Words to Use in a Resume — and Some to Avoid

Words to use in a resume

Want to create the perfect resume? Here are the words to use in a resume and the ones to leave out.

When it comes to resumes, every word matters. You have a limited amount of space to showcase why you'd make a great hire, and it's important to make the most of it. Here are the words you should say "yes" and "no" to during the resume writing process.

Words to use in a resume

What employers are looking for in resumes is skills. Rather than using generic terms that could apply to anyone (more on that below), focus your word choices on those that highlight specific talents. It’s the work history, skills, education and certifications you bring to the table that matter. According to the latest OfficeTeam Salary Guide, some of the skills most in demand in administrative candidates include:

  • Strong Microsoft Office expertise – Are you known for your advanced knowledge of Word, Excel and/or PowerPoint? Don't just list these words on your resume, but give examples of how you've used the applications to benefit an employer. Noting that you served as the go-to Excel expert when the team needed to organize and present data effectively is far more compelling than simply listing the word Excel in the skills section of your resume.
  • Social media skills – Many firms rely on administrative professionals to monitor and respond to customer feedback on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Instagram and Pinterest. Again, don't be boring if you're going to say you have this expertise! Talk about your responsibilities in this area rather than just aiming to get in the words "social media."
  • Database management proficiency – Familiarity with FileMaker Pro and Microsoft Access, as well as SAP or other enterprise resource planning systems can give you an advantage, so these are great skills to highlight.
  • Communication skills – Go beyond saying you have strong communication skills and share why that's the case. Maybe your manager turned to you to craft all of her memos due to your superior writing abilities, for instance. That's going to have an impact on the hiring manager and lead to an interview.

The job ad is always a great starting place to determine which aspects of your background should get the most focus and which keywords to use. If a job ad talks a lot about needing previous experience in the financial services industry, that's a big clue that you should not only use the words "financial services," but also explain what you did in that industry that would make you a real asset to a team. For example, maybe you know industry-specific software or how to handle customer service calls about financial accounts.

Don't get so fixated on using the words in the job ad, though, that you lie. If a company is asking for strong FileMaker Pro skills and someone gave you a training session in it once, don't claim to be an expert. The truth will always come out. Even if the lie slips through the hiring process, you could find yourself being asked to teach others how to use FileMaker Pro once you're on the job. It's not worth it.

Words not to use in a resume

When thinking about the words not to use in a resume, the message is clear: Don't fill up your resume with fluff! According to an OfficeTeam survey, the following phrases are the most overused or meaningless on resumes. If these are on your application materials, it’s time for a rewrite.

  • Highly qualified. Hiring managers will respond to this with a collective yawn. Use words that describe how you're qualified rather than saying you are.
  • Team player. That’s great and all, but what hiring managers really want to see is a track record of fitting in with groups and making an impact. Mention specific projects that showcase your ability to work on or lead a team.
  • Hard worker. We’re sure you are, but you need to make it clear how you add value. For example, did you regularly meet tough deadlines, handle a high volume of projects or tackle tasks outside your job description? Describe the ways you often saved the day: "Frequently supported sales staff with last-minute requests, including finalizing presentations, making changes to travel arrangements and gathering materials for meetings with potential clients."
  • Problem solver. You’ll have to try a little harder to impress hiring managers. Provide concrete examples of how you have thought creatively and developed solutions to challenges. Did you overcome roadblocks to the completion of a project or develop a new way of achieving goals within a reduced budget?
  • People person. Who wants to work with someone who isn’t a "people person" these days? Companies expect administrative professionals to excel here.
  • Self-starter. How cliché! Be an unforgettable applicant by citing a time when you saw an issue that needed to be fixed and took action. Perhaps you overheard employees complaining about a common problem mastering a new application. You then contacted the IT department to see if someone could provide a training class to help staff. This shows your resourcefulness.
  • Flexible. What exactly does this mean? Highlight times you’ve had to shift gears on the job and put your positive attitude to the test. For instance, a colleague may have quit unexpectedly and you had to cover her role for several months until it was filled. Discuss the new responsibilities you assumed and how your extra effort benefited the team.
For more resume tips, download a free copy of Standing Out With Your Resume and Cover Letter.
This post was originally published in November 2013 and has been updated to reflect more current information.
Tags: Resume