Resume Words: What Gets You Hired or Ignored
A beautiful layout and expressive headers on a resume aren't enough to draw a recruiter’s attention. What will earn you the interview?
The answer is, the you need to use the best resume words to get your resume noticed. Resume words are what get you noticed. Far too many applicants fall into the same trap of using cliche terms, stale expressions, and bland word choices. We're here to make sure you don't follow that trend and, by avoiding it, set yourself apart from the rest of the field.
In this blog post, we are going to go through a variety of scenarios and achievements, and discuss some of the descriptive and action words you can use to effectively express your achievements in a way that resonates with the recruiter and compels them to reach out to you.
But first, let’s go over some of the words you should avoid at all costs. After that, we’ll give you some great examples of better words and phrases you can use to replace those resume-killing words.
Words to avoid using on your resume
You want to avoid using cliche words and phrases that are likely to appear on a ton of other resumes but fail to convey a strong message.
Using the wrong wording can make you sound like a cog in the machine instead of a creative go-getter. Of course, that’s not the message you want to send!
Here are some examples of words and phrases that are often used but should be avoided at all costs:
This says nothing about your achievements. All “experience” means is that you were present and (maybe) attempted to contribute.
Instead, use words that express your actual contribution in quantifiable terms. (we’re going to go over some awesome examples later in this blog post).
Another phrase that falls into the same trap. Again, you’re making a claim without backing it up with an example. Instead of this, bring an example of a situation in which you exemplified success in a team setting.
Again, the most important thing is quantifying your success.
Telling someone you’re a hard worker won’t convince them of anything. The important thing is to SHOW them that you’re a hard worker. Specific examples work perfectly here. And be prepared to discuss these examples, in depth, come interview time.
Do not include things that should be a given. Motivation is an absolute must for nearly every position. So don't waste space reiterating the obvious. Use your resume to show the employer what sets you apart from the rest of the pack, not stating that you have the bare minimum for employment in any position.
Similar to the one above and just as common. The fact that you’re applying for a position as a professional should be enough to express the fact that you consider yourself a professional.
No need to be so redundant.
Results oriented? If you never saw results of your work, you’re probably not a professional. Again, that type of redundancy doesn't help you stand out, it just lumps you in with the rest of the pile.
Strong negotiation skills
This is a great example of a phrase that sounds, kind of, descriptive. But, it fails to properly describe your achievement related to the claim. It’s important that you bring an actual, real life scenario as evidence for your claim. Something like, “negotiated with vendors for 8% savings” is a more descriptive and way more effective way of conveying this message.
Your goal is to be perceived as a go-getter and an achiever, not a cog who just waits for orders to follow. Creative wording will not only help you better present yourself as a strong potential asset, it will make your resume more interesting to read.
Great words and phrases to use on your resume
Now that we have a good idea of what ineffective resume wording looks like, let’s go over some great and super effective wording that will launch your resume to the next level of success.
You may have heard the importance of “action verbs” on a resume. They are so important because nearly all resume bullet-points start with a verb, it’s hard to avoid.
Since hiring managers are going to be sorting through piles of resumes, so it will help you greatly to differentiate yourself by starting your bullet points with verbs that are more creative and less common.
In addition, you want to tell a short story in each point. Don't just proclaim yourself an expert negotiator, show them WHY you are an expert negotiator.
So what are the best words to include on your resume?
We scoured the internet and talked to a lifelong recruiter looking for effective action verbs, here are some awesome examples operated by category:
Communication and People Skills
The important thing to notice is that these examples of communication-oriented action verbs on a resume set the stage for a descriptive point.
“Addressed logistical issues by reworking supply line resulting in 20% savings”
“Presented progress report weekly on behalf of development team”
“Influenced management’s decision regarding [WHAT?] resulting in 15% uptake in monthly revenue”
As you can see, when you use words like “addressed” or “presented”, you are making it clear that you’re about to describe exactly WHAT you addressed, WHAT you presented and WHY that was beneficial to the company.
Again, your resume should be all about providing the potential employer with examples of your successes. Using action verbs like the ones listed about tells the reader that you’re about to follow with an example, and that’s exactly what they are looking for.
you can learn more about the best ways to highlight communication skills in our primer on Including Communication Skills on a Resume (Examples and Tips).
Organizational skills are soft skills, making it hard to quantify them. That doesn't mean you can’t go into detail! Here are some great words to start off descriptive bullet points that effectively convey your exceptional organization.
Here are some great examples of effective verbs to include when describing your organizational skills:
As you can see, these action verbs show the reader that you’re about to tell them, specifically, what you did.
For example, “Set up new filing system resulting in more efficient workplace and easier collaboration”
“Corresponded with clientele resulting in higher customer service ratings”
“Implemented updated organizational software leading to easier customer management”
It can’t be emphasized enough how important having specific points is. The very purpose of these verbs is to make it clear what, exactly, you have achieved.
Management is no different from any other skill. On a resume, our goal is the same: Use the points to give a detailed description of your responsibility and, more importantly, how you successfully made good on that responsibility.
Here are some examples of action verbs that will start off your points most effectively:
These can be a bit trickier because management always depends on the people they are managing for effective results. If you have specific statistics that will demonstrate your effectiveness as a leader, that’s the most important thing to convey.
“Presided over sales team resulting in 30% increase in sales in 4 months”.
If you don't have any specific numbers, you should still go into detail. For example:
“Coordinated efforts between three teams to quickly roll out new product”
“Managed development team to consistently produce deliverables ahead of schedule”
As you can see, it’s possible to get into the details of your achievements even if you do not have quantifiable statistics to back it up.
Technical skills are hard skills. Meaning, they can be demonstrated directly through questioning, testing or be proved with a degree or certificate.
For this reason, if you’re building a technical resume, put a larger emphasis on its skill section (for more information check out this blog post about effectively building your resume’s skill section).
If your main method of conveying skills is in a separate section, quantitative points are harder to make. Generally, you will need to prove your skills through action before you interview or get the job.
Because of this, your goal when discussing technical achievements is to convey as much detail as possible. You never know how much in common your old position has with the new one, so having similar technical experience can set you apart from the pack, even when everyone else has the relevant skills.
Here are some great action verbs to start off your technical points:
For example, “developed CRM system using java” may not make you a better candidate than anyone else who is an expert in java. But, if the new position specifically involves a CRM system, your experience in the exact category may set you apart.
Similarly, “Maintained eCommerce website for high volume company” may be directly applicable to the job you’re applying for.
If we put the correct focus on the right words, we really can help ourselves to stand out by using points that are impactful and send a message of achievement.
If you need to find a job fast, you need to impress and catch the attention of the recruiter with effective and attention-grabbing vocabulary. The words you use paint a picture of your value before you ever speak to the hiring manager--shouldn't you use the best words you can?
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Jeffrey is one of ZipJob's co-founders and has been a blog contributor since 2016.
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