SearchBefore jumping into words, let’s see the data: a recent study from CareerBuilder found that 68 percent of hiring managers spent less than two minutes reviewing each resume they received, and 17 percent spent less than 30 seconds. That’s right: 30 seconds to evaluate whether your carefully-crafted margins and well-thought-out headings were the right fit for their company.

With so little time to stand out, a candidate’s resume word choice can be an interview-maker or a deal breaker. “Achieved” or “excelled”? “Strong” or “superb”? Here, hiring experts break down the dos and don’ts for each word you write:

1. Use Action Verbs

According to Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder, recruiters prefer strong action verbs to define specific skills and accomplishments. In a survey of over 2,000 hiring managers, words such as “improved,” “negotiated,” and “launched” were considered standouts on a resume.

Search your resume for passive verbs like “did” and “was” and replace them with more specific and engaging terms, like “oversaw” and “represented.” For examples, University of Michigan’s career center provides a comprehensive list of strong resume action verbs.

2. Make It Job Specific

Don’t send out one single resume to all possible employers; instead, make your resume specific to each position. Eye-tracking software proves that hiring managers spend 20 percent of their time looking for specific keywords in resumes that match the open position. Indeed, some HR departments even use software to search for keywords across resumes – and those that don’t have the keywords get trashed before a human being even sees them.

According to Pierre Drescher, founder of job-database The Creative Loft, it’s essential to “study the job posting and look closely at the kind of words they use to describe the position.” This means that choosing the right words for your resume ultimately comes down to the specific position that you are applying for.

3. Address Three Themes

ZipRecruiter, which boasts a database of over 3 million resumes, recently conducted a study to determine which resumes earned top rankings from hiring recruiters.

Three main themes emerged. Tesumes that were most sought after online used words that implied

  • management skills (not necessarily as a manager, but skills such as time management);
  • a proactive approach to working  (“providing support,” or “responsible for clients”); and
  • problem-solving skills (“data,” “operation”).

4. Watch Your Adjectives

The adjectives you choose to use on your resume should stand out without making it seem like you overused a thesaurus. Grammarly, a proofreading company, analyzed 500 active job postings from 100 of the most profitable U.S. companies. According to their studies, the most common adjectives used on corporate listings were “strong,” “energetic,” “strategic, “competitive,” “creative,” and “effective.” In turn, your resume should mirror these terms without repeating them. Try “productive” instead of “effective,” or “dynamic” for “energetic.” Check out Grammarly’s infographic for resume adjectives here.

5. Avoid Clichés

Just as important as the words to include on your resume are the words to leaveout. To avoid having your resume sent straight to the trash, avoid words that overhype yourself or words that are overused across resumes. For instance, the word “expert” is an immediate warning sign according to recruiting director Debra Gioeli, because “no one person knows everything about one topic.”

Similarly, “results-oriented” is meaningless without hard data to back up a job seeker’s experiences.  Finally, words like “hardworking,” “loyal,” and “dependable” should be avoided — even if they are true — because they are consistently overused. An employer might simply skip over the clichés: a dangerous habit when every word on a resume should be used to your advantage.



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