with ease, or are they considered strong only if they add a few margin basis points to each transaction?
It surprises me that only 40% of the managers responding to this survey objected to the word “best” on resumes. Perhaps it’s because resumes are a form of advertising and we see claims to be the best in nearly every advertisement. We just ignore the claims because we know the claim is puffery. Present evidence if you are the best salesperson, analyst, or coach at your company rather than claiming it.
Many of us know co-workers or have team members that are passionate about their business or their organization’s cause. They are not very good at the work, though. That’s why I hesitate to include this term on client resumes even though only 38% of survey respondents objected to using the word.
Demonstrate that you perform well against some standard as well as being passionate about your job.
“Successfully:” is my own least favorite modifier.
Nearly every resume I receive from job seekers says somewhere that the candidate “successfully introduced a new product,” or that they “advocated successfully for legislation that passed the House with a bi-partisan vote.” It isn’t necessary to say you accomplished something successfully if it is on the resume. Would you include the accomplishment on your resume if you failed?
Use facts, figures, and accomplishments instead of adjectives and adverbs.
Let the facts speak for themselves. If your job was to deliver seasonal collections to retailers on time and you made 90% of deliveries on schedule, just say it. If you ranked number one in the company for making deliveries on schedule because the other production managers had lower percentages, say so. You now have proven you were the best in the company.
It is relatively easy for those of us that directly generate revenue or make things to demonstrate with numbers that we are the best but some of us will have to dig deeper. I have, for example, dug through a client’s performance evaluations to find out what leadership valued. I have also summarized “social proof” in letters of recommendation and LinkedIn recommendations to get facts and figures. Such research will also help you be better prepared for “behavioral” interview questions where hiring teams ask what you have done, rather than what you would do or could do.
Take a look at our samples to see how I write resumes full of facts and figures instead of adjectives. These resumes and many others have yielded results.
Make an appointment to speak with us and send us your resume. We’ll help you get results, too, with a modifier-free resume.
You may find the original article from Inc., “The 10 Most Commonly Used Resume Buzzwords Hiring Managers Hate the Most,” here.
What buzzwords do you hate? Even better, what buzzwords do you feel are useful? Add your comments below.
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