Choose your words carefully when crafting a resume

A resume is only as valuable as the attention it grabs, and if you've jammed it with action verbs and lots of glittery adjectives, it may not get the response you want. Find out what words to use and avoid.

Lists of action words are stock items in resume how-to books, along with the advice that you should pack your resume full of as many verbs, adjectives, and adverbs as you can.

But if you’ve taken that advice to heart, you could be turning off more prospective employers than you are enticing. Effective, not diverse, word choice is what really appeals to hiring managers.

Hiring managers’ lists
It’s hard to believe that a few words could irritate someone enough that they stop reading your resume, but it’s true. After I granted my source's anonymity, which they requested so they could be extremely candid, more than a few hiring managers and recruiters admitted that they have their own mental lists of words that annoy them.

While they said they might not reject a candidate outright because of these words, they believe that the resumes boasting such phrases would have made a better impression without them. I include some examples in this column.

For example, one IT hiring manager said she never likes to see assist or assisted on a resume. “I want to know what the candidate did, not how they helped. If they are familiar enough with a task to put it on their resume, they can come up with a better word than assisted,” she explained.

The hiring leader suggested rephrasing any "assisted" statements to be very specific as to what a candidate did in assisting. For example, if you helped out the marketing director by researching PDAs that would fit his department’s needs, then state in the resume that you "researched PDAs for the marketing department." The rephrasing illustrates a specific action.

For the same reasons as with assist, hiring managers aren’t fond of the word experimental. No one wants to hear about what you tried to do—only what you have accomplished. Instead of "experimented with new LAN management software," write that you "evaluated LAN management software."

Several hiring managers objected to any words that described how well someone does a particular task. They said they want to know the person has a relevant skill, and also be the judge as to how well the person does it. Thus, words such as skillfully, effectively, carefully, quickly, expert, mastered and the like can hurt more than they help.

Of all the words noted above, any variation of the word skill—especially skillfully—will draw more sneers than smiles. Employers and recruiters want to see more humility than hubris on a candidate’s resume. If you put it on your resume then it’s got to be something noteworthy.

“If you aren’t good at it, why are you putting it on your resume?” said one recruiter.

Putting best skills first
If you want to clearly indicate that you are better at some things than others, and have been using any of above cited words to indicate your best skills, it’s time to rework your resume. List only the skills that you can perform acceptably well and that are appropriate to the position requirements. Thus, the need to describe how well you do something disappears, and your resume is more focused.

You can describe your secondary and tertiary skills within job descriptions if appropriate. After all, if you don’t have the necessary primary skills you’re hawking, then having the others won’t help you get the job.

Here’s an example of how to avoid boasting in a resume while still conveying professional excellence. Instead of saying that you "skillfully" did X, drop the adverb and quantify X.

Once you’ve banished all the self-evaluative terms, make another pass through the resume and remove any tired business jargon such as: cutting-edge, liaison, coordinate, facilitate, proven ability, synergy and transformed.

People have seen and heard these words so often that they’ve lost the energy they had originally. Hiring managers say the words take up space without communicating much. Also, beware that most tech hiring managers realize that good IT managers are detail-oriented, so you can safely remove this fatigued phrase from your resume, as well.

Making a resume snap
Add more verve to your resume by being as specific as possible about your current and past responsibilities—especially if those are responsibilities that are also part of the job you want to get. Nothing dials down someone’s enthusiasm so much as reading the phrase, responsible for, followed by a list of mundane management tasks.

You’re a manager, so of course you’re responsible for something. Tell the reader exactly what your responsibilities are and work in a few numbers to help them get the scope of what you do. Phrases such as "manage a staff of X", "oversee a capital investment budget of Y," or "recommend training programs for Z employees" are all effective ways to concisely explain what you do and have achieved. Be as specific and as detailed as you can be, keeping in mind that you don’t want to give away any confidential information about your current employer.

Overall, remember that your resume should always be a statement of fact, but that it is also a marketing tool and that you are using it to market your most valuable product—yourself. Use words and phrases that improve, not weaken, the power of your marketing message.