Why are so many people upset about resume words?

There is a war of resume words brewing. Not until I wrote the book “The 197 Words You Should Not Use on Your Resume” did I realize how frustrated and angry people have become with writing resumes. The book has provided many job hunters with resume help inspiring them to reexamine their resumes and make improvements that got them interviews while invoking anger in others.

The book has appeared in several International reviews with many reader responses. One blog alone received over 170 reader comments in less than a week. While I was at first surprised at the anger expressed by some readers, later realized where their frustration had initiated.

I have known for years that words can inspire, excite, persuade, invoke, disgust, and anger. Yet the reactions of many people to my book were misplaced and out of proportion to this self help manual. People are frustrated with the resume process. Most job hunters know they are competent and will excel given the chance. Proving themselves worthy of even getting an opportunity to talk to someone by writing a resume is irritating. The thought that an HR person who knows little about your craft can hold your future in his or her hands can be frustrating. The idea that one wrong word on your resume they just might not like is infuriating.

In the days of the West most shoes were ill fitted, poorly made, and unbearable. When people were about to be hung, often they were required to remove their shoes. While removing shoes could be a tremendous relief and comforting, I doubt most of those condemned people were able to fully appreciate the sensation.

While resume writing, which is much about yourself, can be an enjoyable resume experience, the fact that you need a job, and that the best a resume can do is get you an interview, most people do not appreciate the exercise. (Many people do not look forward to interviews but at least most are not conducted with a rope around your neck!)

So although resume writing might not be an exciting endeavor that you celebrate, with some resume help there are some ways to relieve the pain and possibly somewhat enjoy the experience.

IMPORTANT: The more time you invest in your resume the less time you will spend job hunting.

So what are resume words?
Resume words are words that belong on a resume; the words that will best describe your knowledge, skills, and abilities to an employer and the words they want to see.

The words you choose to use on your resume and what order you place them will dictate your future.

Following are many words grouped in generalized categories. Numerous words cross over into other categories.

General Resume Words

There are the general words and phrases that pertain mainly to CV and resume writing such as “objective,” “summary of skills,” “work history,” “KSAs” and “soft skills.” You can see many of these under job words.

Negative Resume Words

There are words that should be avoided on resumes. These words include weak words, cliché words, buzzwords, tired words, unacceptable versions of words, pronouns, and non words.

Negative resume words can bore or completely turn off an employer. Why work so hard to write your resume only to negate all your effort with a few poor words? Spend some time reviewing these words and avoid using them. See The 197 Words You Should Not Use on Your Resume.

Resume Clichés

There are many resume clichés that HR personnel and employers get tired of seeing. Clichés such as “duties included,” “responsible for,” and “skills set,” have become overused. Avoid clichés. See resume writing synonyms for replacements that can liven up your resume.

Resume Power Words

The Resume Dictionary has defined resume writing power words as:

Resume power words demonstrate actions that have benefited or will benefit employers.
They are used to empower and support achievement and accomplishment statements.
Most resume power words are action verbs though can also be adjectives, adverbs, or nouns.

Resume power words:

The Resume Dictionary has chosen power resume words based on several criteria. The words must possess some uniqueness, add marketability, impact or inspire, support and empower, and garner attention. The Resume Dictionary includes examples and “use formulas” for power words to encourage proper and optimum use to maximize your resume.

Power resume words are continually being added and if a word becomes overused or general connotation changes the word might be dropped from inclusion.

Resume Keywords and Phrases

Resume keywords and phrases are the words employers are searching for on submitted resumes and cover letters. These words can be power words,

phrases (such as the categories listed in the Resume Dictionary for example: “Attention to Details” “Leadership Ability” or “Organizational Skills”), skills words, or career specific words. Many employers use software to scan resumes for the keywords they have programmed into the search criteria.

Find out how to get an edge by using the keywords the employer is looking for where you are applying by creating a job resume.

See more about the sources of resume keywords and how to use them on your resume.

Career Specific Resume Words

These are words and phrases that are used in certain fields. Examples: radiology, audit trail, accelerated cost recovery, thermoforming. Career specific resume words and skills words can be keywords employers are looking for on resumes.

