Career Advice

How to Replace Deadly Resume Phrases

Dear Liz,

Can you make some suggestions on how to replace the Ten Deadliest Resume Phrases?


Hi Kevin,

Great question! Boilerplate resume phrases like “results-oriented professional” are sitting on a shelf, ready to be inserted into your resume and 1,000,000 others. That’s why they are so popular! When we decide to replace them and upgrade our resume to a human-voiced style, we’ve got to find specific language that talks about what we’ve accomplished on the job, in context, and in as relevant a way as possible for our next employer. It’s more time-consuming to come up with these examples and find words to convey them, but it’s worth it!

Your resume-writing process begins with your job-search direction. If you don’t know what you want in your next job, your resume is going to show that (and that’s not good). It’s got to be crystal clear to the reader the moment s/he picks up your resume, what you want and why you’re beautifully suited to that sort of position.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you’ve done Customer Support, Sales and Operations Management over the years. That’s excellent. Yet, there is no job called “Mixed Customer Support, Sales and Ops Manager.” That is not a useful branding choice for us. That’s a solution in search of a problem. Perhaps a very, very small business would have need of all three things at once, but in that case, a stronger branding choice would be “I’m a startup COO.”

We’ve got to pick a job-search brand that speaks to actual talent needs in the marketplace. That may require more than one resume. The traditional “I have Finance, IT and HR experience” is worse than useless, because we’re saying that we’re neither fish nor fowl – we really don’t know what we are. So, we can’t write a resume until we have a handle on our job-search brand. Once we get the branding squared away, we can think about resume language.

Let’s say that you want to be an in-house PR person for a small or medium-sized services firm. You have been successful getting PR for services firms in the past. Of course, you want an employer to know that you’re sharp, savvy, a self-starter, etc. However, you don’t want to use those dreadful, done-to-death words (sharp, savvy, self-starter) to get those attributes across! Let’s tell a story in our resume summary, instead, and cover the same ground in a human-voiced way:


Ever since I began covering business stories for my college newspaper, I’ve been fascinated by storytelling in business and its power to shape audience behavior. I’m a PR manager for professional services firms whose strong suit is crafting stories that have gotten my clients profiled in TIME, USA Today and Forbes.


Does this job seeker stoop to say “Excellent communication skills?” Heck no! His or her skills are demonstrated right there on the page. This resume summary has five attributes its boilerplate predecessor lacked:

  1. A personality! We already have a tiny feel for the person behind the language.
  2. A branding choice. This job-seeker says “I’m not all things to all people. I’m a service-firm PR person, and I love it!”
  3. Evidence of success (no murky “proven track record of success”)
  4. Zero ‘praising adjectives’ – words like strategic, multi-faceted, and talented – that suck power out of our resumes; and
  5. A story!

What’s more compelling than a story? We can almost see the young reporter flying around the college campus, tape recorder in hand. Will this branding choice appeal to all employers? No way. Some employers will be horrified by the job seeker’s conversational tone. That’s good news! This job seeker wouldn’t be happy in those environments.

When we adopt a human-voiced resume approach, we’ve got some major thinking (about direction and brand) and some writing to do, but the result – a strong, human-voiced resume – will vault our job search results to a new level, I predict.

Thanks! Liz