Should you or shouldn’t you??
Is including buzzwords in your résumé that big of a “no-no”?
It seems that most résumé writers say that you should avoid them like the plague – that including them can possibly get your résumé rejected by the human reader who apparently has a big hate-on for buzzwords.
What I’m talking about are those descriptive, over-used, cliché words and terminology that are typically adjectives or adverbs but sometimes they’re nouns.
Here are some of the most common buzzwords:
Out of the box (thinker)
Buzzwords tend to be adjectives (as in “motivated”) but can also be nouns (as in “go-to person”) and even adverbs (as in “successfully”).
They are words that most people use in their résumé, but it’s clear that they have NO IDEA WHY, because there’s nothing in the résumé that actually supports the claims they’re making about the attributes they say they have.
When you write your résumé, you should strive to avoid using these over-used buzzwords and phrases for a number of reasons which I outline below.
Buzzwords are largely meaningless
Buzzwords are attempts to make a résumé sound more impressive and are usually included to make up for weak content. The danger is that this is obvious to the reader who is left wondering things like:
“What the heck do you mean by out of the box thinker?”
“How is your out of the box thinking going to help me exactly?”
If you’re going to use a term like that, you must back it up with a specific example to support that claim. Just saying you’re an “out of the box thinker” isn’t nearly enough and to be honest, it just sounds kind of lame.
If what you mean is that you came up with and implemented creative solutions that drove organizational business growth and profits, then you need to create a short impact statement that explains that in a way that is clear and concise and ideally includes some metrics to show actual evidence of your achievement.
Same with “energetic”. How does that show up in real life when you are working with the team or on your own? Are you literally running around the office all day long? Doing push-ups at your desk? Do you work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week? Do you talk a lot and speak quickly?
That’s probably not what you mean, but these are the images that come into my head when I see the word “energetic” on the résumé.
Just saying you are “energetic” is too vague. Instead, think about the kind of desired results your “energetic” quality produced and then create a statement that clearly explains what that means in business terms that would be something the employer would want to know.
You might get called out about a buzzword
An astute recruiter or hiring manager might ask you point-blank, what you mean by “energetic” or “out of the box thinking” and how is that going to help the organization?
When you are in an interview situation, some hiring authorities are looking for reasons to NOT hire you. It’s not that they don’t want to hire someone – they just don’t want to hire someone who might not be what they claim to be.
So, if you can’t answer the question about why you are “energetic” or whatever you claim, in a way that’s convincing, that’s not going to go over well and you will likely not move forward through the interview process.
Buzzwords bloat the résumé
Including meaningless buzzwords take up valuable real estate you could reserve for something more important, like showing how and where you contributed to positive business outcomes.
At the end of the day, the employer wants to know what you did that helped your employers save time, save money and make money.
Buzzwords are the visceral fat in the résumé you can cut out, especially if you want to prevent your document from being pushed onto an extra page. Focus instead on providing specific evidence of your career successes, even if it means pushing your résumé onto an extra page.
If you have created compelling and relevant content that addresses the “Why should I care about this?” question that the employer has running through their head the whole time, they will have no problem reading a three-page résumé.
I’d rather read a three-paged document that communicates exactly why you are the “perfect fit” for the role rather than read a one-pager that is vague, full of meaningless buzzwords and says nothing about your value.
Regardless of the length the the document, the point is to hook the reader on the first page – ideally the top 1/3, so the length of the résumé is actually irrelevant for the most part.
No one really liked buzzwords
I personally roll my eyes when I see “passionate” and “team player”, “energetic”, “results-oriented”.
Using these terms actually makes you look and sound like everyone else because – guess what? – everyone else is using them.
If you really want to stand out and get noticed (in a positive way), you need to distinguish yourself from the pack. One way is to drop the buzzwords and either come up with more powerful and unique descriptors OR focus on your career wins.
I personally think the latter is way more effective. While it might initially look and sound impressive to have these really fancy words in your résumé, you run the danger of sounding too boastful and it could backfire, especially if you have not given rock-solid evidence of why you say what you say you are.
Now, the challenge is tailoring your résumé to the job posting which is what you should be doing for each position. That means, making sure that you have included the important keywords in your résumé.
Here’s the big dilemma…..
But what do you do when the job posting is full of these over-used words, terms, and phrases? It seems that many employers are still behind the times in terms of writing good job descriptions.
So it begs the question…
Do you include the buzzwords from the job posting to help a résumé pass the ATS? That would actually be doing the exact opposite of what I’m suggesting.
Here’s the solution….
Many résumé experts will agree that going for a balance is probably the best strategy.
That means, peppering the résumé with important keywords and buzzwords provided that they match the job posting while also including some unique language and of course strong action verbs throughout.
The important keywords are those that describe the hard and soft skills that are found in the job posting. They are typically located in the section that lists the job requirements (qualifications) but could also be found in the section that lists the position’s duties and responsibilities.
What you need to do is review the entire job posting and highlight all the keywords and then determine the most critical ones that you must include. There is no perfect way to do this – you’ll have to use your best judgment to decide what you think the employer is really looking for.
Include Important Soft Skills
For example, an important soft skill might be “strong communicator” or something to that effect.
If you claim to be a “strong communicator”, what does that really mean? How would your manager or peers describe your communication skills? What was the positive and desired result of your “strong communication” skills?
After you’ve given that some thought you can then create a bullet point that paints a picture of how your “strong communication” skills achieved a desirable result.
For instance, maybe you were able to explain complex accounting concepts and break them down into easy-to-understand information for the lay-person so that they understood what it meant which solved a knowledge gap in the organization and enabled the team to work more effectively which in turn, added to the bottom line in some way.
Or maybe your “strong communication” skills helped to build consensus within the team so that everyone was able to work toward the common goal of achieving a desired outcome.
Include Important Hard Skills
While you should definitely include important soft skills, the emphasis should be on demonstrating critical hard skills. These are not personal attributes and qualities but rather, learned skills like data processing, copywriting, purchasing and those kinds of things.
The reason it’s better to focus on hard skills is that they are much easier to express in a résumé.
Unlike soft skills which are difficult to define and prove and tend to be more subjective, hard skills can be proved by pointing to degrees, certifications, awards, grades, etc. as well as showing specific business results that were achieved by leveraging certain hard skills.
General rule of thumb…
So, I hope this has cleared up any confusion you might have about what words to include and exclude. There is no perfect way to do this, so as I’ve already mentioned, you must use your best judgment.
If you’re kind of stuck and don’t know what keywords and buzzwords to include (or not), the general rule of thumb is this:
If you can’t express why you are what you say you are in a way that’s clear, concise, and compelling by giving specific examples, I would advise that you eliminate whatever that word or phrase is from your résumé.
Instead, focus on expressing where you used your soft and/or hard skills that led to some kind of positive and desirable business outcome, even if it was just creating a better spreadsheet that improved efficiencies.
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