Recruiting and Staffing

The Best (and Worst) Buzz Words Candidates Use on Résumés

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There are a number of people who I know disagree with this, but I still believe it makes sense for job candidates to have a good résumé.

Yes, I know there are a lot of people who think the traditional résumé is dead, but it’s not gone yet and there are still a lot of recruiters and hiring managers who prefer it to LinkedIn profiles, video clips, or whatever else people are trying to use these days.

I was thinking of this while reading the latest CareerBuilder survey about résumés, and as the research points out, hiring managers are still not spending a lot of time looking at résumés — which means that ANY résumé that wants to get their attention has got to grab them pretty quickly.

Less than 2 minutes spent on any single résumé

The survey found that one in six (17 percent) of hiring managers spend 30 seconds or less, on average, reviewing résumés. And a majority of them (68 percent) spend less than two minutes.

This raises a good question: Why is so little time spent on what is undoubtedly a very important activity?

Part of it is the nature of the work, with recruiters and hiring managers handling large volumes of resumes from large numbers of candidates, many who have no good reason to be applying for the job in question. It’s a numbers game, and the numbers of résumés flowing into any hiring professional can be mind-boggling.

In other words, there are so many résumés to deal with that there is no way to spend much time with any except the very best.

And as the press release on the survey from CareerBuilder rightly points out, “with so little time to capture interest, even a candidate’s word choice can make a difference.”  That’s why the survey asked employers and hiring managers “which commonly used résumé terms are overused or cliché ,and which are strong additions” that may cause you to spend more time on a candidate.

Here are the best and worst résumé terms from the survey, and how often they were mentioned by survey respondents. See what you think.

Worst résumé terms

  • Best of breed: 38 percent;
  • Go-getter: 27 percent
  • Think outside the box: 26 percent;
  • Synergy: 22 percent;
  • Go-to person: 22 percent;
  • Thought leadership: 16 percent;
  • Value add: 16 percent;
  • Results-driven: 16 percent;
  • Team player: 15 percent;
  • Bottom-line: 14 percent;
  • Hard worker: 13 percent;
  • Strategic thinker: 12 percent;
  • Dynamic: 12 percent;
  • Self-motivated: 12 percent;
  • Detail-oriented: 11 percent;
  • Proactively: 11 percent;
  • Track record: 10 percent.

Best résumé terms

Here are terms employers say they would like to see on a résumé:

  • Achieved: 52 percent;
  • Improved: 48 percent;
  • Trained/Mentored: 47 percent;
  • Managed: 44 percent;
  • Created: 43 percent;
  • Resolved: 40 percent;
  • Volunteered: 35 percent;
  • Influenced: 29 percent;
  • Increased/Decreased: 28 percent;
  • Ideas: 27 percent;
  • Negotiated: 25 percent;
  • Launched: 24 percent;
  • Revenue/Profits: 23 percent;
  • Under budget: 16 percent;
  • Won: 13 percent

A preference for “strong action words”

“Hiring managers prefer strong action words that define specific experience, skills and accomplishments,” said Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder, in a press release about the survey.

“Subjective terms and clichés are seen as negative because they don’t convey real information,: she added. “For instance, don’t say you are ‘results-driven’; show the employer your actual results.”

The CareerBuilder survey was conducted online within the U.S. by Harris Poll on behalf of CareerBuilder among 2,201 hiring managers and HR professionals between Nov. 6 and Dec. 2, 2013. With a pure probability sample of 2,201, one could say with a 95 percent probability that the overall results have a sampling error of +/-2.09 percentage points.

John Hollon is Vice President for Editorial of TLNT.com, and the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices. Contact him at john@tlnt.com, and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/johnhollon.
  • Alexis Pearson

    This is a great article all should review regarding the “right” and “wrong” buzz words on resumes. It is time to start stating what has been done as well as what you can do. What do you think?

  • Joseph Napoli

    Interesting article. I do believe, regardless of the surveys’ insight, hiring managers spend less than 2 minutes looking at a resume. In fact, I find that they review them on an average of 15-20 seconds tops. So, yes, a resume has to be clean, tight and possess a ton of sizzle.

    BTW, resumes still do exist. The need will never cease 100%. Just like the need for executive recruiters will never be eliminated in their entirety. When people make big decisions in their lives/careers, they have to have human interaction. Period.

  • SubCast

    If the traditional resume is dead, then what are people using?

  • Vijaykumar

    You can teach “how to smile” and a good actor’s smile can look natural. But do you really need to learn to smile ? These days CV’s and its wordings are all ‘paid job’ and can hardly be relied on..

  • Anonymous

    I know in my organisation they are doing expressions of interest, then sending staff a list of 6 questions that need to be answered within a required timeframe, and then a 30 minute interview. Interesting times ahead ….