July 10, 2009

Power phrases are great ... except for these 10!

Recently, Liz Ryan, the Savvy Networker who writes for Yahoo! HotJobs, had an interesting article on outdated and overused power phrases that are all-too-common in resumes today.

According to Ms. Ryan, the 10 worst power phrases are:

- Results-oriented professional
- Cross-functional teams
- More than [x] years of progressively responsible experience
- Superior (or excellent) communication skills
- Strong work ethic
- Met or exceeded expectations
- Proven track record of success
- Works well with all levels of staff
- Team player
- Bottom-line orientation

She ends her article with a discussion on how job seekers can do better by adding a "human voice" to their resume. In other words, it's about making your resume sound real and interesting and fresh.

So why am I discussing this today?

Well, I partially agree with Ms. Ryan in that many resumes these days have an over-reliance on certain power phrases. It has gotten to the point where everyone has "Superior communication skills" and is "Mature, responsible, and reliable". And for students and youth, this is an even bigger problem as resumes for those starting out in the workforce tend to rely on these phrases even more!

And so while I agree that the above 10 phrases are outdated, I contend that the real solution isn't in removing them from your resume - since they are universal soft skills that all employers look for - but rather, the challenge is to make them sound modern by combining them with other relevant phrases or power words.

For example, rather than have a bullet that reads "Excellent communication skills", add some pizzazz by mentioning any job-specific competencies. For example, you could say:

- Excellent verbal and written communication skills in English, French, and Mandarin
- Excellent communication skills with a proven ability to cold call prospective clients
- Excellent written communication skills with a demonstrated ability to write eye-catching copy

As you can see, I've taken the simple power phrase and made it more personal - and even better - by adding addition information and/or qualifications.

Now in the same article, Ms. Ryan advocates using a "human voice". I agree that having a "human voice" sounding resume is beneficial for hard-copy resumes. And it works particularly well for those using a more functional-style resume.

However, in an age of electronic resumes, it is more difficult to write with a "human voice". Unfortunately, many of the systems used do not recognize nor read entire sentences - rather, these systems are told what to look for in a resume.

Therefore, while you can write portions of your resume with a "human voice" you still need to make sure that certain key words or phrases found in the job ad are also found in your resume.

Otherwise, your resume will definitely end up in the "NO" pile!

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