How to Decode a Resume: Buzzwords to Look Out for When Hiring

By Vincent Nero

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Choosing the right candidates to bring in for an interview can be tough when all you really have to go off are the words on their resume. This process can become even more difficult as resumes are often stuffed with buzzwords and recycled phrases such as a candidate being a “team player” or “goal-oriented”.


Buzzwords may be present if a candidate is looking to exaggerate the details of past jobs or simply inflate their qualities and qualifications, so it’s important to be able to recognize such worn phrases. EBI identified some of the most common buzzwords candidates will use in their resume and how you can understand the true meaning behind them.

What buzzwords can say about a candidate

You could say that the use of buzzwords shows a lack of imagination and creativity, but this isn’t always the case, as many candidates simply want to make sure their resume follows the correct format or template. By using the standard language expected of a resume, a person is essentially communicating that they know how to follow instructions and details, so a couple of buzzwords here and there might not be anything to worry about.

But it’s often the sheer quantity of buzzwords that can separate someone aiming to appear presentable and someone aiming to exaggerate themselves. If you find yourself reading a resume saturated with a high number of buzzwords then it’s possible that you have a candidate looking to spin an inflated tale about their experience and qualifications, while just a few buzzwords here and there might not be enough to read anything concrete into.

Popular Buzzwords

Jack Of All Trades

This is a candidate’s way of saying that they are competent in all areas, but what it actually communicates is that they aren’t able to bring any kind of high-level specialist in a particular area.

Perhaps a better way to phrase this would be to describe their quickness to learn and their initiative to take on new and unfamiliar tasks, giving them the competency to work effectively across all trades.

Willing To Put In Extra Work

While this might feel like a way of stating their enthusiasm and dedication to the job, it could signal that the candidate will make up for their shortcomings by putting in more hours and taking on too many projects at once.

A smarter way of communicating their work ethic would be to mention specific projects they have created themselves to benefit their employer. This removes the hint of desperation and flattery that comes with explicitly stating you are willing to do extra work just to get the job.

Thought Leadership

Simply stating that a candidate is a “thought leader” is a way of suggesting they are seen as a mentor or an authority figure at their place of work. However, this can come across as being arrogant and conceited. There is undoubtedly an air of superiority associated with this term so you would want to avoid it wherever possible.

Rather than simply claiming to be a beacon of thought leadership, a candidate should cite specific examples of their mentoring or show when their ideas have taken precedence in the past. Simply using the term ‘thought leadership’ can be an empty way of trying to come across as intelligent and pioneering.

Strong Organizational Skills

Although this may be a good way for a candidate to show that they can bring structure and order to their working lives, it sounds too much like they are glorifying the simple act of arranging documents in a folder.

Instead, a candidate could mention how they have been able to juggle multiple projects together at once or implement effective solutions to organizational problems.


Detail-oriented is another common phrase that doesn’t actually mean all that much if it is used without any context. One potential problem with this buzzword is that it can make a candidate look like they lack creativity, suggesting that they are only competent working on empirical or statistical projects.

Rather than narrowing their skillset down to only being competent with details, a candidate could use an example of how their attention to detail helped them to overcome a problem or implement an effective solution.

Thinks Outside The Box

Ironically enough, if a candidate were truly an out-of-the-box thinker surely they would be able to come up with a more original way of saying this than to use this well-worn phrase. Some recruiters could also interpret this as a sign that a candidate is unruly and unwilling to follow directions.

The best way a candidate could demonstrate their creativity is to show practical examples of when their creativity was put to use. This shows that they aren’t simply dreamers and creative types but are able to implement their ideas into reality.

A Perfect Fit For Your Team

Such a statement like this can suggest a candidate is very quick to jump to assumptions as they have already decided that they are perfect for your team without having any knowledge about your team whatsoever.

Rather than simply stating they are a good team member, an ideal way to communicate this would be to provide specific examples of times they have effectively worked within a team.

Team Player

Being a team player is one of the most commonly encountered buzzwords in a resume and something that recruiters will eventually get tired of seeing. This can also be a popular way of euphemistically saying that one is unlikely to take the lead in a team and would prefer to be delegated tasks rather than initiating ideas.

An alternative way to demonstrate one’s team ethic rather than using the ubiquitous “team player” phrase is to cite examples of when they have done something important for the team or selflessly volunteered themselves.

Finding the right candidate

While common buzzwords can easily put a recruiter off if there are far too many stuffed within a resume, a couple of buzzwords here and there shouldn’t be too much of a concern. What you should be looking out for is evidence that a candidate isn’t being forthright about their qualifications and experience, as it is a real concern if a resume is seeking to exaggerate or amplify certain qualities.

You can view the whole infographic from EBI here. Remember, in your search for the right candidate, make sure they can back up their words with solid results and proof. It’s easy to skew the results in your favor if no one asks you to prove them, so be vigilant!


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