Career Center Blog

December 10, 2012

Fill in those hollow resume adjectives with real results


"Hello, my name is Randy. I'm a creative person specializing in organizational efficiency and effective communication. I'm a motivated individual with extensive experience in journalism and have a proven track record of creating innovative solutions. In my previous positions, I have always been responsible for integrating new strategic paradigms and facilitating analytical problem solving."

So, am I hired? On the strength of this description, boy I hope not.

According to LinkedIn, the opening paragraph above contains the country's 10 most overused resume "buzzwords" of the year, in order. The calendar says we have three more weeks left in 2012, but it's pretty safe to say this list is a comprehensive collection of hollow self-praise. Can you spot 'em all? (See below for the complete list.*) I also threw in a few of my own favorite useless terms, too.

In this third-annual buzzword list released from LinkedIn, the winners were chosen from the profiles of more than 187 million members of the networking site. Some common non-descriptive nouns were removed and the most common adjectives and two-word phrases were grouped together. Words from non-English-speaking members in 21 countries were also included after being translated.

The rankings in the United States changed a bit from previous years. Though we still love to describe ourselves as "creative," "organizational" and "effective," some other chestnuts like "dynamic" and "communications skills" were knocked off the top 10 list. But the ranking shifts and even the words themselves are largely irrelevant. We shouldn't be worried about which adjectives to use, we should be concerned with avoiding them as much as possible.

It's the old, but true, cliché: Show, don't tell. When you try to impress someone by saying you're "extensively experienced," all you end up doing is make hiring managers ask, "How do you define 'extensive'?" Instead, just lay it out for them by listing the various employers you've worked for and the (hopefully) increasing responsibilities you've taken on; for those concerned about ageism issues, you don't have to provide a set number of years. Rather than saying you're a "problem solver," just describe the problems you have faced and how you solved them. Let them give you the problem-solver label, not the other way around.

As you sum up your work experience on a resume or an elevator speech, stick to concise, simple descriptions of your relevant skills and how you have applied them. Not only do hiring managers want to see results, they want to get a sense of your thought process when you make decisions under pressure. Using empty adjectives without including facts or anecdotes to back them up implies that either you're hiding something or you don't really know what you're talking about.

As Ernest Hemingway, one of the champions of lean prose, once wrote, "A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing."

So don't turn your resume into Swiss cheese. Fill those hollow spaces with pertinent information and make Ernest proud.

*Top 10 buzzwords in the U.S. for 2012: 1) Creative, 2) Organizational, 3) Effective, 4) Motivated, 5) Extensive experience, 6) Track record, 7) Innovative, 8) Responsible, 9) Analytical, 10) Problem solving.

Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.

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Karen Burns Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.

Kristen Fife Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.

Lisa Quast Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.

Randy Woods Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.

Former contributors

Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.

Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.

Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."


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