The words and phrases in your resume that make employers cringe

Your resume should be a marketing document designed to promote your candidacy for a specific role. It needs to highlight your key qualifications and describe how you would be a particularly successful hire for that job.

Too often people rely on a generic template of a resume, peppered with buzzwords and clichés that they think will make them sound good. Put yourself in the hiring managers shoes for a moment. Imagine reading resume after resume all using the same wording and making the same claims. None of those candidates would stand out as particularly hireable.

The employment experts at Robert Half have recently put forward a list of the most overused words and expressions that turn up in all too many resumes. Here are five of the worst offenders.

“Familiar with”

“Familiar with” and similar expressions such as “knowledge of” and “experience with” are too vague to have any meaning. You’re familiar with the French language, does that mean you can carry on a conversation or write an email in French? You have knowledge of HTML and CSS – does that mean you can build a webpage or fix bugs in code?

Expressions like these give the impression that you are trying to mention skills in your resume that you don’t actually have. Instead, be specific about your abilities. For example: “Natively fluency in both English and French, spoken and written.”


Unique literally means one of a kind. Very few things at work are actually that distinct. Being certified or having professional experience does not make you uniquely qualified. (It just makes you qualified.) Claiming unique status in a resume is an overused cliché that is seldom true. It doesn’t impress hiring managers, and the fact that it is overused can ironically make you seem less unique.

“Proactive” and “hardworking”

These words and others that describe yourself rather than your accomplishments don’t mean anything to employers unless you can show the results that prove them. For example, rather than claiming to be hard working – list the times you went above and beyond to achieve a goal or finish a project. Describe examples of how you have proactively solved problems or improved a process. Results matter.

For example: “Launched a new homepage optimization strategy based on real-time audience data that increased click-throughs by over 50 per cent.”

“Team player”

This is another example of an attribute you need to show rather than tell employers in your resume. Anyone can claim to be a ‘team player,’ and most people do. To show that you actually have this desirable trait, detail occasions when you demonstrated your aptitude for working with others. List group events you organized, committees you participated in, or your contributions to group projects.

Be careful about listing team accomplishments, as these can mask your own contributions. Studies have found that although most job ads state that team players are desired, resumes referencing too much team work can actually turn employers off.

“Responsibilities include”

This is holdover from outdated resume templates where people simply listed their duties at past jobs. Employers generally know what responsibilities go along with most job titles. They aren’t looking for your past job descriptions. What they want to see is what your own unique accomplishments were in that role. Why were you great at it? What made you stand out in a way that others in a similar role might not?

“Thought leader”

Unless you are legitimately the go-to expert in your field and are sought-after by the media to weigh in on related events, calling yourself a thought-leader is probably over reaching. Similarly, don’t call yourself a, ‘influencer,’ a ‘guru,’ or a ‘ninja’ (unless you really are a ninja). These will only sound braggadocios – or as Robert Half points out, possibly even delusional.

Instead, show your influence and thought leadership with a portfolio of influential, industry-leading work and achievements.

In all cases, accomplishments speak louder than duties, numbers speak louder than adjectives. Use your resume not to describe yourself, but to demonstrate what you have done. (And therefore, what you have proven can do for future employers.)

Read the full report with more cringeworthy resume phrases from the team at Robert Half.

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