Resume: How To Turn A Boring Cliche Into An ATS Keyword

These days, it's crucial to have keywords in your resume. And with the higher use of the dreadful ATS, your keywords need to be a perfect match for the position. This week, we got this question from one of our readers:

"The job announcements I want to answer contain almost nothing but clichés (such as pro-active, self-motivated, team player, etc.), so how can I make my resume both matchable to the announcements and keyword-optimized without the clichés in it?" - N
So, how do you make the perfect match without including clichés? Here's what our approved career experts had to say about turning a boring cliche into an advantage in your job search:

Think About The Job Description

"No matter how experienced you are at job searching, you'll inevitably run into poorly-written job ads," says Ben Eubanks of When this happens, the company is hiring for positions that might be more difficult to describe (or they could just be lazy, that's common, too), according to Eubanks. "In those instances," he says, "the company isn't really going to be searching by keywords, so targeting what you imagine the job responsibilities to be is your best bet."

Make Two Resumes

When writing a resume with such a position description, Kristin Johnson of suggests sprinkling in the needed offenders throughout the resume for submission to the ATS, but leaving them out of the "pretty" resume you bring to the interview or use for networking. "You'll need to plug those buggers into the bullets that prove you really are a 'proactive overachiever' or whatever, of course," she says. "It's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it."

Prove It

"The best way to avoid using clichés is to refer back to the old saying 'actions speak louder than words,'" says Jessica Simko of "Your bullet points, under each position on your resume, should be value based - showing exactly what value you added in that position." If one of the clichés listed is "team player," for example, make sure you have some bullet points that show your position on a team and the tremendous value you added, she says. If it's self-motivated, make sure you have some bullet points that show projects/activities you initiated that prove you are proactive and self-motivated. "The key is proving it," Simko says. "Many people glaze over these 'soft skills' thinking they are less important. That is one of the biggest mistakes people make in a job search."

Pepper Keywords In With Your Accomplishments

"If you are applying to a specific position, you still need the clichés even if you like to avoid them," says Robin Schlinger of "Unfortunately, both automatic programs and people putting in keywords will put these in for matching terms, and if you do not have them in your resume, you will be rejected." Schlinger recommends putting keywords in with accomplishments. For example: Proactive: Saved company $10,000 by proactively finding duplications in a $100,000 contract for IT services and recommending changes in the contract to remove them. Self-motivated: Ensured completion of all work on-time, with limited supervision, by using self-motivation skills. Team Player: Improved revenues $75,000 by finding opportunities for additional sales while a member of the company improvement team.

Read Between The Lines

"You have do to two things when trying to align your resume with this type of job description," Dorothy Tannahill-Moran of Next Chapter New Life. "One, try to 'read between the lines,' and two, use your own background and research on the needed skills and/or keywords." For example, when looking at something that says "dynamic" they may be looking for someone who has strong verbal skills, interpersonal relationships, or even leadership skills. "You have to think about what the job is and what they are trying to find," she says. "On the other point, there are consistencies in many jobs from company to company so if you have used those as a basis for your keyword list and have optimized your resume to that type of position, you probably are well covered."

Do Your Homework

"You may not be able to avoid including these clichés if the employer is using search terms to make a match," says Mary Sherwood Sevinsky of Research the company and be sure to include other, stronger terms and phrases from their website and articles about the company or position. Also, be sure to get clues from other advertisements for similar positions as well. "Once you’ve done [your research]," says Bud Bilanich, author of Climbing The Corporate Ladder, "you can tailor a resume specifically for the job you want."

Focus on What YOU Want

According to Shell Mendelson of, it's not the announcement or the keywords, it's your understanding of the position, and if it uniquely represents who you are and what you're truly seeking in a job or career. Ask yourself these questions:
  • What does the company do and is it where you want to be?
  • What is written about them?
  • Is this position how you want to serve and is who they are a match?
Mendelson suggests talking with someone in the company who is working in the same department. "This is not a passive process," she says. "It's about knowing what you want from the inside out - keywords or no keywords." Resume keywords cliches image from Shutterstock

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