Words Matter In Your Career Search – But Some Might Hurt

Words Matter In Your Career Search – But Some Might Hurt

The words in your resume and on your LinkedIn profile can make a significant difference in the success of your career search. And while there are many key words that you want to use to entice that search engine to find your resume or profile, those same words might describe you too generically to really help an employer identify you as the best candidate or help you find a position that is the “best fit” for you.

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I’ve been evaluating several resumes for job seekers in the last few months. I’ve noticed some serious problems with lack of specificity, with too many skills listed, and, of course, some of the typical problems with small fonts and non-existent margins. But then I noticed that in summary statements, lists of skills, and experiences, even very well-written accomplishment statements, the words being used were not really describing what the person did. This is potentially a long list, but I’ll start here with some very common ones.

Management And Leadership

Various forms of “managing” and “leading” are extremely common on resumes and profiles. But each of these terms is open of a wide variety of interpretations. If you check a management text, you’ll find the classic definition of managing as “planning, organizing, staffing, leading, and controlling the resources of an organization.” So simply, if you “managed projects for…” what did you really do? Did you plan? Did you organize? Did you control? And, what “resources” did you manage? Even the words “planned,” “organized,” and “controlled” are not very specific. If you look up leadership, you will be quickly overwhelmed with 100’s if not 1000’s of definitions of leadership. Claiming “Leadership Skills” or saying in your summary that you are “an experienced leader of…” doesn’t really tell a hiring manager what your accomplishments are or what your leadership strengths are. Did you practice of the recognized leadership behaviors like “Modeling the Way” or “Challenging the Process?” Can you present the specific of how you did one of those? Or did you practice one of the “Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun?” Did you follow his “Never reward those who do less than expected” principle? Or may you just lead by practicing Star Trek Captain Kirk’s “Make it so!”

What Team?

If there’s one term that is even more poorly explained on many resumes than management or leadership, it’s “team.” This is frequently stated as “Led a team…,” “Managed a customer service team…,” or “Supervised a project team…” None of these provide specific information on what leading, or managing, or supervising a team really means – or what impact you had on that team. As a hiring manager, I would want to know:
  • Some Basics about the Team
    • How many members of this team?
    • A virtual team?
    • Team demographics: diversity, generations, skills, education
  • What Stage Is this Team?
    • Did you assemble this team? Or was an “intact” team?
    • Team Stages?
      • Did you lead “forming, storming, norming, and/or performing?
      • How did you ”lead” at the different stages?
      • Did the team go through more than one cycle of the stage?
      • New Members? New Challenges?
  • What were the key results from your “team leadership?”
A well-written accomplishment, 3-4 lines on a resume, cannot answer all these questions about your team leadership. But “Led a customer service team that responded to customer inquiries on product usage” doesn’t answer any of them. How about: Hired and led a team of 12 millennials for the development of a new website, successfully tackled all challenges, including design struggles and deadlines by working closely with individuals both in and outside team meetings, to launch website 30 days ahead of schedule. With this I have a real sense of what you did – plus I’m interested in knowing even more about this success story.

Developed Or Created?

“Developed” and “created” are two more words that appear frequently on resumes and profiles – again with a lack of specificity. I have seen “developed a new performance appraisal, or ordering, system” on too many resumes. “Created (or developed) new website” is also common. I am working with the founder of a frozen pizza company right now. He’s selling his share of the business and searching for a new career challenge. One of his accomplishments is that he “created 20 new unique, gourmet pizzas.” But what does this mean? In this particular case, it means he experimented with unique ingredients and combinations. It means he tested the products with college students. It means he designed packaging. And it means he developed and implemented marketing programs work with grocers. In today’s technology world, there are software platforms that almost create a website for you. In a matter of a couple hours you can create a very professionally looking website – with 5-10 pages of information – very little effort. So if you’ve “created a website,” I would want to know:
  • How many pages?
  • What special features or “plug-ins” have you included?
  • What results have you obtained from your website?
    • In the first 30 days?
    • In the first six months?
    • In the first year?

There Are More

There are many other words that fit into this category of words that lack specificity. Your resume and LinkedIn profile should include strong action words, “behavioral” words that allow a hiring manager to really understand, even “see” what you’ve done!

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About the author

Jim Schreier is a management consultant with a focus on management, leadership, including performance-based hiring and interviewing skills. Visit his website at and   Disclosure: This post is sponsored by a CAREEREALISM-approved expert. You can learn more about expert posts here.Photo Credit: Shutterstock