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The monotonous world of overused résumé words

A survey suggests that the terms "hard-working", "team player" and "motivated" are so ubiquitous in résumé's that they have become utterly meaningless. But what might you write instead, asks Finlo Rohrer.

It's not easy to write the covering letter that goes with résumé's. You know it's going into a massive pile that will leave some poor recruiter dead-eyed in a supremely bored fugue. The sentiments you want to express are not just samey, they can even be counterproductive. Simply stating you're "creative" does seem rather to show the opposite.

Perhaps you should adopt the old journalistic adage of "show me, don't tell me". As an old journalism professor once said: "Don't start a sentence with 'interestingly…'. Let the reader be the judge of that." If having described a feat you have to say it is "spectacular" either a) you're not very good at describing feats or b) the feat really wasn't that spectacular.

"Everyone you've ever met talks about themselves as a 'people person' and says they can 'work independently as well as part of a team'," says Corinne Mills, managing director of Personal Career Management.

As well as creative, there are other lightly dished-out terms that are counter-productive. "Too many people say they are an 'excellent communicator', quite often in a poorly written résumé with spelling errors."

Candidates need to be honest and truthful, argues Claire McCartney, resourcing and talent adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. "They need to back up what they are saying rather than giving out cliches. Give real examples around your achievements, anything that makes you stand out. Include things you are passionate about." We're back to show rather than tell.

A person might be exceptionally hard-working, says Mills. "Hard working might be 'finishing a project with extremely tight deadlines required me to work at weekends to get it finished'. That gives me some evidence about your conscientiousness."

So avoid cliches, tailor your list of achievements to the job description but don't tell outright lies. If the truth is winkled out during the interview, you'll never get the job. Well, almost never.


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