Overused (and underused) resume buzzwords

This week the list of 10 most overused resume buzzwords came out. John C. “Don’t call me John Dvorak” Dvorak offers his usual snarky analysis.

Here’s mine.
Extensive experience. Completely meaningless. Either you have experience with something or you don’t. I’m probably guilty of using this one myself though. Or at least “extensive.”

Innovative. That’s also something I’d love to be thought of, but Microsoft definitely tainted that word in the 1990s. It might be better to just state your track record and let others decide for themselves how innovative you are.

Motivated. Dvorak says he thinks everyone is motivated. Obviously he hasn’t met some people I know. Again, I think your track record tells that.

Results-oriented. I think Dvorak nails it when he says results-oriented people want to get in and out in a few hours while getting paid for a whole day. And there’s a lot of that out there. Just look at how many copies of The Four-Hour Workweek sold.

And if you’re curious about that book, basically the author’s formula is to work in sales, outsource everything you can including sending birthday cards to a personal secretary in India, live places where it’s cheap to live, and practice instant gratification. If you work in anything but sales, it’s a completely useless book, except as a flyswatter. If you work in sales and do what that book says, you prove how eminently replaceable you are, so you won’t be all that successful at it very long.

Dynamic. This might be the most overused word ever. Every press release I read in the 1990s included the words “diverse” and “dynamic.” And every talking head I asked to give me a quote worked hard to make sure the word “dynamic” got in there. I think of a dynamo as someone who gets things started. Which, again, is something that your track record will say. And the world needs finishers too.

Proven track record. More meaningless filler words, just taking up space on the page.

Team player. I think the problem with this one is that people don’t agree about what it means. Does it mean you’ll do what you’re asked, or, like Dvorak says, does it mean you pass the buck? I’ve filled in for coworkers who for one reason or another were temporarily unable to perform their job duties, even when their job is something I wouldn’t dream of doing full-time for any length of time. Does that make me a team player? I’d say so. But it doesn’t take very many more words to show, rather than just tell.

Fast-paced. In 2010, if you can’t keep up with a fast pace, you don’t survive. Next.

Problem solver. I’m sure this is another one I’ve used myself. Show, don’t tell.

Entrepreneurial. To me, this is the last thing you want. A true entrepreneur is going to bolt as soon as he or she gets the next great idea, because that’s what entrepreneurs do. And take some of your clients too, if he or she is any good.

And let’s go to Dvorak’s missing words.

Creative. That word’s been used on me in employee evaluations for my whole career, and not always as a compliment. But more often than not, the people I work for have found it useful, even if they originally didn’t like that I did things differently than they did. (I once worked for a guy who didn’t like how I opened Explorer windows. He tolerated me once he figured out my way was really fast, but in his mind, I was still doing it wrong.)

Individualistic. I disagree on this one, since it can easily be interpreted as being caught up in your own status, or in valuing individuals higher than the organization. Many people do the latter, but have you ever seen a middle manager who thought that was a good thing?

Independent. This can be important. I don’t think people want to hire someone they’ll have to babysit.

Thoughtful. Another good one.

Methodical. I worked for about six months for an employer that was all about ISO 9001, and they would have jumped all over that one. I do think there’s a lot of value in developing repeatable methods. I think that company overemphasized it, but if it’s what companies are looking for, why not?

Critical. In my experience, critical is OK if you’re critical, thoughtful, and quiet. If you’re critical and outspoken, it’s not necessarily the kiss of death, but you won’t win any popularity contests.

Dvorak says that the lack of creative and critical means we have a field full of yes men, and that’s what’s wrong with the tech business and American business in general. He’s right. But sadly, the yes man, more often than not, is the guy who gets hired and then gets promoted. At least from what I’ve seen.

One thought on “Overused (and underused) resume buzzwords

  • December 17, 2010 at 11:56 pm
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    I thought of “critical” as being necessary, not as descriptive of someone who critiques. But yes: one who criticizes, after analysis, is needed.

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