Flexible, motivated, independent, go-getter, team player — there are a handful of terms and phrases recruiters can find cringeworthy and instantly toss your resume in the trash. Harsh, but true. Recruiters expect these traits from people applying, so they don’t exactly scream out, “I’m a fantastic candidate, please hire me.” They’ve heard it all before. They need to know what makes you different.

It’s time to refresh your resume, ditch the waffle and replace underwhelming phrases with powerful alternatives to land you the job you deserve. Here’s what you need to cut and what you should add.

Decide what belongs in your resume

Before scanning through your resume and chopping down the worthless words, decide what belongs in your resume.

The best resumes are tailored to specific jobs. Gather a few job adverts and look at how each business describes the role, the requirements, the skills needed and responsibilities. Note down the phrases you spot often and then add that language to your resume. This will give you a better chance to squeeze past an applicant tracking system and into the hands of a recruiter.

1. Hard worker

This term falls into the same bracket as phrases like self-motivated and team player. These don’t belong on your resume because they’re a given — do they really add any new or differentiation information? Businesses expect you to work hard. First off, you don’t have much time or space to do yourself and your skills justice, so don’t waste valuable real estate with phrases like hard worker.

Which job doesn’t require you to work hard, be motivated or work well in a team? Unless you have a super-specific, incredible example that will blow the recruiter away, it isn’t worth including.

If there’s an absolute necessity for you to include a term or phrase like this, try to use it in a statement rather than a term without context. You can show how you displayed your hard work and what the outcome was. But if the job post doesn’t specifically ask for this, it’s better to just cut it out.

Replace with… achieved

On your resume, replace hard worker with achieved. This will only work if you back it up with examples of what you’ve accomplished. For example, it could be achieving sales goals in a short timeframe and with only a handful of staff. Backing it up with an example flips it entirely — it shows you’re a hard worker because of what you achieved through that hard work, without saying it outright.

2. Helped

It’s important to include words that show how you had a positive impact in your previous role, but helped is a word to leave in the past. There are only so many times you can use it before it becomes a little jarring and, to be honest, overusing it can weaken your resume.

Firstly, it’s difficult to tell the extent of how you helped a project, for example. Maybe you played a key role in a project, but using helped doesn’t show whether you were leading the project or whether you proofread a piece of work for a colleague as part of the project. It’s a word that doesn’t do you any justice.

Secondly, it boxes you in as a follower and not a leader. Yes, it shows you follow instructions, but replacing it with a powerful word will shine you in a better light.

Replace with… coached

There are a few interchangeable terms you can use instead of helped. Coached, produced, represented, facilitated or assessed are all better alternatives to helped. They’re stronger and shows you didn’t just follow instructions but also took the lead in areas, too.

3. Think outside of the box

Hiring managers have their pet peeves and reading a candidate thinks outside of the box is something they read time and time again. It doesn’t add anything to the resume. Like most words or phrases, how are they supposed to know this is true? How do you back this up? What’s considered outside of the box?

Plus, it’s quite wordy and it’s something you can replace with something sharper and powerful. And again, the expectation is the person they hire can think beyond the basics.

Replace with… conceptualized

Action verbs like created and developed also work well here as it opens up the chance to offer a specific example of when you demonstrated creative thinking and the impact. If a hiring manager is reading think outside of the box across multiple resumes, coming across a word like conceptualized with an example will make them sit up and pay attention.

4. Synergy

It’s tempting to sprinkle in some fancy words to help your resume stand out. The downside? Vague words like synergy don’t offer any insight into your skills. It’s overused and won’t increase your chances of landing a role. It can also be misinterpreted as recruiters and hiring managers won’t have much context. 

Keep your resume simple with easy-to-understand words when describing accomplishments.

Replace with… collaborate

Interact and cooperate will also work fine here. Anything more specific than synergy will work better, in fact. Depending on the context, you can use an action verb like the ones mentioned to showcase what you mean, such as successfully collaborating between multiple departments or agencies to achieve success.

5. Accomplished

Accomplished on your resume can work in two ways. Some include it to show a list of their accomplishments, while others say they’re an accomplished software developer, for example. Like most words, accomplished can be an empty term when you don’t back it up with evidence. A hiring manager who comes across your resume won’t know what makes you more accomplished than 10 others applying for the same role.

Replace with… proficient

Proficient, skilled and adept will all work when used right. What you need to consider here is how much impact they have. Sure, accomplishments are essential to every resume as it shows how valuable you are. But you need to describe how you achieved the accomplishment for it to add genuine value.

Waffle and weak words won’t make your resume stand out. To make your resume as powerful as possible, set up a profile on VanHack. Create an engaging profile and stand out from others to increase your chances of landing your perfect software engineering role.

If you need help with the interview process, the VanHack Premium Academy is also on hand to help you get prepared with effective interview answers.

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