Ever struggled to find meaningful words that stand out and that won’t make the reader’s eyes glaze-over in boredom when writing a resume, cover letter or LinkedIn profile? If you said “yes” (and you most probably did), you are not alone, according to LinkedIn who recently reviewed the over a quarter of a million profiles on their site, to identify the ten most overused words and phrases:
Recognise these words? As an Employment Counsellor, I do. I see them often. Truth is, I use them myself. Keep in mind, though, that “Frequently used” doesn’t mean “not important”. It just means that when employers see that you chose to use common words, they find it difficult to see how you have something special to offer them. This is not a problem unique to job seekers, either — anyone who reads job postings has noticed that employers themselves often list these terms in job postings, as they struggle to identify exactly what they are looking for in a good candidate.
Considering the importance — in the current competitive job market –– of being able to present yourself as unique among other job seekers, it is well worth the effort to find those words which stand out and are meaningful to describe your strengths and assets.
Here are some ideas to help choose your best possible words or phrases:
Start off by making your own list of work strengths. Think back to your work history: what were your biggest achievements — the ones you are most proud of, and for which you received the biggest praise? Which do you think your references would mention to describe you? Keep in mind that strengths could be hard skills (such as your ability to use a certain software or to perform a certain task) or soft skills (the skills that come naturally, such as organisational or interpersonal skills). Make a list of your top 5-10 skills in which you are most confident.
Identify the key words that are most important to employers. Check through job postings to which you would like to apply, as well as the websites of target employers to identify the catch-phrases or “buzz words” most often used. Highlight those that best match your own strengths (of course, if you can’t find a match between the skills wanted by employers and your own abilities, you might be looking for the wrong jobs. Consider re-evaluating whether you need to retrain or to refocus your efforts elsewhere).
Find ways to demonstrate your important strengths. Potential employers will be watching your behaviour, to assess your skills for themselves — they will look at how you interact with employers (conducting your job search in a way that is responsive, punctual, thoughtful, personable), as well as in the behaviours and values you showcase in your social media presence (e.g. your volunteer work, your participation in professional development, your ability to deal with feedback on Facebook or Twitter).
Be specific when describing your achievements. When a potential employer reads your cover letter and resume, or reviews your LinkedIn profile, they should be able to understand not only what your strengths and skills are, but how you used them. Share specific examples that prove that you have been, in fact, “responsible”, “strategic” or any other of the so-called overused terms (e.g. “Addressed customer complaints, to ensure that each was satisfactory resolved, resulting in frequent positive feedback from customers for the way their concerns were handled“, is much more effective than “responsible for handling customer complaints, to ensure satisfaction“).
Seek good references and LinkedIn recommendations. Make sure that you those who have agreed to speak on your behalf know what skills you have chosen and which achievements you are focusing on. Once they agree to act as references, share your resume with them and tell them what strengths you consider important. Connect with them on LinkedIn and try to get recommendations or endorsements from them.
The bottom line: choose your words carefully when searching for work. Your resumes, cover letters and LinkedIn profile (as well as how you describe yourself in an interview) will be most successful if they include carefully chosen, specific, demonstrable and meaningful words.