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Let’s Play a Game of Hiring ‘Taboo:’ Best and Worst Resume Keywords

SURVEY_best_and_worst_resume_termsIf you’ve been to a house party, chances are you’ve played the word-guessing game Taboo, where you provide verbal clues while avoiding a list of forbidden words so as not to rack up penalty points. Similarly, hiring managers have a sort of “taboo” list of resume terms to help guide them through seemingly countless stacks to find the best candidates.

And who can blame them? 1 in 6 (17 percent) hiring managers on average spend 30 seconds or less reviewing resumes while the majority (68 percent) spend less than two minutes, according to a national CareerBuilder survey of more than 2,000 hiring managers and HR professionals spanning various industries and company sizes.

Worst Resume Keywords

Let’s start with the worst, shall we? Take a look at the list of the worst resume terms below — which include clichés and descriptive words that really don’t offer useful, objective information — and see if you’d hit the buzzer for any of all of them.

  1. Best of breed: 38 percent
  2. Go-getter: 27 percent
  3. Think outside of the box: 26 percent
  4. Synergy: 22 percent
  5. Go-to person: 22 percent
  6. Thought leadership: 16 percent
  7. Value add: 16 percent
  8. Results-driven: 16 percent
  9. Team player: 15 percent
  10. Bottom-line: 14 percent
  11. Hard worker: 13 percent
  12. Strategic thinker: 12 percent
  13. Dynamic: 12 percent
  14. Self-motivated: 12 percent
  15. Detail-oriented: 11 percent
  16. Proactively: 11 percent
  17. Track record: 10 percent

You may also be interested in reading “FAIL! You Won’t Believe These Outrageous Job Interview Mistakes.

Best Resume Keywords

On the contrary, there are certain terms — in particular, strong verbs — that hiring managers scan through resumes hoping to find as it provides the insight they need into a candidate’s experience and qualifications.

  1. Achieved: 52 percent
  2. Improved: 48 percent
  3. Trained/Mentored: 47 percent
  4. Managed: 44 percent
  5. Created: 43 percent
  6. Resolved: 40 percent
  7. Volunteered: 35 percent
  8. Influenced: 29 percent
  9. Increased/Decreased: 28 percent
  10. Ideas: 27 percent
  11. Negotiated: 25 percent
  12. Launched: 24 percent
  13. Revenue/Profits: 23 percent
  14. Under budget: 16 percent
  15. Won: 13 percent

Tell us in the comments below: Do you more or less agree with the above lists? Which resume words or terms are most useful to you, and which ones do you tend to glaze over?

Deanna Hartley

About Deanna Hartley

Deanna Hartley is a senior copywriter and community manager on the creative services team at CareerBuilder, where she writes about issues that are top of mind for employers and recruiters – including talent acquisition, employee engagement and retention. An avid social media user, Deanna is the face behind @CBforEmployers on Twitter as well as CBforEmployers’ Facebook and Instagram pages, so it’s easy to stay connected with her. Prior to joining CareerBuilder, Deanna was a senior editor for the Human Capital Media Group, publishers of Talent Management, Chief Learning Officer, Diversity Executive and Workforce Management magazines. Deanna holds a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. She loves caffeine, social media, pop culture and dogs – though not necessarily in that order.


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