How to turn overused resume phrases into solid examples of talent
By Rachel Zupek, CareerBuilder.com writer
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 résumé 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 résumé 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 résumé mistakes, but one grave error often left out of the mix is the overuse of clichés and vague phrases - and perhaps it's the worst gaffe to commit.
"If a job seeker places overused phrases on his or her résumé, the chances of standing out from other candidates are greatly diminished," says Kathy Sweeney, a certified professional résumé writer for her company, The Write Resume. "A résumé 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 résumé, 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 résumés.
"Keywords are not 'team player' or 'good communication skills,'" Sweeney says. "If an employer searched for those phrases, they would receive about 1,000 résumés 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 clichés Sweeney and Stetson see job seekers overuse on their résumés and how to rephrase each one into a strong example of your talent.
Cliché No. 1: "Strong communication, customer service and organizational skills."
Let Sweeney 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.*
Cliché No. 2: "Introduced new products."
Let Sweeney rephrase that: Developed, introduced and launched successful new products, which increased market share 3% and contributed $3 million to bottom-line profitability.*
Cliché No. 3: "Track record of success."
Let Stetson rephrase that: Consistently surpassed sales goal by 10% or more each year.*
Cliché No. 4: "Possess leadership, communication, motivational and inspirational skills."
Let Sweeney 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.*
Cliché No. 5: "Exceeded all productivity goals for the department."
Let Sweeney 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.
Cliché No. 6: "Go-to person."
Let Stetson rephrase that: Selected by CEO for special customer service assignment that improved customer retention by 14%.*
Cliché No. 7: "Team player."
Let Sweeney rephrase that: Possess strong commitment to team environment dynamics with the ability to contribute expertise and follow leadership directives at appropriate times.
Cliché No. 8: "Served as company spokesperson."
Let Sweeney 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.**
Cliché No. 9: "Partner with others."
Let Stetson rephrase that: Collaborated with key members of the finance and information technology departments to develop and implement a new sales tracking tool.
Cliché No. 10: "Spoke with existing customers on a daily basis."
Let Sweeney rephrase that: Successfully interacted with clients to generate repeat and referral business, which resulted in $1.5 million in new product orders.*
Cliché No. 11: "Expert presenter, negotiator and businessperson."
Let Sweeney 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.*
Cliché No. 12: "Managed cross-functional teams."
Let Sweeney rephrase that: Led diverse, cross-functional teams in the fulfillment of corporate productivity, quality and bottom-line objectives.
Cliché No. 13: "Resolved customer difficulties quickly and tactfully."
Let Sweeney 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 résumé
**Awards and publications are for example only. Please use your own publications and awards if using example on your résumé
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.
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Story Filed Friday, September 19, 2008 - 2:21 p.m.