What a Cliché: 5 Most Overused Resume Phrases

Get rid of rhetoric and get to the tangible job skills

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Just because something sounds good, doesn’t mean you should put it on your resume. A million other people probably have used the same phrase time and time again in their cover letter and during their interview. In today’s competitive job market, your resume needs to be innovative, unique, and eye-catching. This can’t be accomplished by using the same tired phrases that recruiters and hiring managers see and hear just about every day.

Career strategist Jodi Brockington, founder & president of Niara Consulting talks  some of the most overused resume phrases and how we can put them to rest for ultimate job seeking success.

I’m a great team player: This phrase is used far too often because job seekers know that every employer wants a team player. However, it’s best to demonstrate how you’ve been a team player rather than just saying that you are one. “’Team player’ can also be misleading because it can suggest that you are a follower rather than a leader,” Brockington says.  Consider phrases like “played various roles,”  “worked with multiple departments,” “thrived in diverse work environments,” or “handled a variety of tasks.” “The team player thing is kind of played out,” she adds.

I have extensive experience in … : People love to use this phrase, whether they’ve been working for 10 days or 10 years. Extensive is a very vague word that doesn’t tell an employer much about the actual experience you have, Brockington says. “[Extensive experience] can imply that you’ve been stagnant or that you’re older.” There was a time when this phrase was more acceptable because employers sought out individuals who had been doing the same thing for a long time. “Nowadays people are looking to hire that ‘master of many,’ ” Brockington says. Employers are more impressed by job seekers who have advanced and have multiple areas of expertise. More specific phrases like “five years progressive experience in project management and staff leadership” are a better option.

I’m an awesome multi-tasker: The fact that you can surf the Web while talking on the phone doesn’t make you a multi-tasker. In addition, multi-tasking isn’t necessarily a good trait if it isn’t done effectively.  Brockington says that if not used in the proper context, “multitasker” can lead employers to believe that you aren’t detail-oriented or able to pay adequate attention to specific tasks. It may be better to include that you are “able to prioritize and efficiently manage multiple assignments” rather than just saying that you’re a multi-tasker.

I am entrepreneurial-minded: This word can be particularly damaging if it’s not something that the position calls for.  Most job seekers refer to themselves as “entrepreneurial” in order to show independence and leadership skills. However, the term often implies that you “lack work experience or want to do things your own way,” Brockington says. She suggests that a better approach would be to highlight your skills in strategic planning, leadership, understanding corporate vision and culture, risk-taking, and out-of-the-box thinking.

I work well in a fast-paced environment: It’s not very likely that an employer will refer to their company as slow-paced. So, it really isn’t necessary to indicate that you can “work in a fast-paced environment.” The term is too general and doesn’t tell the employer about the specific settings in which you’re most experienced, Brockington says. She suggests that you provide more valuable phrases that talk about competency and completion of tasks such as “implement key time-management skills in high-demand settings” or “able to exceed company expectations by prioritizing tasks and completing assignments ahead of schedule.”

While these phrases might be cliche, Brockington says they can work for or against a job seeker. While there are no set rules on what phrases should and should not be used, it’s important to research the company and the role to see what might work and what should be avoided. Whenever possible, stay away from generic and general terms and always quantify or quality your experience with specific numbers and tangible evidence of your accomplishments.

  • Suz

    Part of this is overcoming the computer key words… Substituting these phrases as part of the cover letter seems the most effect approach.

  • Great list of the most overused resume phrases. Considering most recruiters will only look at your paper resume for approximately six seconds, you want to use that time to wow them instead of showing them the same old resume they’ve seen a 100 times before. Another way to stand out from the pack is to record a video resume. With a video resume you can show off your communication skills and personality. Plus you can pack a lot more content into 60 seconds than into six.

  • Sam

    It works two ways. Whenever I come across a job posting that 1) uses the word “passionate”, and 2) uses it ridiculously (“We’re looking for people who are passionate about selling potato peelers”), I don’t apply. Also, when the list of attributes and skills that the perfect candidate must have is overlong, I know that at least one person in the organization is busting his chops to impress a supervisor who is indeed impressed by meaningless filler. Finally, if the job posting has misplaced apostrophes (“Must be willing to work Saturday’s and Sunday’s”) I know that the job poster is so arrogant that he thinks his postings need not be proofread, or that the proofreader did not spot the error. This means that I might be applying to a company populated with people who are going to think that I am stupid or undereducated whenever I correctly use the phrase, “So-and-so and me.”