Today, let’s talk about 7 types of words, phrases, and vocabulary you should AVOID including in your English resumes, applications, and job interviews!
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The average time recruiters, hiring managers, and universities spend looking at applications and resumes is less than 10 seconds for the most competitive opportunities. Less than 10 seconds!! And most of the time, you have only one or two pages to stand out. Moreover, right now there are millions of people quitting their jobs and looking for new employment – it is a very competitive job market!!
Therefore, it is vital that you carefully choose the best vocabulary, phrases, and information that will effectively and efficiently communicate your value and uniqueness. It is a delicate balance – you need to emphasise your qualities, but at the same time write something clear and different from other candidates.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve tried to give you some words and terms you SHOULD include in your resume or application. The first episode focused on alternative adjectives to commonly selected overused or boring options. Such powerful adjectives should be combined with strong action verbs that highlight your abilities and agency. You can find both of the previous episodes linked here on the blog, or in the description of the podcast!!
Key words including “to establish,” “to increase,” and “to negotiate” allow you to give clear evidence of your previous experience, qualifications, and what makes you different from every other candidate. Rather than simply saying you are hardworking or a good communicator, use action verbs and powerful adjectives to clearly and eloquently express this!!
Today, I want to focus on things you SHOULD NOT include in your applications! I’ve briefly mentioned a few things in previous episodes, but today I’ll go into more detail and provide more examples of phrases and things you should avoid. I also recommend all of my students who are writing university personal statements or applying to a new job to read the famous writer George Orwell’s essay on Politics and the English Language. Orwell described the common mistakes that people make when writing – I recorded a podcast on his suggestions last year which you could also listen to!!
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Words to AVOID on Resumes and Applications!!
First, please AVOID business jargon and lingo. What is jargon? These are special words and phrases used by a specific profession which can often be difficult for others to understand. You may think including jargon makes you seem more professional or intelligent, but it actually can weaken your application. George Orwell pointed this out in his essay 70 years ago – but millions of people still make the same mistakes.
Why avoid jargon? Well, plain and clear language that focuses on explaining your qualities is far more effective. Sometimes jargon can make you seem like a try hard or overconfident. Furthermore, often the first people to read you CV or application are not specialists in your industry. Especially at big companies, the HR department will screen your application first, before it reaches the professionals in the relevant department.
Here are some examples or terrible business jargon
- Move the needle
- Bottom line
The next type of word to NEVER include in resumes, applications, or use in job interviews are “givens.” What does “given” mean? A “given” is a known or already established fact or situation. We only have a short amount of time, and limited space, to make an impression. Thus, there are quite a few phrases and words you shouldn’t include as they don’t add anything to your application.
What do I mean? Well, think about phrases including,
- Team player
- Hard worker
- People person
These sound great right? I don’t think so. Why? Every single job in the entire world expects you to be a “hard worker” – so, it is a “given,” it is expected. The person reading your resume will expect these qualities anyway, without needing to read it. If you want to talk about being a “hard worker” in your application, you should use action verbs and phrases that demonstrate your hard work and dedication.
For example, “Simultaneously coordinated 3 different projects, assumed leadership positions within the team, and organised weekly meetings.” Here, you have showed you are hard working while showing your value, and without needing to write the phrase “hard working.”
Try to avoid passive language in your resume. I’m sure you expected this – last week’s episode was focused on using action verbs to emphasise your role and responsibilities. Why avoid passive language? We use the passive when we don’t know the person doing an action or the action is more important.
For instance, “The house was built 5 years ago” – we don’t specifically know who built it, and most of the time we don’t care. In a resume, however, we do care about the person who does the action – because that person is you! If you are a builder, you should write “I built that house five years ago.”
Your career doesn’t happen passively and by itself. Instead, you need to take credit for the amazing things happening in your career. Use strong action verbs, make an impression on your future employer, and make sure everyone knows that you are responsible.
You should also generally avoid using first-person language. First-person language includes pronouns like “I,” “we,” and “me.” This is specifically for resumes and CVs. Ignore this if you are writing an application for university, a cover letter for a job, or you are in a job interview.
