CV Buzzwords: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The unbridled excitement of job hunting and CV writing

I’ve tried to give a lot of advice over my past few columns, from Halloween survival tips, to suggestions to liven up your next party. But now it’s time for the serious help: how to not write a cringe-worthy, clichéd CV. It’s job application time, and most final year students are struggling to balance work and the endless application process so here’s your chance to procrastinate and get the job you’ve always wanted! (Disclaimer: I make no assertions this will actually get you a job).

LinkedIn (you know the site you’re always told you’re meant to join up to, but never actually use once you have signed up) have recently revealed last year’s most-overused words and phrases from their profiles. You could probably guess a few of them; they’re probably in your CV/current job application which you’re meaning to finish. I know there’s been a few in mine. Here’s the list in all its glory so as LinkedIn claim ‘you won’t make the same mistake’:

1. Motivated

2. Creative

3. Enthusiastic

4. Passionate

5. Track record

6. Driven

7. Extensive experience

8. Wide range

9. Responsible

10. Strategic

This issue that I have with the list is it sometimes becomes slightly difficult to not use the words; sometimes they’re the best words to describe you or your skills. The other issue I’ve found is that if people actually take notice of this list (and they clearly don’t as 4 of the words appeared on last year’s list and the year before) then the words in next year’s list will just be replaced by synonyms of this year’s.

Going through the list it’s difficult to see why LinkedIn publish it every year, some of the words are overused in CVs, and yes it probably does make it difficult for you to stand out. However, there is a limit to English language and sometimes words will be overused because they’re just perfect for that scenario. For example, ‘motivated’ is very good for describing how ambitious you are without using the word ambitious, which will probably be in the list next year.

I will admit some on the list are perhaps annoying phrases for human resource staff to consistently read, such as ‘track record’ which is only really useful if you’ve set a record on a track. Claiming you have a ‘(insert suitable adjective here) track record’ is useless on a CV unless you give the examples or references to prove it, in which case you don’t really need to use the words ‘track record’ because it just becomes obvious.

If you really don’t want to use these buzzwords, then LinkedIn suggests you use active language instead, for example, just saying you’re passionate isn’t enough, but explain how and why you’re passionate about something (Of course it’s difficult to say you’re passionate about something without using the word ‘passionate’ – you could always try obsessive but I feel that sends out the wrong signals). As a better example, instead of plainly saying you’re responsible for something, it’s probably better to demonstrate how your responsibility delivered results.

The only one I actually agree is completely useless to put in your CV is number 7: ‘Extensive experience’. ‘Extensive’ is fairly redundant as an adjective if you can actually list the experience you have, which is the entire point of a CV. It also gives employers the impression that you’re attempting to big up something which isn’t there, so even if you’re experience is ‘extensive’, ‘wide-ranging’ and ‘all-encompassing’, it’s probably best to not use these words as employers will detect a pork-pie from a mile away, even if it is made from Quorn (there is a joke in there somewhere, you’re just going to have to work for it).

LinkedIn’s final tip is to let others vouch for you, so reputable people can ‘verify your talents’. This is slightly more difficult in a CV other than just plainly stating references, but it does lead me onto a warning of my own: whatever you do in you CV, don’t lie! There is surely nothing more galling than having to struggle through an interview when you have absolutely no clue what you’re talking about. If ‘Friends’ taught us anything, it’s not to lie in your CV: we all know the story of Joey and his fake French.

As an overall rule of thumb, I would say it’s perfectly fine to use these ‘buzzwords’ as long as you don’t just list them in your CV like an egotistical maniac with language issues. Examples are always a good way to convince somebody of your point, you wouldn’t expect the win a court case without evidence would you?

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