The 12 Worst and Best Words and Word Combinations to Use in Resumes

The ultimate list of words and phrases you shouldn’t use in resumes, along with acceptable phrases to replace those pitfalls.

“I’m a real team player and I think outside the box.”

Yes; you should absolutely convince a potential employer that you’re a team player who thinks outside the box. But was that a sentence you’d want to include in a resume? Absolutely not!

When you’re about to start applying for a job, this is the main rule to remember: the resume shouldn’t tell; it should show. If you just say you’re a team player, you can’t expect the hiring manager to take your word for it.

That was a single example of a sentence you shouldn’t include in a resume. There are many more! But there are also word combinations that work.

Are you willing to find out more? Of course you are! We’ll list few practical examples of what works and what doesn’t work when writing a resume. Pay attention to these constructions; they will set your resume up for success or failure. What do you prefer?

(Of course it was a rhetorical question.)

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#1 Best of Breed Vs. Achieved

“Best-of-breed marketing expert with exquisite knowledge and experience in the industry.”

Oh; that sounds so creative! That best-of-breed construction makes you look like an exceptional individual. Or does it?

CareerBuilder conducted a survey among employers, so they would identify the worst resume words a candidate could use. This one was at the top of the list, with 38% of hiring managers labeling it as negative.

Hiring managers prefer strong action words that define specific experience, skills and accomplishments

The first problem with this construction is that it’s a cliché. Believe it or not, you wouldn’t be the only one to include it in a resume or cover letter. Many other job applicants have already had the same “idea” and we can only make an assumption here: it was not the phrase that got them an interview. In fact, most hiring managers get the chills from such clichés.

The second problem? The real intention of the phrase is to indicate an animal (usually a dog) that represents its breed. Yes; I get the metaphor. The hiring manager will get it, too. It still doesn’t work.

Why don’t you just be direct? You don’t have to invent new words and phrases to show that you’re an achieved professional. Just write it: you’re an achieved professional in the relevant field. Then, list facts and examples that show exactly how achieved you are.

#2 “I” Impersonal Writing

Will you use first person when writing the resume? That’s a big mistake. If you use I once, you’ll have to use it in every single sentence that follows.

Yes; you’re writing about yourself in the resume, so first person may seem like an obvious choice. However, it makes the resume look repetitive and it makes you look like a self-absorbed person. That’s not the impression you want to make, right?

I’m not saying you should use he or she. That would be weird. You should avoid using pronouns, whatsoever. Instead of saying “She is an expert” or “Maria is an expert,” you’ll simply say “Expert in…” Instead of saying “She specializes in mobile app design,” you’ll simply say “Specializes in mobile app design.”

#3 Think Outside the Box Vs. Initiated/Created

“I think outside the box” is one of the most overused clichés in resumes, cover letters, and reach-out messages. Ever.

Think of the elevator pitch. If you had a single minute to present yourself to someone important, would you really use cliche phrases like this one? I hope not! You’d try to get really specific, so this person could get to know the real you.

Since you have only few moments to impress with the resume before the hiring manager discards it, you better use that time wisely. You need to demonstrate your thinking outside the box. Use action verbs like initiated or created, so you’ll show instead of tell.

#4 Utilize Vs. Use

This one is actually funny. When people write resumes, they strive to appear smart. Of course you want the hiring manager to perceive you as an intelligent person. But using “big” words to trick them into believing you’re smart… doesn’t work!

Look; no one said you should write the simplest sentences just like a 5th-grader would write them. The way you write reflects your intelligence; there’s no doubt about it. But the more complex it gets, the bigger the chances are that “advanced” language will backfire on you.

Who uses utilize in daily speech? No one; or at least that’s what I’d like to believe.

Utilize is just one example of the many big words you could use. When there’s a simple word for what you want to say, use it. Focus on meaning instead of form. Big words will add some form, but they will dilute the meaning. Plus, you don’t want to force the hiring manager to look up words like sesquipedalian in the dictionary. Trust me: they won’t bother.

#5 Responsible For Vs. Action Verbs

“Responsible for coordination of tasks between the team members.”

This phrase is problematic from few aspects. First of all, it’s in present tense. If you write “Was responsible…” it lacks a pronoun, and we already said you should avoid using pronouns. The use of present tense is not okay when you refer to a previous position.

Another problem is that the sentence lacks action. It doesn’t show your initiative. It also gives the resume a passive, boring tone. It’s not grammatically problematic; it just doesn’t give the proper vibe to your resume.

Check this instead:

“Coordinated tasks between team members.”

Much better. The sentence is shorter, so it’s immediately clearer. Coordinated is an action verb that shows your initiative and adds a punch. If you add few specifics to support that claim, it will be spot on!

#6 Your Vs. You’re (Or Vice-Versa)

“I’ve been following you’re work for a very long time and I’d be happy to become part of you’re team.”

“I am a big fan of and your the company that fits best in my career plans.”

