The 17 most irritating buzzwords in today’s resumes

The 17 most irritating buzzwords in today’s resumes

OK, it’s a huge part of the job. But even the most dedicated HR pro will admit that going through stacks of candidate resumes can turn your brain to jelly. 


And what hastens the jelly-formation process? Reading the same tired buzzwords over and over and over.

Harris Poll, on behalf of CareerBuilder, recently canvassed 2,201 U.S. hiring managers and human resource professionals across a spectrum of industries and company sizes. The question: What resume terms are the biggest turnoffs?

The results:

  1. Best of breed: 38%
  2. Go-getter: 27%
  3. Think outside of the box: 26%
  4. Synergy: 22%
  5. Go-to person: 22%
  6. Thought leadership: 16%
  7. Value added: 16%
  8. Results-driven: 16%
  9. Team player: 15%
  10. Bottom line: 14%
  11. Hard worker: 13%
  12. Strategic thinker: 12%
  13. Dynamic: 12%
  14. Self-motivated: 12%
  15. Detail-oriented: 11%
  16. Proactive: 11%
  17. Track record: 10%

Bunch of those make your skin crawl, don’t they?

And in this corner …

In the interest of fairness, CareerBuilder also queried the participants on the most effective terms used on the resumes they see on a regular basis. Here’s the list:

  1. Achieved: 52%
  2. Improved: 48%
  3. Trained/mentored: 47%
  4. Managed: 44%
  5. Created: 43%
  6. Resolved: 40%
  7. Volunteered: 35%
  8. Influenced: 29%
  9. Increased/decreased: 28%
  10. Ideas: 27%
  11. Negotiated: 25%
  12. Launched: 24%
  13. Revenue/profits: 23%
  14. Under budget: 16%
  15.  Won: 13%

Comparing the two lists, it’s not hard to see the difference — the first is a litany of advertising terms. The second is a set of specific accomplishments.

But maddening as the terms “thought leadership” and “proactive” may be, their presence on a resume shouldn’t automatically mean the applicant is instantly consigned to the reject pile.

Suzanne Lucas, the Evil HR Lady and a columnist for, suggests that it could be worth it to “stop and realize your own biases and maybe vow to spend a bit more time looking at résumés. After all, it’s not about what the résumé says (unless you’re hiring professional résumé writers); it’s about what the person can do for you.

“Though you may want to immediately reject someone because he or she threw a word like synergy around, that might not always be the best course. Take a closer look and see what the person has really accomplished. After all, your goal should be to hire the best people for your business, and that may mean people who aren’t the world’s best résumé writers.”