Clean up your resume

It’s a bitter truth, but the people who review your resume look initially for reasons to put it in the reject pile. That leaves a smaller “maybe” pile to sort through.

While this strategy might seem harsh from the applicant’s vantage point, it’s efficient and perfectly understandable from the employer’s. It’s a competitive world, and the smaller pile contains only resumes that look, at first blush, to be free of anything that shouldn’t be there.

So you owe it to yourself to take a dispassionate look at your cover letter and resume and scrub expressions that could result in an immediate thumbs-down. The top offenders, in alphabetical order:

  • Business jargon, including but not limited to: synergy, dovetail, wheelhouse, bandwidth, skillset. If it makes you roll your eyes, don’t use it.

  • Casual language, including but not limited to: killer (as an adjective), rockstar, dabble, guru, godfather.

  • Common productivity software skills: It’s expected that you can use a word processor or spreadsheet in an office environment; there’s no need to say so. If you have skills that are considered unique, list them.

  • “Hardworking”: Should be a given. Of course you’re hardworking.

  • Negativity: You’re trying to highlight what you can do, not what you can’t or prefer not to do. Keep it positive.

  • Personal information: There’s a whole list of things you can’t legally be asked about. Don’t volunteer your age, marital status, health status or other information.

  • Pronouns: Don’t use them in resumes; they make the document read like a narrative, which it isn’t. First-person is okay if used sparingly in a cover letter.

  • “References available on request”: If the company wants references, they know they can request them.

  • “Responsible for”: Better to focus on what you accomplished, not what was expected of you.

  • “Results-oriented”: Doesn’t add anything, and it’s overused.

  • Typos: misspellings and bad grammar are big no-nos, and they’re avoidable. Word processors highlight both kinds of error automatically, so there’s simply no excuse for typos.

  • “Unemployed”: There’s no need to call attention to between-job periods. Use another expression, like “volunteer work” (a form of work) or leave the period unaccounted for.


You’ve spent hours crafting your resume and other documents. Make sure they work in your favor, not against you. Avoid the common mistakes that can land you in the “reject” pile.