Any good hiring manager will tell you there are a lot of words, descriptions, and phrases that are overused on resumes, to the point of losing all meaning. Smart resume writing is about being clear, concise and communicating your skills and strengths. Skip the industry jargon and meaningless, overused phrases. Instead, focus on writing a resume that tells a story and highlights your work experiences and accomplishments.


If you’re including any of these words or phrases on your resume, it’s probably time for a resume refresh!

1. references upon request

Say goodbye to this outdated relic. It’s all but a given that you have references. If a hiring manager wants to see them, they’ll ask. Don’t waste precious space on your resume by including this outdated phrase.

2. objective

All hiring managers and recruiters know your objective is to land a job – in particular, the one you applied for. You don’t have to waste their time or yours by coming up with a unique way of saying this. In fact, skip the ‘I want’ talk altogether. First and foremost hiring managers want to know why you’ll be successful in the role. Once you determine the role is the right fit, that’s when you can discuss what’s in it for you.

3. helped

If you’re going to include something on your resume, take responsibility for it. Strong verbs like ‘managed,’ ‘led,’ or ‘directed’ are much more powerful than ‘helped’ or ‘assisted.’ If you helped, it’s only an indication that you maybe, probably, sort of contributed, but in what capacity is anyone’s guess.

4. worked

If it’s on your resume, it’s a given that you worked on it. After all, your resume is a document listing your work experience. Instead of saying ‘I worked on X project,’ state what you actually did. Did you manage it? Analyze data? Write reports? The more specific you are, the clearer your resume will be.

5. superlatives

Avoid using generic words or phrases that indicate how much better you are than everyone else. This includes descriptors such as ‘excellent,’ ‘superior,’ ‘great’ and so on. All these words are excellent… except on your resume. The fact of the matter is, declaring yourself an ‘excellent typist’ is pretty vague – what does excellent mean to you? Instead, say how many words you can type per minute. Being specific is much more powerful.

6. enthusiastic

Sure, you’re enthusiastic about the job. But so is everyone else. Same goes for ‘driven,’ ‘motivated’ and ‘passionate.’ These words describe most job seekers – everyone is excited about the possibilities presented by a brand new job. If you're not enthusiastic about the job, you probably shouldn't be applying in the first place. Instead, focus on what you’re passionate about and how you bring value to a job.

7. duties or responsibilities

A straight-forward list of all things that you were responsible is a boring read. Instead, use powerful action verbs that describe your accomplishments. Launched, increased, managed, created, implemented, etc. are all much more exciting ways to describe how you contributed to your job.

8. creative

If you’re an accountant whose work typically involves spreadsheets, chances are you’re not too creative at work. Unless you’ve done something actually creative – for example, devised a new, innovative process that streamlines your workflow – it’s time to strike this one off your resume.

9. strategic

Strategic is one of those buzzwords that’s been overused to the point of exhaustion. If you’re using ‘strategic’ to describe yourself, you better back up precisely how you were strategic, or it sounds like resume writing filler. If you’re involved in business strategy or planning, you’re an exception to this rule.

10. extensive experience

This phrase combines two resume don’ts. In addition to being overused, it’s also generic. If you have extensive experience, give some examples of your experience in action. Examples will always be more compelling than vague take-your-word-for-it statements.

11. successful

If something made it onto your resume, it should be a given it was a success. Instead of simply stating that an initiative was successful, quantify the statement with some facts. Did you increase revenue? Close a deal? Increase employee productivity? Success is relative, these statements aren’t.

12. proficient with

The worst offenders of the ‘proficient with’ epidemic are Microsoft Office apps like Word, Excel and PowerPoint. First: everyone is proficient with these applications. Unless you’re actually skilled with these apps, or they’re central to your job, take them off your resume. Second: when you get down to it, being ‘proficient with’ software actually isn’t all that impressive. It sounds like you know the bare minimum. That’s not the kind of thing you want to be taking up room your resume. That space could be better used to focus on your real strengths.

Once you’ve cleaned up your resume and eliminated these overused phrases, you’re ready to start applying to jobs!

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