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6 Meaningless Resume Phrases & What to Write Instead

Posted Dec 12 2013 - 9:00am
Tagged With: resumes

There are certain words and phrases that can kill the resumes of even the most experienced collegiettes. You could be working hard juggling internships, on-campus jobs and extracurricular activities, but when employers spend just a few seconds skimming your resume, one phrase can make the difference between the “yes” pile and the recycling bin.

So whether you’re applying for internships, part-time jobs or a full-time job for after graduation, it’s important to make sure that your resume tells employers who you really are, what skills you have and what you can bring to the table if they hire you. Since your resume should only be one page, you need to carefully select your words to get across the clearest, most concise message possible. You want to make sure your truly fabulous self shines through, so don’t let your resume get crowded with useless phrases! We consulted experts on some overused resume terms and what to replace them with so an employer can see you’re the perfect collegiette for the job.

1. “Think Outside the Box”

If you’ve described yourself as able to “think outside the box” or said you’re a “problem solver” in your resume, you’re probably trying to tell an employer that you’re creative, flexible and quick on your feet. Unfortunately, choosing such common and overused phrases is probably going to convey exactly the opposite!

Try to be more specific about your previous experience. “If you increased sales by 50 percent at a place you worked at, say it. If you can name an instance where you mediated a dispute among coworkers, write a sentence about it,” says Reyna Gobel, a student loan and career expert and author of CliffsNotes Graduation Debt: How to Manage Student Loans and Live Your Life. “You want to show you know how to accomplish tasks you’re given and then some. Otherwise, the employer has no idea of whether you can do tasks assigned to you.”

Don’t just tell employers that you can think outside the box; tell them how you have thought creatively in previous experiences. Since your resume should be short, it’s important to be concise; give a brief description of what you did in your resume and the employer can ask you for more detail when you land the interview!

2. “Motivated”

You may really be motivated, driven or passionate, but employers see these words so often they’re starting to lose meaning. Try to draw on your experiences to show employers that you possess these qualities without explicitly stating it.

Gobel says the most common problem she sees on students’ resumes is a lack of confidence. “You have more experience than you think,” she says. “Emphasize your best skills through detailing your best actions.”

The best way to let an employer know that you’re hardworking is by giving him or her proof. Even if you don’t have much internship experience, draw from on-campus or summer jobs or your extracurricular activities. “Concrete information wins over resume buzzwords every time,” Gobel says.

Really think about your experiences and how you could apply them to the job you’re applying for. Be sure to tailor your resume for each job. “You have skills that can apply towards fulfilling the needs in the job description you applied for,” Gobel says. “Failure to customize a resume WILL cost you a great career.”

3. “Responsible for”

Rachel Tannenbaum, associate director for student programming for Barnard College Career Development, says phrases like this express a given. “Some position descriptions fall flat simply because there is ineffectual wording before the main verb,” says Tannenbaum. If you describe a job by saying you were “responsible for” something, an employer isn’t going to immediately pick up on the skills you acquired at that position. “We assume you were responsible for something you did,” says Tannenbaum.

Instead of using this phrase, she says to “lead with the action verb.” For example, if you have something like, “Was responsible for recruiting volunteers at top-tier NYC institutions to canvass local neighborhood” in your resume, replace it with, “Recruited volunteers at top-tier NYC institutions to canvass local neighborhood.” Employers often skim resumes very quickly; you want to pull them in by leading with specific skills and experiences they will be looking for.

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