Why You Should Avoid Resume Clichés

by Vault Careers | October 12, 2011

A resume says a lot about a person.  We have discussed various ways to present your experience, touching on the paragraph-style vs. bullet-point style resumes, and even discussing the idea of an infographic resume.  But regardless of which style resume you use, the choice of words jobseekers use can help or hurt someone’s chances at getting a job.  And words that were acceptable to use in the past have become tiresome to recruiters. 

Phrases like "people person" and "detail oriented" have become clichés; destructive terms that tell hiring managers exactly the opposite of their intention. In an interview with Peggy Padalino, VP of Sales and Client Services at Jobfox, she explains the problem with resume clichés, which ones are acceptable to employ, how they can hurt your career options and how to avoid using them.

First, we are going to work from the definition that a resume cliché is a word or phrase that has been so overused on resumes that it no longer has any meaning.  According to Ms. Padalino, “People over use them because they are words and phrases typically associated with successful people. Saying you are a highly motivated self-starter or you have excellent written and verbal skills seem like good idea but those phrases are white noise to a recruiter.”

Ms. Padalino adds that there are three resume clichés that she could do without – seasoned, developed and dedicated.  “Seasoned, because it screams, ‘I’m trying to mask my age,’” she explained.  “There is nothing wrong with being experienced.  If that’s what you are just say ‘experienced.’  ‘Exceptional’ and ‘dedicated’ have become so popular that they are on 90% of the resumes I see.”  

It’s ok, though, to use some clichéd phrases in a resume, but Ms. Padalino explains that they should be kept to a minimum and should be kept out of the career summary – the area a recruiter will read first.  She says a clichéd phrase in the career summary will instantly turn off a recruiter before she even gets any further, hurting your chances well before you have an opportunity to highlight what will make you an asset to the team. 

She also says some clichéd terms are unavoidable.  “Sometimes the cliché is really the best way to convey an attribute and it’s ok as long as you back it up with a specific accomplishments that substantiates the claim,” she said.  “For example: You may use the term “entrepreneurial” to describe yourself if you were in fact responsible for launching a new successful business or line of business within a company.” 

But if you can avoid it, that’s the best route to take.  “Recruiters are looking for specific skills and experience in a resume. Anything else is considered filler and it just gets in the way of discerning your real value to their company,” Ms. Padalino cautions.  “Recruiters may think you don’t have much substance or worse, they may think you are hiding something.”

So, how do you avoid the clichés?  According to the resume expert, you simply fill your resume with specific skills that you possess.  She adds that job seekers should focus on their accomplishments and results and put them in quantifiable terms, is possible.  “For example: Instead of using a cliché, like “team oriented” talk about an accomplishment that shows you’re a good team player. Something like: Headed up a team of sales people to create a new sales model that increased sales by 41%,” she continued. 

When all is said and done, you have 15-30 seconds to get a recruiter’s attention, and according to Ms. Padalino, “a resume full of clichés will make a recruiter lose interest before you have a chance to tell your story.”

--Jon Minners, Vault.com

Filed Under: Job Search | Resumes & Cover Letters


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