Looking Past Titles — Tips on Using Specific Language to Broaden Your Job Search and Improve Your Resume

Language, and all of its nuances, is important. It’s how we communicate big ideas and concepts, describe ourselves and our goals, and connect with each other — sometimes, even through a simple sheet of paper, the resume. Anyone who has ever created or read a resume knows there’s limited space to make your case, so every word matters. In some ways, the resume is to a poem what the interview is to a novel. It’s not a place to expound, but rather, to choose your words carefully; remember, sometimes what you don’t say is just as important as what you do. Using specific language (or lack thereof!), can enhance the perception of your expertise and, in turn, broaden your job search. 

Improve Your Resume by Avoiding Certain Words

If you find yourself choosing words as a means to fill space, that’s usually a discouraging sign. Overused buzzwords and “wordy” or verbose phrases are guaranteed to be littered throughout the hiring manager’s pile of resumes. Contrast the competition and make yours concise, clear, and creative. Be thoughtful about the words you use — and the words you avoid. 

While there are exceptions to every rule, especially if your resume needs to be ATS- friendly, it’s safe to say that when you want to use any of the words below, you should first ask yourself these questions: Does this wording serve my purpose? Am I just taking up white space? Is this information a given? Can I show instead of tell?

Words to avoid: 

  • Hardworking
  • Ambitious
  • On-time
  • Accomplished
  • Team player
  • Dedicated
  • Creative

If you properly describe your accomplishments and endeavors, descriptions like “creative” and “accomplishment” should already be apparent, while being “on-time” and “hardworking” should go without saying.

You can improve your resume by removing jargon and lingo, too. Do everything you can to avoid causing that glazed-over look in the resume reader’s eyes after having read the phrase “results-oriented” for the 50th time that day. 

More words to avoid: 

  • Wheelhouse
  • Seasoned
  • Self-starter
  • Synergy 
  • Rockstar
  • Bottom line
  • Results-driven
  • Expert

Also avoid negative words like can’t or won’t. This is no place to second guess your abilities or dive into your weaknesses. Depending on the interviewer, there will be time for that conversation in your interview. Your resume is the place to proudly explain your skills, experiences, and goals, which are utterly unique to you.

Lastly, resist the urge to speak in 1st or 3rd person. State the barest of facts; so, for example, instead of “I managed a team of twelve” or “Taylor managed a team of twelve,” I’d suggest “Managed a team of twelve.” It not only saves you precious space, but it’s more authoritative and directly gets the point across. 

Broaden Your Search by Thinking About Skills vs. Titles

Often, and for good reason, people write their resumes through the lens of the title or role they’re hoping to get. It makes sense, sort of like “dress for the job you want,” but in order to broaden your search while still aiming to find something that suits you, think about the skills you truly want to apply. Think about what you want to do instead of the title you wish to have. Doing so can open up possibilities that perhaps you hadn’t considered.

Here’s an example: A lot of people tell me that they’re searching for diversity-related roles but find few results given that most “diversity offices” are made up of small teams. Depending on their specific interests, I may direct them to research roles that use phrases like “health disparities,” “social determinants of health,” “multicultural marketing,” “cultural competency,” or “corporate social responsibility.” Expand your vocabulary to talk about your specific skills and experiences.

Here’s another example: let’s say you went to school for journalism, but you’re not finding any “journalist” jobs that suit your interest. To broaden your search, think beyond titles and focus on skills. These might include: 

  • Interviewing
  • Language arts
  • Editing
  • Photography
  • Research

Or, if you wrote extensively on a specific topic, you could describe your knowledge of an area like finance, business, or politics. In this way, you open yourself up to professions beyond “journalist” that would match your abilities and interests. Even if you do want to be a journalist, including the full breadth of your skills gives you a better chance of finding and securing a job that works for you, not the other way around.

Language Matters

If you’re writing a new resume or freshening up an old one, pay close attention to the language you use. Words matter — with them, you have the power to convince, create, and make your ideas catch fire! Ensure that you say what you mean to. Ultimately, think about your language choices and how wielding specific words can impact the bigger picture of your job search.