Best and Worst Resume Buzzwords

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Resumes don’t necessarily have to be just one page long anymore, but that real estate is precious, no matter what. Recruiters and hiring managers see right through a resume crowded with meaningless words. For one thing, the hiring manager probably won’t read them. Studies show that recruiters and HR folks spend as little as six seconds reviewing resumes before they move them to the “yes” pile—or toss them in the trash.

To make it to yes, you need to choose resume buzzwords that count. The best buzzwords describe your abilities, match them up with the job qualifications, and show that you’re a better fit for the position than the other candidates. Bad resume buzzwords, on the other hand, waste everyone’s time and dramatically reduce your new job prospects.

The following list can give you a good start by showing you what words to stay away from.

Avoid These Overused Buzzwords

Every year, the professional job networking site LinkedIn releases a list of the most overused buzzwords on its network. The latest list includes:

  1. Specialize
  2. Experienced
  3. Skilled
  4. Leadership
  5. Passionate
  6. Expert
  7. Motivated
  8. Creative
  9. Strategic
  10. Focused

What do all these words have in common? Well, ironically, they’re far from specialized or focused, and they’re not very creative.

LinkedIn asked best-selling biographer Christopher Sandford for his take on the list last year: he pointed out that using these common words is easier and less daunting than getting creative, and those job seekers may even feel that using similar words others in their field conveys a sense of association and belonging. Unfortunately though, if everyone does something, it’s no longer special.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that using any of these words is the kiss of death for your resume. It’s just a reminder to question your word choices. Are you selecting that word because it best describes what you did—or because you think it sounds impressive? In the end, your accomplishments and talents are what will impress the hiring manager, not 50-cent words.

A better approach? Focus on telling the story, not dressing it up. What can you do for the organization? What can you do better than anyone else? How does your previous experience reflect that? Answer these questions in direct language, and then you can move on to finding the buzzwords that help you sell it.

Pick the Right Resume Keywords

Some of the best buzzwords aren’t trendy, and you don’t need to look far to find them. Since they are resume keywords, you can grab ‘em right from the job listing, choosing the ones that match your qualifications to the activities and requirements that stand out in the ad.

Look for keywords related to the skills, qualities, and credentials sought by the hiring manager. Then, go beyond the job listing to search for related terms the employer may have inadvertently left out. (An easy way to do this is to look at other job listings for the same title.) Then, match that list with your skills.

Finally, review these lists of soft and hard skills that might apply to the job/industry. In the end, you’ll wind up with a fairly comprehensive list of keywords that relate to the job and your suitability for it. Including these words in your resume increases the chances that your resume will make it through the Applicant Tracking System (ATS) and be read by a human being.

Look for Action Words That Sell Your Skills

Once you’ve made your lists of keywords from the listing, industry terms, and skills, it’s time to use them all in a sentence. Action words can help you do that in an active, compelling way, describing your accomplishments succinctly and effectively.

Sample action words include:

  • Achieved
  • Budgeted
  • Compiled
  • Decided
  • Exercised
  • Facilitated
  • Guided
  • Hired
  • Improved
  • Judged
  • Launched
  • Merchandised
  • Negotiated
  • Organized
  • Presented
  • Queried
  • Resolved
  • Supervised
  • Trained
  • Upgraded
  • Validated
  • Won

Finally, if you’re looking for power words that go beyond skills, buzzwords, and action words, this list of power words might help you put the finishing touches on your resume.

Just remember that while buzzwords will help you get past the first review filter and show the hiring manager that you have it what it takes, the way you tell the story of your career and your candidacy is what will make all the difference.

Focus your resume, abilities, and interview around how you can help solve the company’s problems, further its goals, and move to the next level, and you’ll have the best chance at landing the interview and the job.