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6 resume keywords that scare away hiring managers

These frequently used keywords aren’t as great as many job seekers seem to think.

Sandi Webster has a love-hate relationship with keywords.

“Our company lives by keywords,” says the co-founder of New Jersey-based marketing and analytics consulting company Consultants 2 Go. But using them for sourcing job candidates can be frustrating.

For example, one of the most meaningless keywords Webster sees is “expert.” The word has almost lost its meaning as it’s become more and more popular on resumes. Even worse, she says, is when the applicant qualifies it with unneeded  descriptors.

“If you add some other generic keywords to ‘expert,’ such as ‘marketing’ and ‘consulting,’ you will get the entire universe of mankind—or not a single person because it's too broad,” Webster says.

Many keywords don’t give a recruiter any vital information about you or your work ethic, says Jennifer Lee Magas of Magas Media Consultants in Monroe, Connecticut. They simply serve as a distraction in your resume, clouding your abilities and accomplishments.

The generic keywords Webster and Magas describe are a hiring manager’s nightmare. Be sure to leave these common offenders off your resume if you want to avoid scaring them away in your next job search.

Problem-solving skills

Ideally, everyone applying for a job can solve problems, so putting this on your resume isn’t going to make it stand out. Most toddlers have problem-solving skills, Magas says, so it’s best not to use this term in an effort to make yourself sound qualified.

Hard worker

This also puts recruiters off because it should be a given, says Lori Scherwin, founder of New York City-based company Strategize That. “If you’re using space for the basics, you run the risk of being thought of as fluff.”

Your experiences and accomplishments should prove you’re hard working, Magas says. If they do, there’s no need to use this keyword.

Responsible for

“Responsible for” comes across as weak because it doesn’t show any action or results, Magas says. “Responsible for hitting monthly sales goals” doesn’t mean you actually met those goals or describe how you did it. Use action-oriented words and talk about the results you achieved instead.

Team player

Everyone has faced a work situation in which they had to work closely with someone else, Magas says. Using this term to show you work well with others requires the hiring manager take your word for it—or leaves her wondering why you’re saying it in the first place.

While you’re eliminating “team player,” take a close look at how often you use the word “I” in your application materials. Using it too much in your cover letter, resume or interview can make you look like a solo act, which undermines anything you say about being a team player, Scherwin says.


Recruiters expect this characteristic from every candidate, Magas says, and they’d rather know specifics about what you’re looking for from a job. But don’t replace this with “results-driven,” as it’s just as problematic. “The results may not always be favorable—does this mean you lose your drive?”

Any other meaningless buzzword

“Low-hanging fruit,” “think outside the box” and other cliches make your resume look shallow, Scherwin says. “Get specific about what you did, without showing off your jargon knowledge.”

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