If you want to know whether your resume will stand out or be quickly dismissed, just look at how often you use the following adjectives: Hardworking, motivated, team player, detail-oriented, experienced, passionate, dynamic, proactive, self-starter, and results-driven.
While there are plenty of overused, clichéd and even trite adjectives, when it comes to resumes, those ten tend to appear more frequently than most. And there are two major problems with those ten adjectives.
First, when everyone uses the same descriptors, it’s incredibly tough for your resume to stand out. If you’ve got some close friends or colleagues, ask for a copy of their resume. Then go through it and assess to what extent your resume uses the same words as theirs. You can do it by hand or even paste both resumes into the AI tool of your choice and run a comparison. However you conduct the analysis, be prepared to see a fair bit of similarity.
Second, rather than using the same language as everyone else, position yourself far more distinctively. For instance, the Hiring For Attitude research revealed that the best candidates tend to provide many more specific details than their lower-rated contemporaries. So don’t just choose better resume adjectives; add some specifics to back them up.
Let’s rewrite some of the overused adjectives with more distinctive language and specific details.
Instead of saying hardworking, you could use an adjective like industrious. Then, you could follow that with a specific achievement, like “Streamlined the company’s filing system, reducing document retrieval times by 30% and saving an average of 10 hours per week for the team.”
Instead of motivated, eager might be a more distinctive resume adjective, especially if you include specifics, like “Volunteered to lead an underperforming project team and turned around the project’s progress, ultimately delivering it 2 weeks ahead of the revised schedule.”
Team player is a cliché at this point, so collaborative could be a better choice. And maybe your specific example is something like “Facilitated cross-departmental communication, leading to a 15% increase in project efficiency and a 25% reduction in conflicts between teams.”
Rather than detail-oriented, you could try meticulous, with an example like “Identified and corrected over 200 data entry errors in financial reports, resulting in a 10% increase in accounting accuracy and preventing costly mistakes.”
If you need a strong work ethic adjective, you might try diligent or a phrase like met tight deadlines. Perhaps an example would be something like, “Completed a critical project two weeks ahead of schedule by putting in extra hours and efficiently managing resources, leading to early client acquisition.”
And for self-starter, you might try an adjective like enterprising. Any number of examples fit with this, like “Founded and grew a department’s innovation group, attracting 20 cross-functional members and generating 5 new process-improvement proposals within the first 6 months.”
The key to improving your resume adjectives isn’t just picking less timeworn and overused adjectives; it’s also supporting your descriptors with more detailed specifics.
You should also take a look at the company’s job ads, values statements, and executive interviews in the press. Any or all of those could offer powerful clues as to which specific adjectives are likely to be especially powerful. For example, imagine that you’re applying to a company whose CEO was recently interviewed in an industry magazine. In that interview, the CEO describes their culture, and every other sentence contains words like analytical or data-driven. That’s a hint that you might want to add some analytical adjectives into your resume, like analytical, data-driven, quantitative, methodical, perceptive or insightful.
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