What phrases should I avoid on my CV?
Remove These Meaningless Resume Phrases and Words
It's important that every word on your resume pulls its own weight in presenting you as a talented candidate. You don't want anything unessential on your resume that will distract hiring managers.
Here are a few phrases and information you can safely remove from your resume, as they don't add value and take up unnecessary space:
1. “References Available Upon Request”
This phrase is useless because employers will ask for your references when they need them. It's assumed that candidates have already pre-arranged this with their former colleagues and college professors.
Similar resume phrases to delete: “References Upon Request,” “References Provided Upon Request” and “Resume References Available Upon Request”.
Don’t put the word “Resume” at the top of your application. The fact that you’re sending a resume should be obvious the instant someone opens the file.
It also doesn’t help if you use “Resume” as the document’s file name. Add your complete name so hiring managers can easily find it.
3. “Duties Included”
“Duties Included” is often written before the list of bullet points for each job title listed in the resume’s work experience section.
It’s not just a waste of space. It also suggests that you only did what you were paid to do—nothing more and nothing less. Instead, write bullet points about your achievements and job-specific skills to stand out from other candidates. Don’t waste this space on everyday duties.
Similar phrase to delete: “Responsible for”.
4. Personal Data
Only your email, phone number, and address are needed in your resume. Your birthday, Social Security number, and religious or political views are unnecessary, and may even hinder your application.
Curriculum Vitae in other countries might require personal information, especially if used for immigration purposes. But most States prevent employers from seeking personal information to uphold equal opportunity employment.
5. Obvious Skills
Employers assume you already have these skills anyway, and no one will use them as keywords when searching for applicants in an ATS.
6. Employer Contact Information
Listing your employer’s address and phone number is unnecessary. Like the phrase “References available upon request,” this information is useless at this point in your application.
Your potential employer doesn’t need it until they start conducting a background check on you, which isn’t until you bested other applicants in the interview process.
Giving your employer’s phone number and email address too early can also jeopardize your current employment. All office calls and emails are monitored, so it’s best to avoid using these communication lines if you don’t want to be accused of intellectual property theft or misuse of business resources. You can get fired earlier than you planned if your boss finds out you’re looking for another job.
7. “Selected As”
Applicants often use this phrase to cite work projects they were chosen to lead or manage. Being in charge of a group of people or a major project is impressive, but employers are more interested in what you did with that power.
For an Account Manager chosen to work in liaison with different teams:
"Directed team sales presentation efforts, leading to huge contracts with major food and beverage corporations"
For a Team Leader chosen as an Interim General Manager for a failing golf and leisure club:
"Created a kid’s day camp program that grew over 350% in 5 years"
As you can see from the examples, it’s better to explain what happened while you’re in charge, instead of stating you were selected for a task and leaving it at that.
This word is just too hard to prove. It’s too broad and it doesn’t really tell an employer anything about you as an individual. Think about what you’re really trying to convey with the word “professional,” then tap your backspace button 12 times and write something stronger. Do you mean you’re professional because you always meet your deadlines, or do you have specific examples of times you’ve taken initiative and accomplished something spectacular? Great. Say that instead.
This word is as weak and ineffectual as it’s making you sound. Again, think about the message you’re really trying to convey. Do you have a working knowledge of InDesign or WordPress? Remove the word “competent” and briefly summarize your competencies instead. “Effectively designed and implemented HTML for multiple websites” sounds better than “competent Web designer.”
10. “References available upon request.”
Ah, who doesn’t love chores, right? Employers, that’s who. Don’t make them go around digging for the information they need: give it to them up front.
Anyone can say they’re “hardworking.” Indeed, who wouldn’t say they’re hardworking? If you’re trying to say that you always go above and beyond, such as taking on new assignments or volunteering to work extra hours, provide brief examples of how you’ve done that
Have you ever said a word over and over until you’ve said it so many times that it begins to lose its meaning? “Detail-oriented” is a term that has appeared on so many résumés that it’s begun to mean nothing at all. If what you really mean is that you’re an eagle-eyed proof reader or a graphic designer with a knack for concocting logos with hidden messages, say that instead.
No one would refer to themselves as “irresponsible” on a résumé—but that means calling yourself “responsible” is equally useless. Instead, describe the ways in which you’ve proven yourself when you’ve been given challenges and responsibilities in the past.
14. “Highly organized.”
Granted, “scatterbrained” doesn’t really work on a résumé either, but you can’t just say you’re an organized person. “Organized” is a snooze-inducing word, which means it’s taking up valuable space you could be using to say something unique about yourself. If you really are organized, mention the way you implemented an electronic filing system at your last job or the time you successfully juggled and completed multiple projects at once.
15. “Creative.” If you really were creative, you wouldn’t be using a word like this on your résumé. Unleash that gifted brain of yours and find a splashier way to describe your talents.