Do you get what’s wrong here? If you don’t, then we have a serious problem. Poor grammar is one of the greatest deal-breakers for hiring managers. Maybe you think that your writing doesn’t express your intelligence, but guess what: it does!

Most hiring managers are social media savvy, but they want to know that their future employee can carry on professional conversations with all levels of the organizations – using real words

We’re talking about basic grammar that you should’ve covered in elementary school. Such mistakes will make the hiring manager assume that you’re illiterate, or you simply don’t care.

#7 Vs. a Professional Email Address

Should we even discuss this? If the email address is not professional enough, you’ll be discarded as a candidate no matter how impressive the rest of the resume is.

So what’s a professional email address? Just use your name. If it’s taken, twist it in an acceptable variation. Oh; and use Gmail. We outgrew Hotmail and Yahoo a long time ago.

#8 Results-Driven Vs. Delivered

What does results-driven mean, anyway? You’re driven by results? What results?

This phrase leads us to the problem called fillers. Marina Shijak, resume writer at ProEssayWriting, explains: “A phrase like results-driven doesn’t say anything. It’s vague and colloquial, and that’s exactly how your application will be perceived. It makes your resume look like it was based on a template. It’s just a filler that’s there to make the resume look longer and more detailed. Should I say it fails that purpose?”

As a term, results-driven is supposed to indicate your focus on outcomes and achievements. It’s your ability to understand the goals of an organization and set precise objectives that push you towards those goals. Instead of using “results-driven” as a vague indicator of this personal characteristic, you should simply use examples.

“I set (precise) goals and delivered (precise) results.” Needless to say, the goals and results you mention in the resume should be absolutely relevant to the position you’re applying to, and they should be very specific.

You don’t want to make things up. Remember: the hiring manager should be able to check and verify these details. You may rest assured that they won’t hire you before making sure everything you stated in the resume is the absolute truth.

#9 Present Tense Vs. Past Tense for Previous Jobs

When online guides tell you to use action verbs, it doesn’t mean you should use present tense all the time. You can use present tense solely for your current position. For all previous work experiences, you’ll use past tense, but you’ll still avoid passive.

#10 Duties Vs. Accomplishments

“Worked with children as part of the Teach a Child project.”

This sounds pretty cool, right? Not to a hiring manager! In this case, we have the problem of emphasizing duties instead of accomplishments. You might as well copy and paste the description of the previous job you had, and you’d have a resume of this type. It doesn’t work because it’s generic and it doesn’t show the results of your work.

“Led the team of the Educate a Child project, which provided 2500 books to children of poverty-affected families.”

Now that’s much better. Don’t you think?

#11 References Available Upon Request Vs. Actual References

“References available upon request.”

Oh. My. God.

Does anyone still use that phrase? Apparently, it’s still pretty common among job applicants. And it’s the worst mistake they could possibly make.

What’s the point of references, anyway? It’s simple: they give the hiring manager an opportunity to confirm that you actually worked on the positions you mentioned and you did everything you claimed to have done in the resume.

The hiring manager will not take your words for granted. They will most definitely want to check and verify the facts, so they expect to see reliable references. If your resume is impressive and there’s no list of references, of course they could contact your previous employers. They have good methods to get phone numbers or emails. But let’s get real: these are busy people who don’t like wasting their time. If there’s no list of references, they will probably discard your application. Why should they bother with an incomplete resume?

Take this advice: provide actual references. They are great not only because they allow the employer to get verification, but also because the people you reference can recommend you as a great candidate.

#12 Vague Instead of Specific Words

  • Professional
  • Experienced
  • Results-driven
  • Talented
  • Creative

You may be all these things and much more. Still, these are not the right words to use in a resume. They make it look generic. It will look like it was based on a template, and that’s definitely not something you want.

Almost all companies use HR management software nowadays. They will put your resume in the database and they will consider it later on, when they have relevant positions available… if they manage to locate it! You have to understand that the database of an important company is huge! The hiring manager will use position-specific keywords to locate the resumes that could work.

Will they use words like professional? Absolutely not. They will use very specific terms, such as managing director, business development, under budget, volunteered, influenced, and other terms that are not chronically overused or vague.

So How Do You Write That Perfect Resume?

It all comes down to a single conclusion: your resume must not be generic. If you absolutely must use a template, change it until it’s unrecognizable from its initial version. Do not repeat the same phrases that 90% of other candidates will use.

You want to stand out.

You’ll do that only by showing your true personality and real experience in the resume. Just write in simple, clear language, so the hiring manager won’t have to strain to figure out what you’re saying. Use active language and focus on accomplishments instead of responsibilities.

Writing a resume is not an easy thing. In fact, it may be the most challenging part of the job application process. But it’s just a start. You’ll have an interview to handle afterwards, and that’s a challenge of a whole other level.

Author bio:

Tom Jager is professional blogger. He works at A-writer. He has degree in Law and English literature. Tom has written numerous articles/online journals. You can reach him at G+ or Facebook.

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