Career Advice

Ten Deadliest Resume Phrases

My daughter is an avid junior anthropologist. She observes her own peer group like a hawk. On the first day of middle school, she drew me a social map of the lunch room, showing the locations of all the middle-school cliques, from jocks to nerds and popular girls and everyone in between. She likes to observe grown-ups, too. The other day she said to me “You and your business friends all speak the same language, y’ever notice Mom? It’s full of jargon and acronyms.”

“We learned that language against our will,” I told her. “You work in the corporate world long enough, and it seeps in.”

“It’s like those tapes that play while you’re sleeping to teach you a foreign language,” she said.

“And now we use corporate speak even when we don’t want to,” I replied.

Our involuntary use of corporate boilerplate is never more in evidence than when we’re sitting at a keyboard. After twenty years as a corporate HR leader, I got so used to writing corporate dreck like: “Effective May 14, it will no longer be permissible to access the yada yada yada without authorization.” that it was hard for me to write any other way.

If our use of corporate speak language is bad in everyday correspondence (although Facebook and Twitter are helping us break the habit) it’s the worst of all in our resumes. Following is my list of the ten most-hated, most-useless corporate speaks resume phrases, like “Results-oriented professional” and “Team Player.”

Here’s my list of the Ten Deadliest Resume Phrases:

  • Results-Oriented Professional (this was snappy and original in 1985 – now, not so much)
  • Proven track record of success (as though there might be an UNproven track record of success – or a track record of failure)
  • Strong work ethic (says you)
  • Team Player (gag me)
  • Bottom-line orientation (don’t they talk about this in “Office Space”?)
  • Excellent (or Superior) communication skills (You just proved that one wrong)
  • Best-in-Class Anything (The Westminster Dog Show called – it wants its cliches back)
  • Strong attention to detail (better triple-check that resume for typos!)
  • Meets or exceeds expectations (lifted straight out of an Army training manual. Plus, if you exceeded expectations, why bother telling us that you also, sometimes, merely met them?)
  • Visionary, Strategic thinker (The business equivalent of a personals ad that says “I’m sexy, smart and cool, and chicks dig me!”)

And, here’s why these deadly resume phrases are so bad:

  • They say nothing – they’re filler.
  • They’re dreadfully unoriginal. Everyone says the same junk. Do we want to brand ourselves “Baaaah, the sheep, who writes what everyone else writes on his resume?”
  • They’re made of thin air. We can’t prove them. In fact, many of them argue against the virtue they seek to assert. If I really were an excellent communicator, would I use the words “excellent communicator” to convey that? No way! I’d tell a story instead, or pop open the thesaurus.
  • They’re self-praising terms. We’re brought up not to praise ourselves, for good reason – it’s unseemly and tacky. Also, we don’t need to do it. We can simply share a bit of our background with the resume-reader, and let him or her make a determination about whether we’re smart, insightful, organized, etc. We don’t need to trumpet our own fabulousness.