16. “Best.” Avoid hyperbolic words like “best,” “most,” and “greatest”. For the most part, they’re unprovable, and they can also carry you across the thin line that separates confidence and arrogance
17. “Awesome,” “rock star,” “kick-butt,” and the like. Unless you’re applying for a job in a very, very creative industry, you should avoid using casual lingo at all costs. You’re a grown-up now, so you need to write and talk like one.
Delete These Cliché and Useless Phrases from Your Resume
Applicants who used highfalutin words in their writing were thought of as untrustworthy and overcompensating by their colleagues.
Remember that study, next time you’re tempted to use a big word in your resume or cover letter.
This section includes different superfluous words, clichés, and useless resume phrases that lost their meaning because of overuse from applicants.
“Utilized” is probably the most common fancy word applicants use when they want to add a little gravitas to their work. “Use” just seems lacking when written alongside employment achievements, maybe because it’s just a three letter, one syllable word.
Simply replacing “use” with “utilize” doesn’t make your achievements a little grander though. It’s better to quantify the achievement, or find a better action verb to describe what you did.
“Experienced Social Media Manager,” “Experienced Graphic Designer,” and “Experienced Front-Web Developer,” these are all common ways applicants describe themselves on their resumes.
The word doesn’t say much about the quality of your experience in your field. You can be considered “experienced” in a particular task whether you’ve done it 10 times or every day for two years. It’s an imprecise way to describe length or quality of work rendered.
Writing “Experienced in developing social media reports” is redundant if your job title is already listed as “Social Media Analyst,” for example. A better way to describe your experience is to list the types of reports you create, and how often you make them.
Similar words to delete from your resume: “Seasoned,” “qualified,” “well-versed” and “skilled”.
Suggests replacing this phrase with events in your previous employment that prove your drive for results.
Similar resume phrase to delete: “Results oriented” and “goal oriented”.
If you think about it, who would hire an applicant who admits they’re not dependable?
Come up with a better way to describe how you’re a reliable and consistent performer instead. Don’t just use fluffy words, try to recall moments in your previous work where you had to go the extra mile when everyone else couldn’t deliver.
Similar phrases to delete: “Loyal” and “trustworthy”.
Everyone says they’re passionate about their work. But in reality, a good chunk of those people are just passionate about receiving a paycheck.
It’s okay, employers know this that’s why being ‘passionate’ about a job is such a cliché. So there’s no need to feign interest in your resume. You can be good at something without liking it. Besides, your skills, previous employment experience, and educational background are better indicators of your ability as a candidate.
Applicants who describe their skills and previous work experience as “exceptional” come across as self-congratulatory.
Coming of as an arrogant applicant can put your application at risk, if you don’t list equally amazing feats to validate your claims. It’s a subjective phrase like results-driven.
List the awards and recognition you’ve won from previous employers if you want to talk about how exceptional you are:
- 1st Place, Innovation in Engineering Award, 2015
- 2nd Place, Security Bank Hackathon, 2016
“Team Player” and “People Person”
Your resume states you’re a team player or a people person. Unfortunately, the recruiter just can’t take your word for it. You have to show them how you’ve worked in teams before, and the result of said group effort.
- Launched a successful Kickstarter Campaign that won over 250% in funding by collaborating with the marketing, product development, and customer service teams
- Collaborated with the accounting division to reduce overall budget by $300,000 and long term debt by 15%.
This is just a different way of saying you have initiative. Like “team player,” you need to show proof of this to make it believable in your resume. Mention a time when your initiative averted a problem, or saved your employer money.
What does “dynamic” even mean on a resume?
Does it mean the applicant is constantly changing, or does it refer to the applicant’s energy level? Either way, this quality is of no interest to employers. It’s also quite hard to describe this quality in an objective and tangible way on paper.
Unless you’re applying for a freelance role, employers already expect that you’re willing to adjust your schedule to fulfil your duties at work.
Highlight your flexibility instead by chronicling simultaneous projects you handled for one employer. This demonstrates your flexibility in terms of the workload that you can handle, and the variety of tasks you can juggle without losing track.
Here’s an example for how an HR Manager can show flexibility:
- Supervise 3 direct reports in the compensation and benefits administration of a 100-man workforce
- Identify unnecessary tasks to save manpower and reduce labour costs
This isn’t a vague word or overused cliché, it’s much worse because it downplays your value.
Applicants sometimes use this word when they refer to tasks they were involved in. It’s an all-encompassing term, that’s why it’s easier to write “assisted” when there’s a better suited word like “collaborated,” “contributed,” or “directed.”
Writing “assisted” instead of taking time to come up with a more appropriate verb for your action makes your contribution sound petty, as if all you did was take notes or make copies.
Compare the Following
“Assisted in creating a cross-departmental social group for hiking and volunteer events”
“Gathered interested participants from different teams to create a cross-departmental social group for hiking and volunteer events”
The first sentence doesn’t state what kind of assistance you provided in forming said social group, while the second sentence makes it clear that you played a major role in finding participants from different teams, and making them come together to join the group.
Here’s Another Comparison
“Assisted the HR Team in onboarding new interns”
“Guided interns on their first day at work by introducing them to the team they will work with, and touring them around the office”
Don’t bother claiming you’re a hard worker in your resume. Everyone else is doing it.
