The best and worst résumé buzzwords

CareerBuilder commissioned a survey to find what hiring managers want from candidates; they also made it clear that actions speak louder than self-aggrandizing words.

There are a number of people who will disagree with this, but I still believe it makes sense for a job candidate to have a good résumé.

I know there are a lot of people who think the traditional résumé is dead, but it’s not gone yet, and there are still a lot of recruiters and hiring managers who prefer it to LinkedIn profiles, video clips, or whatever else people are trying to use these days.

I was thinking of this while reading the latest CareerBuilder survey about résumés, and as the research points out, hiring managers are still not spending a lot of time looking at résumés—which means that any applicant who wants his or her résumé to get their attention has got to grab them pretty quickly.

Less than 2 minutes spent on any single résumé

The survey found that one in six (17 percent) of hiring managers spend 30 seconds or less, on average, reviewing résumés. Most (68 percent) spend less than two minutes.

This raises a good question: Why is so little time spent on what is undoubtedly a very important activity?

Part of it is the nature of the work, with recruiters and hiring managers handling large volumes of résumés from large numbers of candidates, many of whom have no good reason to be applying for the job in question. It’s a numbers game, and the volume of résumés flowing into any hiring professional can be mind-boggling.

In other words, there are so many résumés to deal with that there is no way to spend much time with any except the very best.

As the press release on the survey from CareerBuilder points out, “with so little time to capture interest, even a candidate’s word choice can make a difference.” That’s why the survey asked employers and hiring managers “which commonly used résumé terms are overused or clichéd, and which are strong additions” that may cause you to spend more time on a candidate.

Here are the best and worst résumé terms from the survey, and how often they were mentioned by survey respondents. See what you think.

Worst résumé terms

  • Best of breed: 38 percent;
  • Go-getter: 27 percent
  • Think outside the box: 26 percent;
  • Synergy: 22 percent;
  • Go-to person: 22 percent;
  • Thought leadership: 16 percent;
  • Value add: 16 percent;
  • Results-driven: 16 percent;
  • Team player: 15 percent;
  • Bottom-line: 14 percent;
  • Hard worker: 13 percent;
  • Strategic thinker: 12 percent;
  • Dynamic: 12 percent;
  • Self-motivated: 12 percent;
  • Detail-oriented: 11 percent;
  • Proactively: 11 percent;
  • Track record: 10 percent.

Best résumé terms

Here are terms employers say they would like to see on a résumé:

  • Achieved: 52 percent;
  • Improved: 48 percent;
  • Trained/Mentored: 47 percent;
  • Managed: 44 percent;
  • Created: 43 percent;
  • Resolved: 40 percent;
  • Volunteered: 35 percent;
  • Influenced: 29 percent;
  • Increased/Decreased: 28 percent;
  • Ideas: 27 percent;
  • Negotiated: 25 percent;
  • Launched: 24 percent;
  • Revenue/Profits: 23 percent;
  • Under budget: 16 percent;
  • Won: 13 percent.

A preference for ‘strong action words’

“Hiring managers prefer strong action words that define specific experience, skills, and accomplishments,” Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder, said in a press release about the survey.

“Subjective terms and clichés are seen as negative because they don’t convey real information,” she added. “For instance, don’t say you are ‘results-driven’; show the employer your actual results.”

The survey was conducted online within the U.S. by Harris Poll on behalf of CareerBuilder among 2,201 hiring managers and HR professionals from Nov. 6 to Dec. 2, 2013. With a pure probability sample of 2,201, one could say with a 95 percent probability that the overall results have a sampling error of +/-2.09 percentage points.

John Hollon is vice president for editorial of, and the former editor of Workforce Management magazine and Contact him at, and follow him on Twitter at A version of this article first appeared on TLNT.

COMMENT Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive the latest articles from directly in your inbox.