A Different Perspective on "Overused" Buzzwords

LinkedIn has once again released their list of the Top-10 overused professional buzzwords. For the last few years, the popular social networking site has scoured profiles to assess which words are getting used the most often and, for the last two years, mainstays like "creative," "organizational," and "effective" topped the list.

Here is the 2012 list:

  • Creative
  • Organizational
  • Effective
  • Motivated
  • Extensive experience
  • Track record
  • Innovative
  • Responsible
  • Analytical
  • Problem solving

It would be easy to jump to the conclusion that these are "must avoid" words. In fact, this is the exact recommendation given by a number of sites. Time.com calls them the 10 Buzzwords to Take Off Your LinkedIn Profile Now while Entrepreneur.com's Jason Fell advises users to remove "Creative" and other overused words from their profiles.1 It is easy to see why this is the knee-jerk response: After all, your LinkedIn profile and—by extension—your resume need to stand out and sell your key strengths, not blend in with the crowd using trite language.

But before you purge every "responsible" and "analytical" from your resume, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Hiring managers are still using (and looking for) these words:

Money.com's Lindsay Olsen states that "hiring managers have had enough of these generic buzzwords."2 If this is the case, it would stand to reason, one would have a difficult time finding these terms when searching for positions: Certainly, a hiring manager who is tired of seeing job seekers describe themselves as "analytical" is unlikely to request that the ideal candidate be "analytical."

This doesn't play out, however.

A search of Indeed.com for job postings using "creative," "problem solving," and "analytical" returns more than 187K hits. (Replacing "creative" with "innovative" pares this down to only 86,600 hits.) That is tens of thousands of jobs posted using three of the most overused words.

Why does this matter? Hiring managers go into reviewing a resume (or LinkedIn profile) with certain expectations about what the job requires. They keep these ideas in mind and use them to mentally filter the information. If you lack the information they are targeting, you could be passed over.

Thus, it follows that if hiring managers advertise for positions using these words, removing them entirely may not be in your best interest. That said...

There is a difference between only using buzzwords and also using buzzwords:

Consider the following power statements that might be used to start a resume:

Responsible and creative Administrative Assistant with a track record of organizational and analytical contributions.


Innovative, motivated, and computer-savvy Administrative Assistant with a 10-year track record supporting creative projects for diverse clients.

The first statement uses five of the 10 overused words and falls flat. The second does a much better job of painting the job seeker within the context of skills and experience, yet it still uses four of the 10 overused words.

From this, we might conclude that the issue is not the presence of these words but rather how they tend to be used. And that brings us to...

Showing is (usually) better than telling:

Experienced and effective writers know that telling is weaker than showing. If you simply state an ability or attribute without illustrating the specifics, you are telling; however, give a specific example, figure, case study, or highlight, and you are showing. For example, "10 years of experience" is stronger than "extensive experience" because you let the reader see what "extensive" looks like. In most cases, stating that "I secured a new client that resulted in $20K in new revenue," is stronger than "I increased profitability."

If showing could work against you, telling can be the better option. For example, terms like "extensive experience" become an asset if you would like the hiring manager to focus on more recent and relevant experience.

So keep in mind...

Your experience needs to be specific (but your summary doesn't):

If your work experience is riddled with these words, then it is possible that you do need to take a new approach. The most effective resume or career profile will demonstrate how you are creative rather than simply stating it. Instead of telling about a "creative problem solving approach," describe what you did that was creative and how it solved the problem.

That said, an effective resume or profile presents a summary of your skills and expertise. It serves as sort of an "executive summary" for your career. With specifics in your work history, you can be more general and descriptive in the summary: Because you "showed" in the experience section, you can "tell" in the summary. When a hiring manager sees "creative" in your summary, they are apt to look to your experience to see you prove it. When they do, they will be pleased, not annoyed.

Today, more than ever, it is important to be mindful of the words you're using and, above all, how you are using them to ensure that you get the greatest impact from your resume and LinkedIn profile.

  1. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/50130052/ns/business-small_business/t/most-overused-buzzwords-linkedin/#.UNNSm6yulA4
  2. http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/outside-voices-careers/2012/12/04/the-top-10-overused-buzzwords-on-linkedin

Published in:
MS Office