Employers evaluate a candidate’s hard work based on the awards they’ve won and the difference they made to the company’s bottom line.
Similar phrase to delete: “Dedicated”.
It's Now Time to Edit Your Resume
Open your resume document now, and start deleting these cliché and unnecessary phrases.
If you’re concerned your resume will be shorter and in turn make you look less qualified, don’t worry. There’s no evidence that suggests a long resume leads to more job offers.
Clichéd phrases are definitely something to avoid, at the very best it can be deemed meaningless waffle and at worst, it comes across dangerously close to megalomania. With senior management describing positions with cliché terms and self-help guides stressing their importance, the use of clichés has recently developed into an epidemic. To help you avoid these disastrous phrases, I have prepared some guidance around what not to include and various recommendations to aid you in your job hunt.
- ‘I am an excellent team-player and can work independently’ – probably the most popular phrase to be used on CVs (of course, doing little to separate you from the competition). Employers do want to see evidence that you can work collaboratively and autonomously but they will not be convinced by this simple sentence.
- ‘I am highly motivated’ – as opposed to what, lazy? Employers will generally assume you’re motivated, given that you are actively seeking a new job opportunity. It would be more beneficial to instead provide examples of how you’ve proven your motivation.
- ‘Great communicational skills’ – what do you mean by this exactly, what did you communicate, who did you communicate with? An excellent skill set to possess and include on your CV, but only if you provide evidence as to how you communicate effectively.
- ‘I have extensive knowledge/experience in …’ – if your CV is written correctly it should demonstrate effectively your level of experience and expertise, you shouldn’t have to state this.
- ‘Proven track record’ – according to whom, based on what? There should be little need for this rather broad statement in a well written CV, as the CV itself should act as a ‘track record’.
- ‘I’m very enthusiastic’ – quite a few years ago I asked a career advisor to review my CV, and I specifically remember him glancing at the first few sentences and saying; ‘Alex, my neighbour’s dog is rather enthusiastic’. Overstating your enthusiasm could make you sound a tad desperate, as well as focusing the CV away from your previous experience and talent, and instead towards your personal desires.
- ‘Curriculum Vitae’ – this is probably the most common CV cliché. If you’re applying to a job, it is going to be obvious to the recipient that you’re sending them your CV. Avoid self-explanatory titles and instead utilise the title space to own your CV by putting your name as the title.
- ‘I am solution focused’ – as opposed to what? No individual would intentionally focus on failure. Helen Stringer of Warwick University states that this phrase has the chance of sounding a little arrogant, there’s a subtle implication that where others may see obstacles, you find the solutions.
- ‘Proficient in MS Office Suite’ – there isn’t many (if any) candidates entering the professional job market who have no knowledge of the MS Office Suite. With CVs needing to concisely cover all your experience and knowledge, the appearance of this phrase is similar to saying you know how to read. Instead, use this space to outline your knowledge of advanced software used in that industry. Nevertheless, if a key requirement in a company’s job description is proficiency in MS Office Suite, then by all means include it.
- ‘I possess a strong work ethic’ – this phrase does nothing to separate you from the competition. Both the recruiter and manager would expect you to possess a strong work ethic, as you’re there to actually work… Instead, you could utilise this space to highlight times where you may have demonstrated a uniquely strong work ethic.
Phrases to leave off your resume and what to use instead
Below are some of their top responses, along with advice on how to give employers what they’re really looking for on your resume:
Describe what you bring to the role. Highlight your accomplishments in previous positions, emphasize your specific skills and note your education or other qualifications.
Explain exactly how you’ve gone the extra mile. For instance, did you regularly meet tough deadlines, handle a large volume of projects or tackle tasks outside your job description?
Working well with others is a must for any role today. Provide examples of how you partnered with classmates, fellow volunteers, colleagues or individuals in other departments to meet an objective.
People love employees and colleagues who can help them get out of a pickle, but be specific when you describe this quality. Highlight a difficult situation you encountered and how you handled it.
Hiring managers seek candidates who can adapt quickly to new situations. Describe how you responded to a major change at work or dealt with the unpredictable aspects of your job.
Employers want professionals with strong communication skills who can build camaraderie with internal and external contacts. Provide an example of how you won over a challenging customer or co-worker.
Companies seek individuals with initiative who can contribute immediately. Show how you took action when you saw an issue that needed to be fixed.
My final piece of advice would be, don’t bore the reader! Your aim is to make them sit up, pay attention and read on!
So, before you start writing or updating your CV, think about how it will be received from a 3rd party. If it sounds dumb to you it will sound dumb to them, so avoid the silly cliches and give them facts and experiences about what makes you great and how you can help their business.
Employers may receive dozens—or even hundreds—of résumés for a single position, so if you want yours to grab their attention, you have to think outside the box. Once you’ve put together an initial draft of your résumé, go through it and look for the following words that can ruin your odds of scoring an interview.