Looking for a new job isn’t easy, and it can be hard to want to put your best into every iteration of your resume and cover letter. But here’s the thing: even though the economy’s been improving, times are still tough. Plenty of people are looking, and that means for every job opening you see, there’s some HR person out there who is being swamped with a deluge of resumes.
If you want to be sure your resume will actually make them hit the pause button (figuratively) and not the delete button (literally), you’ve got to avoid these cliche words and phrases that sound impressive but don’t actually convey much meaning.
“I’m a creative thinker”
Unless it’s literally part of your job title (e.g., Creative Director), “creative” is an adjective that’s become so overused it’s utterly meaningless to many recruiters. Think of what the inverse of this statement would be: “I only think inside the box.” “I can’t come up with anything new.” “I have no ideas of my own to contribute.” Literally no one is going to say that, so it means that stating the obvious is well, pretty obvious.
Instead of saying you’re creative, demonstrate that you’re creative with a well-written cover letter. Give a specific example of a problem you’ve overcome, a solution you devised, or how you’ve managed to expand your current role.
Again, who exactly doesn’t want to get results for their employer? (A person they don’t want to hire, that’s who!) They will assume you’re results oriented, so show them the actual results.
Numbers can help here: Quantify how many sales you made in the last quarter, the number of people you’ve supervised as part of your team, or the amount of traffic your ad campaign drove to your client.
No, no, no. Unless “Guru” or “Ninja” is your actual job title, skip the enthusiastic euphemisms. Yeah, if one of your references describes you that way, it’s great — but if you’re talking about yourself like this, it’s a bit empty.
If you really are extra-super-good at what you do, show it by listing your accomplishments: Grants you won, conferences you’ve spoken at, programming languages or software you’ve mastered, and so on. If you’re kicking butt, your accomplishments will convey that for you.
“I have excellent oral and written communication skills.”
Another case of something you should show, not tell. Though you’ll frequently see this on job descriptions, if it shows up in your cover letter or resume it feels like filler — because it is. If you really do have excellent communication skills, you’ll have a cover letter that’s clearly written, appropriately tailored to the position, and inviting to the reader. Same goes for your resume.
Drop this line, and spend the extra time proofreading to make sure that you don’t have any spelling errors or grammar gaffes. (If you’ve read your own resume so many times that you won’t even notice a mistake, ask a friend to proof it for you.)
“My references are available upon request.”
Well, yeah, they should be! Even if a potential employer hasn’t asked for your references yet (and many don’t until you’re doing a formal application), it’s more than acceptable to let them assume that of course you have references.
If they have asked for you references, name them and give their contact info in the appropriate part of the form, in a separate document, or below your cover letter, if you’re sending that in the body of an email. (In those instances, say something like, “Attached please find my references” or “Please find my references listed below.”) If they didn’t ask? Just don’t mention it for now. Use the extra space to say something useful about yourself!
No one’s going to say “I’m a total space cadet” or “I don’t sweat the small stuff.” But saying you’re detail-oriented has become such a cliche as to be totally meaningless (not least because so many recruiters see resumes that are riddled with spelling errors and cover letters personalized for the wrong company by applicants who claim to be “detail-oriented”). Again, show this by making sure that your cover letter and resume are free of basic grammar and spelling slip-ups.
You can also demonstrate your attention to detail by being specific in your discussion of what you do: Managed a staff of three interns; Served as liaison between lab group and department head; Spearheaded development of pay-per-click marketing campaigns for X, Y, and Z clients.
Don’t just list! Your resume needs to tell a story about you, not just rehash the job posting for your previous gig. Instead of making a simple list that begins with “duties” or “responsibilities include” (come on, you know that sounds like a total snoozefest), use active verbs to help convey the specific tasks you’ve accomplished on the job. Collaborated with internal team and external vendors to source products, implemented a new system for tracking leads, revamped corporate website to reflect new brand strategy.
Even if what you do isn’t terribly thrilling, using specific, active verbs can your resume stand out. (E.g., “Client communication” versus “Communicated with clients to ensure that targets were met and issues were promptly resolved.”)
“I’m passionate about what I do.”
Are you? Though today many employers want an intense level of commitment (which is a whole other deal), there are limits to how “passionate” one can be about, say, a call center job. Likewise, if you’re just starting out and you’re applying for jobs that are in a wide range of fields, you probably don’t have a “passion” for each and every one of them. If you actually are into what you do, it should be conveyed not only by your cover letter and resume, but also by your web presence (and yes, you should assume that before you get an interview request, you’re going to be Googled).
Your LinkedIn profile should obviously show that you’re excited about what you do, but ideally any other public profile (e.g., Twitter, which relatively few people have set to private) should reflect your interest and enthusiasm, at least a little. If it doesn’t, just leave “passionate” out of it. Otherwise, you’re just setting yourself up for an interview fail: “So, what makes you passionate about being an administrative assistant?” “Uhhhhhhhhh.” Don’t lay out anything in your cover letter or resume that you aren’t ready to answer for when you finally get that call.