Career Builder.com / MSN.com / AOL.com
December 2007 / January 2008
Throughout your career, you've accomplished many feats, exceeded several goals and mastered countless skills. Now you're on yet another job hunt and you can't remember a lick of any of it.
Such is the importance of keeping your resume up- to- date, whether you're looking for a job or not. When you don't, not only will you forget the important details that'll help your resume stand out to employers, but in your rush to submit your application on time you'll end up using the same words and phrases as everyone else -- ruining your chances altogether.
Career experts always advise job seekers to avoid common resume mistakes, but one grave error often left out of the mix is the overuse of vague phrases -- and perhaps it's the worst gaffe to commit.
"If a job seeker places overused phrases on his or her resume, the chances of standing out from other candidates are greatly diminished," says Kathy Sweeney, a certified professional resume writer. "A resume is a marketing tool and should be utilized to distinguish the candidate from other people vying for the same position."
From first glance at a candidate's resume, employers want to see career progression: concrete accomplishments, any gaps in employment and potential growth within the employer's company, says Sally Stetson, co- founder and principal with Salveson Stetson Group, an executive search firm. Because employers want to see significant accomplishments, rather than lists of job duties, job seekers must provide solid illustrations of their talent.
"Providing specific examples may allow a potential employer to relate the applicant's work experience to potential business needs within their company," Stetson says. "These examples will also demonstrate a business and results orientation."
When employers search for candidates in their databases, it's based on "exclusion" rather than "inclusion," Sweeney says. In other words, employers look for keywords as a way to narrow the applicants down the 10 or 20 most qualified candidates. These chosen few are left standing only after others are weeded out.
But what some candidates think constitute keywords and phrases are actually vague generalities that show up on the majority of resumes.
"Keywords are not 'team player' or 'good communication skills,'" Sweeney says. "If an employer searched for those phrases, they would receive about 1,000 resumes that would be considered 'relevant' to their search parameters." Instead, keywords are solid functions like, "sales," "marketing" or "business development," she says.
Here are 13 phrases Sweeney and Stetson see job seekers overuse on their resumes and how to rephrase each one into a strong example of your talent.
No. 1: "Strong communication, customer service and organizational skills."
Let Kathy rephrase that: Possess strong communication, customer service and organizational skills, which increased customer satisfaction from 85% to 98% and realized 100% on- time delivery of assigned projects.*
No. 2: "Introduced new products."
Let Kathy rephrase that: Developed, introduced and launched successful new products, which increased market share 3% and contributed $3 million to bottom-line profitability.*
No. 3: "Track record of success."
Let Sally rephrase that: Consistently surpassed sales goal by 10% or more each year.*
No. 4: "Possess leadership, communication, motivational and inspirational skills."
Let Kathy rephrase that: Highly effective leadership, communication, motivational and inspirational skills, which led to 98% employee retention ratio and four out of six employees promoted into management positions.*
No. 5: "Exceeded all productivity goals for the department."
Let Kathy rephrase that: Exceeded established department productivity goals 16% through development / implementation of best practices to increase employee output, communication of corporate objectives and introduction of compensation plans to reward high- performing individuals.
No. 6: "Go- to person."
Let Sally rephrase that: Selected by CEO for special customer service assignment that improved customer retention by 14%.*
No. 7: "Team player."
Let Kathy rephrase that: Possess strong commitment to team environment dynamics with the ability to contribute expertise and follow leadership directives at appropriate times.
No. 8: "Served as company spokesperson."
Let Kathy rephrase that: Served as highly- successful company spokesperson, which generated positive media relations, resulted in identification as an industry expert, and garnered coverage in business / industry publications, including The Wall Street Journal, Investor's Business Daily and PC World.**
No. 9: "Partner with others."
Let Sally rephrase that: Collaborated with key members of the finance and information technology departments to develop and implement a new sales tracking tool.
No. 10: "Spoke with existing customers on a daily basis."
Let Kathy rephrase that: Successfully interacted with clients to generate repeat and referral business, which resulted in $1.5 million in new product orders.*
No. 11: "Expert presenter, negotiator and businessperson."
Let Kathy rephrase that: Expert presenter, negotiator and businessperson able to forge solid relationships with customers, which improved sales 33% and increased customer base from 10 to 50 new clients.*
No. 12: "Managed cross- functional teams."
Let Kathy rephrase that: Led diverse, cross- functional teams in the fulfillment of corporate productivity, quality and bottom-line objectives.
No. 13: "Resolved customer difficulties quickly and tactfully."
Let Kathy rephrase that: Honored with the "Customers Come First" award for consistently resolving customer difficulties in an expedient and tactful manner. **
*The numbers provided in examples are not real. Please use your own data if using example on your resume.
**Awards and publications are for example only. Please use your own publications and awards if using example on your resume.
Rachel Zupek is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.com. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.