When writing or speaking normally, in full sentences and paragraphs, of course you should use such pronouns. In a resume or CV, you are writing short and isolated sentences about yourself – the recruiter or hiring manager knows the document is about you so you don’t necessarily need to start each sentence with “i.”
For instance, it is perfectly acceptable to write phrases like “Managed a highly successful department with 20 employees,” “Developed an application which increased productivity by over 50%” or “Mentored school children from disadvantaged backgrounds.” You don’t need to start the sentence with the word “I” in a CV.
This is an obvious thing, but you would be surprised how many people make spelling mistakes and grammatical errors in their applications. If you are trying to convince the recruiters and hiring managers that you are organised, careful, and detail-oriented, a spelling mistake, grammatical error, or typo makes you look incredibly unprofessional.
Mistakes are easy to make. Especially if you are applying to numerous jobs, changing your applications a little each time, small errors can creep into your writing. Moreover, if you are listening to my podcast, English is probably not your native language which makes it really likely that you could make some small mistakes.
Some of the most common misspelt words include necessary, accommodate, colleague, entrepreneur, experience, and separate. So double check these words. Usually Microsoft Word’s spell check is good enough to catch these mistakes. For grammar, you should ask a native English speaking friend to double check your application or use a professional proofreading service.
Be careful though – some of my previous clients have asked their friends for help and used services on the internet, but their application was still full of mistakes. Just because a friend speaks English doesn’t mean they will be able to help you write an application. If you send me a message I may also be able to help – I specialise in university and postgraduate applications to study in the UK
And one more thing – try to keep your English consistent. If you like British English spellings that is fine – but make sure your whole resume is written in British English. Switching between American and British rules and vocabulary may be a little confusing.
Last week’s episode focused on using action words to emphasise your qualities and skills. The key part of this is to provide evidence to support your claims – if you want to tell your employer you are hard working, give them some evidence and use strong action verbs to highlight your role. The next step is to avoid generalisations.
A generalisation is a general, not specific, concept or statement; such as phrases including “I increased profits” or “I cut costs.” How can you avoid generalisations? Give specific examples! Use numbers! “I increased profits by 80%” or “I cut costs by $50,000.” Show recruiters and hiring managers how important you are.
Also avoid generalisations like “expert” or “accomplished.” Again, use action verbs and evidence to demonstrate this!
General Phrases of Self-Promotion
I guess technically this is a mix of generalisations, givens, and business jargon. It is really difficult for many people to explain why they are great. Most of us are humble, and struggle to highlight what we are good at. Many people try to solve this problem by relying on general phrases of self-promotion that don’t specifically explain your qualities, value, or qualifications.
The problem is these phrases can be ineffective, boring, and overused. Some of the most common examples of general phrases of self-promotion include results-driven, strategic thinker, detail-oriented, proactive, and self-starter.
Please avoid these phrases as much as possible. If you want to make it clear you are a strategic-thinker, provide an example of a time you needed to think strategically. For example, “Identified an opportunity to grow the business through social media marketing, and implemented a strategy which successfully grew clients by 10% through targeted advertisements.”
On today’s episode of Thinking in English, I have tried to show you all some of the most common mistakes people make in their resumes, applications, and interviews. You need to be as clear and effective as possible when writing, and to do this I encourage you all to avoid overused and boring terms. Try to show, rather than say, why you are the best candidate.
Avoid using business jargon, givens, generalisations, and general phrases of self-promotion. And make sure you are writing actively, without any spelling or grammar mistakes, and avoid using the first person in a CV or resumes!
Over the past few weeks, I have tried to show you things to include, and to not include, in your applications. I hope the next time you need to write something like this in English, you will remember my tips and apply them correctly. In fact, they probably work for most languages! If you haven’t already, check out the previous two episodes on adjectives and action verbs. Also, if you have any requests on topics similar to this, send me a message on Instagram or through the contact form on the blog!!
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Do you want to Think in English?
I'm so excited that you found my blog and podcast!! If you don’t want to miss an article or an episode, you can subscribe to my page!