5 Job Application Terms to Avoid (and 5 Replacements)

My blog is full of admonitions to be honest on your resume. I tell candidates incessantly that they should never lie or exaggerate to hiring managers.

So once you’re telling your story in completely honest terms, what words should you use? In our business, your language is part of your professional portrait, and how you speak says just as much as what you say.

Obviously, I can’t tell you what words to use, since how you express yourself is part of who you are. And I don’t want to change who you are. Unless, of course, you use some of the words highlighted in a survey designed to elicit the resume and cover letter terms that most annoy hiring managers.

So what should you avoid saying when you apply for a job? According to this article, never say that you’re:

  1. “Best of breed” or touting your “track record.”
    Why not? You aren’t a dog or a racecar. Skip the cliched metaphors.
  2. A go-getter, go-to person,  or team player.
    Why not? This isn’t a 1980s movie about work. Describe less and show more.
  3. Thinking outside the box.
    Why not? This claim is doubtful. 99% of candidates don’t even realize what their box is, let alone how to think outside of it. Plus, you can’t quantify thinking, so this is an unsubstantiated claim.
  4. Skilled or interested in “value add,” synergy,” or “bottom line.”
    Why not? This isn’t a 1990s article about work. Skip the jargon and talk in words that mean something.
  5. Self-motivated, dynamic, or detail-oriented.
    Why not? This isn’t an outdated brochure about work. Anyone who isn’t self-motivated can’t get out of bed to the interview. Dynamic means changing, which suggests anyone with a heartbeat. And detail-oriented? Claiming you’re not sloppy isn’t a big pitch point.


Instead, use these alternatives:

  1. Achieved, Launched, or Influenced.
    Why? Because you’re showing real results, which is what employers want.
  2. Trained, Mentored, Managed, Negotiated.
    Why? Because it’s one thing to claim leadership and another entirely to quantify how you led.
  3. Improved, Resolved, Created, Won
    Why? Because these words set up genuine achievements, the proof for whatever you’re claiming about yourself.
  4. Volunteered
    Why? It matters how you use your skills. Applying your strengths to causes you care about says more than a list of interests or hobbies
  5. Under Budget, Profit, Revenue, Increased, Decreased
    Why? Goodness. We all want to see the financial benefit to having you on the team.

Remember that resumes aren’t about hyperbole and sales language. Resumes show what you’ve done and for whom. Make the showing more important than the telling. Populate your application with verbs, not adjectives.