Do you weed out job applicants for using certain phrases on resumes?
Hiring 5 minute read

Do you weed out job applicants for using certain phrases on resumes?

Megan Orr | October 25, 2022

Do certain phrases on resumes have you immediately dismissing people who might be otherwise-qualified candidates? Learn about the different phrases on resumes that recruiters want applicants to avoid and why it might not be the best approach. 

There’s been a lot of conversation in the recruitment space lately about certain phrases on resumes that candidates need to stop using—or else. Many hiring managers have claimed that they won’t even consider someone if they have a CV that includes phrases such as “helped with” or “worked on”. 

This advice has good intentions at its root. It’s meant to help job seekers create a more compelling resume, encouraging them to replace passive phrases with more impactful and action-based ones. Hiring managers want to know what an applicant actually did, so instead of non-descriptors like “helped”, candidates are being encouraged to be more clear by choosing verbs like led, managed, or analyzed. 

Human resources consulting firm Randstad advises job applicants against using a straightforward list of all the things they were responsible for as it’s a “boring read”. Instead, they recommend that candidates “use powerful action verbs that describe your accomplishments. Launched, increased, managed, created, implemented, etc. are all much more exciting ways to describe how you contributed to your job”.

With research showing that 24% of hiring managers report spending less than 30 seconds looking at each resume, the “meat” of an applicant’s resume could have a lot of fat trimmed off by removing redundant phrasing.

However, a blanket ban on passive phrasing may not be the best approach, particularly when it comes to for hiring diverse candidates. 

Gen Z’s favourite social media platform, TikTok, is full of video advice regarding phrases on resumes that recruiters hate. The comments section is usually filled with people who are frustrated by the advice. One commenter even writes that “grammatical gatekeeping on perfectly professional and acceptable terms is just elitist and ableist. The system has got to go”.

30 seconds probably isn’t actually enough time to get a thorough impression of a job applicant. 

Whether you’re calling it the Great Resignation, the Great Reset, or any number of other names, the way that people search for jobs—and consequently the way that people hire—has changed. However, many hiring managers and recruiters have been reluctant to adapt. 

It’s a challenge that people are facing across the board—the idea of going back to normal, when the reality is that the world has irrevocably changed. Although the current job market isn’t necessarily in favour of either the applicant or the employer, the status quo in hiring has shifted. Applicants are taking back their power and are tired of feeling like they have to jump through hoops to even get their resume seen for 30 seconds. 

If you’re looking for experience with a specific software or essential part of the job, it should be included in your job application description. 

Expecting candidates to automatically know which phrases on resumes to use (and which to avoid) can increase hiring bias. Simply put, you don’t know what you don’t know. Likely, many seasoned professionals look back on their resumes from early in their careers, or even from a few years ago, and cringe at the things they chose to include, the way they phrased things, the formatting they chose, etc. 

Just like hiring trends, resume trends come and go. What may have been standard several years ago now seems like overused and weak phrasing, when the reality is that the phrases haven’t changed, only our opinions of them. Creating unspoken rules and expectations for phrases on resumes is setting job applicants up to fail. 

If you do have certain expectations for resumes and cover letters, be transparent and include them on your careers page or individual job postings. Here are some examples of things you could ask for:

  • Showcase your creativity! We’d love to get a sense of who you are as a person, so feel free to use creative formatting and language to describe your experiences on your resume. 
  • Please avoid any industry specific jargon, as it can get lost in translation and we want to make sure we’re speaking the same language.
  • We know that you “worked” at your previous roles. Please try to use language that describes the impact of your work. Bonus if you can include metrics and results.

Are there times when the wording used on a resume does matter?

In one word, yes. If the hiring manager doesn’t understand something because of a lack of clarity in the resume, that’s obviously an issue and a reason to move on to the next resume. Candidates should avoid company-specific jargon that may not be commonly understood or job titles that are unclear. 

There are many things about resumes and the hiring process in general that simply aren’t common knowledge. Giving applicants a bit of grace ensures that you aren’t missing out on qualified candidates just because the resume they “worked on” has overused phrasing.

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