Resume Clichés and Buzzwords: A College Student’s Essential Guide

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Light warm yellow paper with glowing effect and red 'X' stamp symbolizing the rejection of resume cliches and buzzwords.

Time to Read: 7 minutes

There’s a common trap many fall into – the overuse of resume cliches and buzzwords. While these terms might seem like a safe bet to convey competence, they often do the exact opposite, rendering your resume indistinguishable in a sea of applicants.


  • Avoid Resume Cliches: Overused terms like “hardworking” and “team player” make your resume blend in, not stand out.
  • Show, Don’t Tell: Replace generic buzzwords with quantifiable achievements and specific examples that demonstrate your skills and impact.
  • Embrace Specificity: Use the XYZ formula, action verbs, and tailor your resume to the job description to make your application compelling and relevant.

What Are Resume Cliches and Buzzwords?

Cliches and buzzwords are terms or phrases that have been overused to the point of losing their original meaning and effectiveness. They are generic expressions that many job seekers rely on, mistakenly believing they will make their resume stand out. Here are some common examples:

  • Hardworking
  • Team Player
  • Self-Starter
  • Detail-Oriented
  • Passionate
  • Strategic Thinker
  • Dynamic
  • Experienced
  • Excellent Communicator
  • Results-Driven

Why They Don’t Work

The issue with these terms is that they are overly generic and do not offer any real insight into your capabilities or accomplishments. For a recruiter who reviews hundreds of resumes, these phrases blend into a monotonous sea of sameness. They add no value and fail to differentiate you from other candidates.

In writing. Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was “terrible,” describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, “Please will you do my job for me.”

C.S. Lewis

The Impact of Resume Cliches and Buzzwords

When it comes to crafting your resume, understanding the impact of cliches and buzzwords is crucial. These overused terms can significantly dilute the effectiveness of your resume, making it less appealing to potential employers. Here’s why:

1. Lack of Distinction

Cliches and buzzwords make your resume sound like everyone else’s. In a competitive job market, especially for recent graduates and college students, standing out is key. When your resume echoes the same terminology used by countless others, it loses its unique voice and fails to capture the attention of recruiters.

2. Missing Specificity

Buzzwords are often broad and unspecific. Terms like “hardworking” or “results-driven” are subjective and provide no concrete evidence of your abilities. Recruiters look for candidates who can demonstrate their skills and achievements, not just claim them. Without specific examples and accomplishments, these terms are just filler words that add no real value to your resume.

PRO TIP: When in doubt, keep in mind ‘show don’t tell‘. If you’re explicitly stating a trait or value and not showing it with evidence, you have room for improvement.

3. Questionable Credibility

Overuse of cliches can raise doubts about the authenticity of your resume. Recruiters might question whether you truly understand the skills you are claiming to have or if you are just using buzzwords to fill up space. This can be particularly problematic when your resume doesn’t offer solid evidence to back up these claims.

4. Overlooking ATS (Applicant Tracking Systems)

Many companies use Applicant Tracking Systems to screen resumes before they even reach a human recruiter. These systems are programmed to look for specific keywords related to the job description. When your resume is loaded with generic buzzwords, it may fail to include the keywords that would get it past these initial screenings.

Replacing Cliches with Quantifiable Achievements

Transforming generic phrases into specific, quantifiable achievements is a true game-changer for your resume. Here’s how to make that shift:

1. Embrace the XYZ Formula

Infographic on XYZ formula, addressing how to avoid resume cliches and buzzwords by GradSimple.

The XYZ formula is simple yet powerful: Accomplished [X] as measured by [Y], by doing [Z]. This structure forces you to think about your experiences in terms of tangible outcomes.

Example: Instead of saying you’re a “great team player,” you might say, “Collaborated with a team of 6 to complete a project 3 weeks ahead of schedule, leading to a 15% increase in client satisfaction.”

2. Quantify Your Impact

Numbers speak louder than adjectives. Whenever possible, quantify your achievements. Did you increase sales, reduce costs, or improve efficiency? By how much?

Example: Replace “Improved sales performance” with “Increased monthly sales by 20% through strategic client outreach.”

3. Use Specific Examples

Specific examples are more memorable and illustrative than general statements. Instead of declaring yourself a “problem solver,” describe a particular problem you solved.

Example: “Developed a new inventory tracking system that reduced supply overages by 25%.”

4. Highlight Unique Contributions

What did you do that no one else did? Identify your unique contributions and frame them in a way that showcases your special role.

Example: Instead of saying you’re a “hard worker,” you could say, “Volunteered for and led an initiative to digitize internal records, saving the company approximately 100 hours of manual work per year.”

5. Align with the Job Description

Tailor your achievements to align with the job you’re applying for. Identify key skills and attributes the employer is seeking, and reflect these in your resume.

Example: If they’re looking for an “effective communicator,” mention a specific instance where your communication skills had a positive impact, like “Negotiated a partnership agreement with a key supplier, securing a 20% discount on future purchases.”

The Power of Specificity in Resumes

Specificity is the cornerstone of a compelling resume. It transforms a generic document into a clear portrayal of your professional journey, showcasing your skills and accomplishments in a way that resonates with potential employers.

1. Contextualizing Achievements

Context matters. When you describe an achievement, provide the background or the challenge you faced. This helps the recruiter understand the scale and significance of your accomplishments.

For instance: “Revamped the social media strategy in a highly competitive market, resulting in a 40% increase in engagement and a 25% increase in followers over six months” gives a clear indication of the environment and the scale of the achievement.

2. Using Action Verbs

Begin bullet points with strong action verbs to convey a sense of initiative and effectiveness. Words like ‘orchestrated’, ‘engineered’, ‘spearheaded’, and ‘cultivated’ are impactful and vivid. They help paint a picture of you as an active and decisive individual.

3. Avoiding Jargon and Technicalities

While being specific, ensure that your resume is understandable to non-specialists. Overly technical language or industry jargon can be off-putting or confusing to recruiters not familiar with your field. Strike a balance between professional language and clarity.

4. Matching Language to the Job Description

Pay attention to the language used in the job description. Incorporate similar phrases and terms (where truthful and applicable) into your resume. This shows that you have a good understanding of the role and that your skills align well with what the employer is seeking.

The Bottom Line

A well-constructed resume is your ticket to standing out in a crowded job market. By steering clear of overused terms and focusing on specific, quantifiable achievements, you can create a resume that truly reflects your individuality and potential. Each word on your resume should add value and convey a clear, compelling narrative of your professional journey.

To continue developing your career readiness and personal growth, don’t forget to subscribe to GradSimple. Stay informed with our expert advice and resources, tailored for the evolving needs of students and recent graduates. Join our community today and take a proactive step towards a successful and fulfilling career.

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The human who runs the ship. Occasional writer, occasional web developer. Yes, this is the guy who hired a raccoon (if you know, you know).

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