Find out how to get an edge by using the career specific keywords the employer is looking for where you are applying by creating a job resume.

Resume Skill Words

Resume skills and abilities do somewhat differ and there are career specific skill words and transferable or soft skill words. Review your skills by completing the resume skills list. Then use the power words in the resume dictionary to express how you have used your skills to benefit previous employers with statements about your specific accomplishments.

Resume Buzz Words

This term has been used as a synonym, often incorrectly, for resume power words, resume keywords, and career specific words.

The definition of a buzzword includes “used with intent to impress the listener with the speaker’s pretense to knowledge” which can have a negative connotation.

Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines buzzword as:

The last thing you want on your resume or to use in an interview is a word with little meaning other than an attempt to impress. And a word that is voguish or temporarily popular is on shaky ground.

Examples of words and phrases that have held the label of buzzword include:

You can see more buzz words to avoid in the The 197 Words You Should Not Use on Your Resume.

Resume Action Verbs

Many resume power words are action verbs. Review the resume power words in the Resume Dictionary. They are categorized by the skill or ability you wish to express to the employer.

Resume Adjectives

Adjectives on resumes are generally used to describe characteristic and personality traits, tasks, and actions.

IMPORTANT: Most adjectives are vague and not quantifiable. The words “knowledgeable” and “experienced” are left to anyone’s discretion. How knowledgeable is knowledgeable?  How experienced is experienced? Adjectives should be used with specific statements that show your quantifiable achievements.

Personality Adjectives

IMPORTANT: Resume adjectives must be chosen carefully especially when describing your personality or characteristics to avoid making the wrong impression. As with any word when resume writing: “When in doubt, leave it out.”

Consider common implications of words.


While you might use the word aggressive to mean energetic, as the word is commonly associated with negative behavior, in certain instances the employer could be negatively influenced.

Better choices might be dynamic, spirited, or vigorous.

The adjective “reflective” is a great word in certain situations though might be interpreted as slow in decision making to some depending on how the word is used. (“Pensive” is a synonym of “reflective” and includes the definition of wistful or dreaming and which should be avoided.)

IMPORTANT: Combining adjectives with one another or with adverbs can be treacherous territory. Here are some I have seen on resumes that made me pause:

repetitive self starting
stimulatingly discreet
impartial likeability
unusually industrious
vigorously sensitive
seemingly dependable

Adjectives are vital for captivating an employer and creating an impression.
See the Resume Dictionary list of resume adjectives.

Resume Nouns

Many resume power words have noun versions. For instance, the noun form for the power word and action verb “identify” is “identification.” Some noun forms of action verbs are useful and others become less relevant as nouns.

Remember a noun is a person, place, or thing. Nouns include job titles, equipment names, associations, schools, and employers.

Resume Pronouns

Most resume are written without pronouns. While I do not disqualify a resume for the occasional use of a pronoun, some employers do. This is one of those instances that infuriate many job candidates.

Writing sentences without pronouns that are grammatically correct in every other way is one aspect that makes resume writing somewhat unique. See how to eliminate resume pronouns from your resume.


Use synonyms for common or overused words. See resume writing synonyms for suggestions to replace common resume words.

Synonyms are a great way to get your creative writing energy flowing however replacing a power word with a synonym requires caution. Many words have more than one meaning. Be sure to check the definitions of synonyms before using them.


If a candidate’s resume states he or she is a member of the AAA, would they be an athlete or car owner?

Acronyms are the first initials of words grouped such as:

US United States
WFM work flow management
DNA deoxyribonucleic acid
SPA Society of Professional Accountants

Some are well known and many are known only to people in the field.

Some acronyms stand for more than one meaning:

AAA American Automobile Association
AAA Amateur Athletic Association
AAA abdominal aortic aneurysm
AAA anti-aircraft artillery

Some acronyms are common for career specific terms, though you should avoid using most acronyms on your resume. You run the risk of the reader not knowing what your acronym stands for and a confused mind often says no.

By Phil Baker

If you spot errors or mistakes in the Resume Dictionary
please Contact Us and tell us where so we can make corrections.