3 Ways to Avoid Résumé Buzzword Banality

In the right context, buzzwords could add substance to a LinkedIn profile or résumé.

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Which of these words have you used to describe yourself on your LinkedIn profile or résumé?
Responsible. Effective. Strategic. Analytical. Expert. Organizational. Specialized. Creative. Innovative. Experimental. Motivated. Driven. Patient.

A recent LinkedIn study identified these as 13 of the most overused buzzwords worldwide in members’ profiles for 2012 and 2013. “Responsible” was used twice as often as any other word on the list.

In the right context, words like these can be extremely helpful in your efforts to depict yourself as an individual who can bring a valuable blend of knowledge, personality and mindset to a new employer. When used correctly, they can add substance to your claim of being an effective communicator.

At the same time, they are too-often strung together as a veritable forest of buzzwords that convey no meaning and give lie to the boastful claim of excellent communications skills.

Consider a résumé that contains at the top an introductory statement like: “Responsible professional who is motivated and driven to effectively get the job done.”

It might well be that the person described is all these things, but the problem is that when these words are presented without context, their subject is reduced to a generic stereotype rather than a person of substance.

Professional what? Is this person an engineer, a marketing professional, an X-Ray technician or chief cook and bottle washer?

Responsible for what? Anyone who has ever held a job has been responsible for something. What are the nature, scope and size of those responsibilities? From this introductory sentence we don’t know if we are reading the résumé of someone in his or her first or second job after college or someone well-seasoned and experienced in leading a corporate team with profit and loss responsibilities.

Motivated? It is a great thing to be highly motivated. But to claim this for yourself without a context doesn’t do much to distinguish yourself from everyone else. Rare indeed is someone who will be so brutally honest as to describe themselves on a LinkedIn profile or résumé as “occasionally motivated” or “moderately ambitious.” If you want to claim motivation as a personal attribute, then be specific. What kinds of actions has your motivation produced, and with what result?

Your task is to show how all these, or whatever other wonderful characteristics, apply to you with specific detail.

On LinkedIn’s own blog, Christine Choi presents three best practices to adopt.

1. Tie words to actual results. “Link your skills to specific results that demonstrate your competence,” Choi writes. Figure out how all these buzzwords actually describe you and give the detail through which a reader will come to the conclusion you want, rather than just take your self-description on faith alone.

For example, rather than simply asserting she's a solid communicator, a nurse might offer a bullet point that reads something like this: “Enhanced communication between physicians and families by educating parents on their child’s condition, support and care.” This level of detail enables the reader to imagine that nurse sitting with parents somewhere in a hospital, engaging in active dialogue.

2. Use active language. So often people define themselves by their responsibilities and leave it at that. It is not just about what you may have been responsible for, but rather how you exercised your authority to fulfill your responsibilities and what results you attained that separate you from everyone else.

Rather than saying, “Responsible for marketing XYZ product,” you can give a mini-story with a bullet point like this: “Managed launch of XYZ product including: overseeing messaging development, creating print and online marketing advertisements, obtaining 2 key product endorsements and allocating advertising budget of $1 million among all media.”

3. Let others vouch for you. It's one thing to claim something about yourself, while it is much more forceful if others say it in your stead. “Seek out endorsements or recommendations from other reputable sources who can verify your talents,” Choi writes. 

After all, it is always better when someone can say, “I saw Joe be effective at …” rather than Joe saying, “I’m effective.” It is hard to overstate the value of an upfront contextual recommendation for your work on your profile from a current or former co-worker or supervisor.

Put simply: either ditch the buzzwords, or supplement them with the language, stories and testimony of others that truly explain who you are, how you work, your attitudes and achievements. The devil really is in the details, and when you provide the right amount of detail you show that you're talented with the power to communicate your worth effectively.

Happy hunting!