Best and Worst Terms to Use in Your Resume – Ranked by Hiring Managers

WorkCoachCafeIn a recent CareerBuilders survey, over 2,200 hiring managers were asked to rank the terms they typically see in resumes as good or bad terms to use. The results really weren’t too surprising, but they are interesting to note, particularly if you are currently submitting resumes for job opportunities.

The 15 Best Resume Terms

These are the 15 terms those hiring managers preferred to see on resumes.

Notice that these are mostly action verbs, probably describing the accomplishments (bet they were quantified accomplishments, too):

1. Achieved: 52 percent

2. Improved: 48 percent

3. Trained/Mentored: 47 percent

4. Managed: 44 percent

5. Created: 43 percent

6. Resolved: 40 percent

7. Volunteered: 35 percent

8. Influenced: 29 percent

9. Increased/Decreased: 28 percent

10. Ideas: 27 percent

11. Negotiated: 25 percent

12. Launched: 24 percent

13. Revenue/Profits: 23 percent

14. Under budget: 16 percent

15. Won: 13 percent

Notice that “achieved” (at 52%), “improved” (at 48%), and “trained/mentored” (at 47%) were preferred over “managed” (at 44%)! And “under budget” and “revenue/profits” were very near the bottom of the list. Interesting! Achievements, improvements, and training/mentoring are more important to these hiring managers than profits. Or maybe these managers weren’t responsible for profitability…

The 15 Worst Resume Terms

These are the 15 worst terms to include on your resume, based on this sample of hiring managers.

Notice that most of these are adjectives people would use to describe themselves, basically meaningless terms unless backed up with quantified accomplishments. Perhaps that’s how the surveyed hiring managers viewed these terms – empty and meaningless:

1. Best of breed: 38 percent

2. Go-getter: 27 percent

3. Think outside of the box: 26 percent

4. Synergy: 22 percent

5. Go-to person: 22 percent

6. Thought leadership: 16 percent

7. Value add: 16 percent

8. Results-driven: 16 percent

9. Team player: 15 percent

10. Bottom-line: 14 percent

11. Hard worker: 13 percent

12. Strategic thinker: 12 percent

13. Dynamic: 12 percent

14. Self-motivated: 12 percent

15. Detail-oriented: 11 percent

Notice that, mostly, these terms are hated by fewer than 20% of the survey participants, so I’m not sure that I would automatically eliminate them from my resume if I felt they were appropriate. What I would definitely try to do is back up those “empty” adjectives with proof that they were not empty at all.

We think of many of these characteristics as desirable in a great employee. Perhaps these terms were used in resumes that offered no proof that someone was “best of breed” or “detail-oriented.” If you describe yourself as accomplished, obviously adjectives are not enough. Include some details about achievements that help the prospective employer believe that those are not just empty terms.

If you want more details on this CareerBuilder study, find it here.  

More About Effective Resumes

5 Reasons You Should Customize Your Resume

How to Quickly and Easily Customize Your Resume for Each Opportunity

Resume Customization Cheat Sheet

Before You Apply, 4 Questions You Must Ask Yourself

5 Resume Rules You Should Ignore

3 Assumptions You Should Never Make About Your Resume

Why You Don’t Hear Back After You Submit Your Resume

Keys to a Good Resume and Cover Letter


About the author…

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. In 2011, NETability purchased, and Susan has been editor and publisher of WorkCoach since then.  Susan also edits and publishes and is a Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management.  Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Google+.


  1. Adjectives are dead. Action verbs are in. Companies want to know what you can do for them not a description of yourself.

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