Does Your Resume Have the “Right” Words?

A sure-fire attention-getter in the media seems to be publishing a list of the best and worst words to use in a resume. CareerBuilder has recently contributed to the ocean of opinion on this subject with its list based on a survey of hiring managers, which ranks their views of the Best and Worst Words to Use in a Resume.

According to Rosemary Haefner, CareerBuilder’s VP of Human Resources, “Hiring managers prefer strong action words that define specific experience, skills and accomplishments….Subjective terms and cliches are seen as negative because they don’t convey real information. For instance, don’t say you are ‘results-driven’; show the employer your actual results.”

However, as with many such statements, this one (and the lists as a whole) carries some baggage that makes it less than 100% reliable.

Worst Resume Terms

The survey results indicate 17 terms you should presumably avoid using in your resume. Here are the top 5, including the percentage of respondents who listed them:

  1. Best of breed (38%);
  2. Go-getter (27%);
  3. Think outside of the box (26%);
  4. Synergy (22%);
  5. Go-to person (22%).

Best Resume Terms

Survey respondents advocated using 15 strong verbs and terms to help describe your experience in your resume, including these 5:

  1. Achieved (52%);
  2. Improved (48%);
  3. Trained/Mentored (47%);
  4. Managed (44%);
  5. Created (43%).

The list included a couple of terms that were not verbs: Revenue/Profits (23%) and Under budget (16%).

So What are the “Right” Words for Your Resume?

It depends. One of my esteemed colleagues, Robin Schlinger, is very knowledgeable about Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) and how the systems handle resumes. Briefly, here’s what she had to say about CareerBuilder’s list:
“Some of the worst terms are the ones that ATS systems are checking on, based on job announcements….The best terms all seem to be results driven words. They are not the words, in general, that ATS systems sort on….We need to write for both the human (achievements) and machine (keywords)….”

As I’ve said before, many of the changes employers have made in how they process and handle applicants’ resumes were not instituted to make your life as a job seeker easier, and nowhere is this more true than with ATS processing (as I said in my last post). You need to study carefully each job posting you want to respond to and do your best to make sure you are on-target with the words and phrases used, at the same time as you strive to inject a strong value message into your resume content.

Caveat: Just throwing a string of keywords into the mix will not (as I’ve said before) automatically win you points with the ATS and get you to the top of the candidate selection heap. You need to put some thought and effort into the development and refinement of your resume. Hey, no one promised it would be easy! Just be careful you don’t take as gospel the official-sounding pronouncements of publications such as the CareerBuilder best-and-worst list.

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