There’s a Liz Ryan “resume killer” article setting the blogosphere ablaze (well at least warmly abuzz) that offers a list of overworked resume phrases that kill your resume (or so she says) and therefore you should never, ever, positively no way use them. Here are those dastardly resume-killer word combos that, that according to Liz, are “ones to seek out and destroy in your resume as soon as possible”:
- Results-oriented professional
- Cross-functional teams
- More than [x] years of progressively responsible experience
- Superior (or excellent) communication skills
- Strong work ethic
- Met or exceeded expectations
- Proven track record of success
- Works well with all levels of staff
- Team player
- Bottom-line orientation
Seek out and destroy? I was scared just reading that! Are we under attack? Are those phrases REALLY so horrendous that they will not only kill your resume but maybe even your chances of ever being hired again? Now Liz is a smart woman with some great advice, so I hope she forgives what I am about to say. But I have to add my ten or twenty cents.
Will These Resume Killer Phrases Really Get Your Resume Rejected?
While admittedly, these resume phrases run the gamut from boring to over-used to downright antiquated, will using just one or even a few of them fast-track your resume to the REJECT pile? Probably not. Or at least not in the places I’ve worked. In fact, with some of the poorly written, sloppily formatted resumes I’ve seen, these would be a step up! (That’s not to say I recommend them, of course.)
But since I know different industries have different ways of judging resumes, I asked my Creative Director buddy, Terry B of the fabulous Blue Kitchen (who sent me the article link in the first place.) He was way over on Liz Ryan’s side on this point. Resumes that pass his creative writing desk and have these phrases may never see the light of day again. But he is in the ultra-creative world of advertising! If someone applying to him for a job as copywriter, for instance, can’t come up with better writing than that, then they’re in the wrong field to begin with. Just following a list isn’t going to save their butt.
But what about the rest of us? Other fields are way more forgiving (assuming the rest of your resume and cover letter are sharp and attractive). Most times, a corny phrase or two are just not enough to be a deal killer (or resume killer). For example, sometimes I help hire people for finance or tech jobs. Use all the stale phrases you want if you also show me you’ve got great skills. And if you can maybe even write a decent cover letter, I’m in heaven.
And here’s one more confession: I recently used versions of “works well with all levels of staff” and “team player” for myself (I know…the shame) and got the job interview as well as the actual offer for a consulting job within our city school system. But here’s an important point: They advertised specifically for those skills and I merely echoed it back to them in a slightly personalized form.
Even though online experts will warn you away from certain resume writing styles and offer dire predictions if you fail to heed their advice, a good many of the people reading your resumes haven’t read all those articles! 😉 So learning the language of the native population can be very helpful. And of course this cuts both ways; resumes and cover letters for ultra-trendy creative companies would do well to avoid trite.
So should we use these resume killer phrases or not?
If you want to take Liz’s advice and avoid these resume phrases as a great safe common denominator approach to resume-writing, then you can’t go wrong. (And I hope I haven’t convinced you to do otherwise.) I just don’t want you to think THIS is why you didn’t get the job. An otherwise great resume with a trite phrase or two will rarely be rejected.
Sometimes when we read articles, we are given absolutes. It’s a much more exciting way to write than “maybe you should do this or maybe you should do that.” But there are very few absolutes in the world of job hunting. If you wind up using one or two of these dreaded “resume killer” phrases, you can most likely still land the interview. These are just reminders not to let your resume be filled with empty crap. Substance over trite is always a good way to go.
But please don’t be scared if you’ve already sent out resumes with one of the forbidden ten (or any of their cousins). In the majority of cases, they are not deal breakers. (Now if the whole resume is like that…ouch!)
What Should You Do Instead to Add a Human Voice to Your Resume?
Liz went on to give an example of what kind of resume you should use to break free from the tried & true and painfully uncreative. She gave us a sample paragraph meant to show your more human side that begins:
“I’m a Marketing Researcher who’s driven by curiosity about why people buy what they do. At XYZ Industries, I used consumer surveys and online-forum analysis to uncover the reasons why consumers chose our competitors over us; our sales grew twenty percent over the next six months as a result.”
With much respect, here’s where I strongly disagree with Liz. If I got a resume completely like that, it would be in the REJECT pile so fast you couldn’t see the motion of my hand. While Liz sees that as creative and human, I see it as not respecting my time by adding all those unnecessary words. Most people give a resume 8 seconds or less. Sometimes I get 100 resumes or more to screen in one sitting. I prefer resumes that are clear and easy to focus on the key points. Take Liz’s example, cut some words, make it into bullet points, and make the quantified results easy to see. Now you’ve got a resume that helps me to see who you are.
And by all means, use a human voice as Liz suggests. Just don’t write me a story! Save the “human” prose for a good cover letter. It really can make a cover letter shine. But even then, sentences (or bullet points) that focus clearly on things you have that they need are probably the way to go. So is brevity.
One last bit of resume advice for the 21st century
Since I know I don’t know it all (or even anywhere close) I turn to one of the people I respect most in the world of resume writing, Susan Ireland, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Perfect Resume. She tells me she’s been on both sides of the fence on this topic and has even strongly urged people not to use hackneyed phrases.
But she adds a clever twist to how these resume phrases can be used. Here’s what she suggests for job seekers:
Start with the overused phrase in your draft resume just to get the qualification in print. Then try your best to reword it so it paints the picture of how you’ll demonstrate that qualification in the job you’re seeking.
For example, if you’re a technical writer you may want to tell a prospective employer that you have “excellent communication skills,” which certainly supports your job objective. Then reword that hackneyed phrase to say exactly what communication skills you will use on your next job (perhaps “Skilled at translating tech-speak into instructions that are easily understood by novice users.”).
The revised phrase makes better use of your resume real estate because you’ve not only addressed an obvious job requirement, you’ve also “pushed” a prospective employer to envision you working as a technical writer – hopefully for him! That’s good marketing.
It sure is. Thanks Susan. A great resume writing tip for job seekers from someone who really knows! (And no she doesn’t pay me to say that. 😉 )
So now I’d like your take on this resume writing hubbub. Do hackneyed resume phrases make you gag? Would one of these resume killer phrases be enough for you to trash a resume? Do you actually prefer prose resumes to the stodgy old kind?
For Liz Ryan’s original article:
For some Work Coach Cafe resume help and cover letter tips:
About the author…
Ronnie Ann, founder of Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development and her own adventures as a serial job seeker. She can also be found on her new blog, Career Nook and on Google+.