11 phrases never to use on your resumé

It's a tricky tightrope to walk, crafting the perfect resumé—one that stays within the right conventions of a profoundly conservative format while revealing a spark of originality. One way to make it easier? Avoid these 11 stinkers

Unless you know someone who knows someone, the reality is that your resumé is most likely going to be one of hundreds—maybe even thousands—sitting on the desk of an overworked HR staffer. The first thing they’ll be looking for when pruning the stack of CVs on their desk is reasons to lighten their load as quickly as possible. A goofy headshot? Gone. Aggressively coloured paper stock? Gone. Notes from Mom attached? Posted up in the coffee room for everyone to have a chuckle over.

Once the obvious non-candidates have been weeded out for sticking out, there’s another level of sins that HR staff come across as, day after day after day, they plow through the remaining mountains of same-y resumes and cookie-cutter job applications: clichés, buzzwords and tired, overused phrases that, for some of them, grate more harshly than Hello Kitty stickers on a pink cover sheet.

1. I am a good communicator/I have excellent communication skills

WHAT YOU’RE TRYING TO SAY: “I can listen and respond well.”

WHAT THE EMPLOYER HEARS: “I talk a lot, but don’t have an original thought in my head.”

If you feel you must, in this day and age, list your ability to talk and listen on a resume, be specific. Give examples of a communications project you worked on. But in general, assume that the ability to communicate is a widespread human skill. Why not leave it off to make room for other, more concrete achievements?

WHAT YOU SHOULD SAY: Be specific and list a position that shows your ability to take in and relay information: “I worked with both the Vancouver and Toronto offices on the 2010 website launch.”

2. Teamwork/Team player

WHAT YOU’RE TRYING TO SAY: “I work well with others.”

WHAT THE EMPLOYER HEARS: “I miss my high-school volleyball coach.”

One of the most over-used clichés out there, sure to induce at least one eyeroll. Again, these days the ability to work with others is considered a given for most members of our species, especially those of us attempting to join an organization. Leave any talk of teams and your ability to play on them back in the locker room. Your social aptitude should be evident from the context of your other resume entries.

WHAT YOU SHOULD SAY: Again, be concrete and specific: “I worked on the eight-person Standards 2011 Task Force.”

3. My work is cutting-edge

WHAT YOU’RE TRYING TO SAY: “I am from the future.”

WHAT THE EMPLOYER HEARS: “Is it 1985 yet?”

Cutting-edge, envelope-pushing: these were deadly clichés back when cell-phones were the size of suitcases. Using them makes you sound quaint, deluded and boastful. Let the advanced technology or innovative procedures you worked with speak for themselves.

WHAT YOU SHOULD SAY: “I created a promotional film for the firm using Final Cut Pro 7.”

4. Multi-tasker

WHAT YOU’RE TRYING TO SAY: “I’m like hiring two employees in one”

WHAT THE EMPLOYER HEARS: “I’m easily distracted.”

As noted in the introduction, sometimes you will find a job ad that specifically asks for a multi-tasker – there are plenty of jobs, such as personal assistant that require the ability to juggle a variety of tasks. If this is the sort of thing you’re applying for, then go ahead. But even then be aware that multi-tasking is increasingly, thanks to the prevalence of studies that find it to be inefficient at best, seen as a bad work practice.

WHAT YOU SHOULD SAY: Again, be specific and list multiple, contemporaneous projects if you need to. But let the employer figure it out for herself.

5. I am proactive

WHAT YOU’RE TRYING TO SAY: “I’m a go-getter.”

WHAT THE EMPLOYER HEARS: “I love business babble.”

Is there any more meaningless word in the English language, or more clear sign that the speaker is in love with antiquated corporate jargon? Any sentence that is not improved by the removal of the word proactive? No. What should you say in its place? Nothing at all.

WHAT YOU SHOULD SAY: Seriously. Nothing.

6. I interfaced with our legal team on the McKenzie case

WHAT YOU’RE TRYING TO SAY: “I am good at talking to other departments.”

WHAT THE EMPLOYER HEARS: “I overcomplicate the most basic tasks”

How about  saying “met with.” Or “worked alongside.” Both mean pretty much the exact same thing, and don’t have that trying-too-hard-to-be-a man-machine air to them. If you ever find yourself attempting to facilitate interface, you are, quite possibly, a Cylon. And you are much too tedious to hire.

WHAT YOU SHOULD SAY: “I worked closely with the legal team on the McKenzie case.”

7. Detail-oriented

WHAT YOU’RE TRYING TO SAY: “I sweat the little stuff.”

WHAT THE EMPLOYER HEARS: “Anal. And can’t see the big picture.”

Most organizations already have a resident detail obsessive. They are a mixed blessing at best, able to spot the tiniest flaws before they cause trouble, but also able to hang up projects for far too long while they focus on less-than-important fidgeting. Best to let your love for the little things come through in the flawlessness of your application.

WHAT YOU SHOULD SAY: Ensure your resume doesn’t include any egregious errors. That should take care of it.

8. Technical jargon

WHAT YOU’RE TRYING TO SAY: “I know this industry.”

WHAT THE EMPLOYER HEARS: “I know this industry’s buzzwords.”

Unless you’re submitting a technical resume—for an engineering position, perhaps—avoid industry jargon. Even in IT, the most jargon-heavy field of all these days, the buzzwords change, fall out of favour or become meaningless with such speed that it is best to limit their use as much as possible. Make your accomplishments as broadly understandable as possible.

WHAT YOU SHOULD SAY: Keep it simple, and be sure to update frequently. This month’s Final Cut Pro 7 is next month’s Adobe Pagemaker. And try to never use the latest buzzword: there’s almost always someone in the company who thinks it’s a bunch of baloney.

9. Seasoned professional

WHAT YOU’RE TRYING TO SAY: “I’m experienced.”

WHAT THE EMPLOYER HEARS: “Won’t somebody give ol’ Gil a job?”

Sadly, a lengthy career can be a double-edged sword in today’s marketplace. In most fields, technological and structural change has become so rapid that a resumé that’s a little too long can be as much of a deterrent as one that’s too short. Edit with this in mind. Don’t go so far as to fake your age, but try to avoid looking too grizzled.

WHAT YOU SHOULD SAY: Just leave out your 1940s high-school graduation date.

10. Highly skilled

WHAT YOU’RE TRYING TO SAY: “I am highly skilled.”

WHAT THE EMPLOYER HEARS: “I am King of the World!”

Beware the modifier! Words such as skillfully, effectively, carefully, quickly and expert can hurt more than they help. They are unverifiable, for one thing, and can sound boastful or conceited. List your accomplishments and performance in a measurable way, and let the employer decide how skilled you are.

WHAT YOU SHOULD SAY: Include awards, nominations or concrete recognition of your skills.

11. Perfectionist


WHAT THE EMPLOYER HEARS: “I’m a huge pain in the ass.”

In general, avoid mentioning any personality traits you might happen to share with absolutist monarchs. Life is not perfect and neither is the workplace. In both, you’re going to have to compromise if you want to get anything done. The best employees know how far to pursue perfection and when to bend to the demands of reality.

WHAT YOU SHOULD SAY: Avoid defining your character on your resumé. It just isn’t the place, and you should let your record speak for itself.

READ MORE: 5 things to include on your company website, according to a magazine editor

This story was originally published on October 7, 2010.