What’s in a Word?

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Hiring Managers Rank the Best & Worst Words to Use on Your Résumé

Your Word Choice Matters


A recent survey of 2,201 hiring managers and HR professionals by employment website CareerBuilder indicates that your résumé may get more face-time than previously thought.

In contrast to an earlier finding by another employment website that hiring authorities spend an average of six seconds reviewing a résumé, the majority (68%) of CareerBuilder survey respondents reported spending on average less than two minutes, with only one in six hiring managers (17%) admitting to 30 seconds or less.

Whether you choose to believe in the six seconds or two minutes (and personally, considering the inherent response bias of the self-report method, we find the finding based on eye-tracking data more trustworthy), we think we can all agree that job applicants don’t much time to impress potential employers with their résumés.

So besides crafting a company and position-specific résumé, and beyond formatting and checking it for common typos and grammatical errors, what else can you do to keep a hiring manager’s attention for as long as possible?

CareerBuilder also asked its survey participants to share words and phrases they found to be overused on résumés, and to suggest ones that cause them to view candidates more favorably. And without further ado:

What you shouldn’t say on a résumé:
  1. Best of breed
  2. Go-getter
  3. Think outside the box
  4. Synergy
  5. Go-to person
  6. Thought leadership
  7. Value add
  8. Results-driven
  9. Team player
  10. Bottom-line
  11. Hard worker
  12. Strategic thinker
  13. Dynamic
  14. Self-motivated
  15. Detail-oriented
  16. Proactively
  17. Track record

What you should use instead:
  1. Achieved
  2. Improved
  3. Trained/Mentored
  4. Managed
  5. Created
  6. Resolved
  7. Volunteered
  8. Influenced
  9. Increased/Decreased
  10. Ideas
  11. Negotiated
  12. Launched
  13. Revenue/Profits
  14. Under budget
  15. Won


These lists tell us is that it’s important to focus more on explaining the impact your actions have had rather than the actions themselves. You can achieve this by quantifying your achievements whenever possible, and using action verbs rather than vague, general descriptors when describing your accomplishments and responsibilities.

In other words, don’t make claims (which can be applied to any applicant), just show results (which are unique to you). For example, instead of saying you are a go-getter, talk about how you launched or initiated a project/product /procedure that increased productivity/revenue by x amount or percentage.

In short, word choice matters; considering the average amount of time hiring managers review a résumé, it may be worth your while to revise your résumé and give them what they want to see.

And if you’re the one with the hiring power, consider spending a little more time looking beyond the words on the page and seriously consider what the applicant could do for you. Remember, you’re looking to find the best person for the position and your company, not the best résumé writer of the bunch.


Want a jump start on sprucing up that résumé? Click here for a free résumé template you can download and edit! Need some help? Our expert IT staffing specialists can assist you!


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Photo Credit: Pinterest, pinned by Sarah Townsend