Keywords: The Good, The Bad, and The Overused

by Cathy Eng


One of today's major buzzwords is "keywords" and even though the English language contains thousands of usable keywords, many are getting used way more than they should in resumes. The secret to keywords is to be as specific as possible, using words that set you apart from the competition rather than put you in a class with them. Here are some of those keywords I would classify as good, bad, and overused:

Good: These keywords communicate power and uniqueness of a candidate.

  1. Bilingual/Multilingual

  2. Black Belt Six Sigma (or other program credential)

  3. C++ Expertise (or other software expertise)

  4. PMP – Project Management Professional (or other professional certification)

  5. Global/International

  6. Award-winning

  7. Entrepreneurial* 

*Be careful with entrepreneurial as it can communicate that you lack loyalty and may jump ship to start your own business at any time.

Bad: These overly general keywords are more or less a minimum requirement for any job.

  1. Self-motivated

  2. Hardworking

  3. Honest

  4. Organized

  5. Professional

  6. Team Player 

Overused: So many candidates use these more trendy keywords that hiring managers’ eyes simply glaze over when they see them.

  1. Innovative

  2. Results-Driven

  3. Dynamic

  4. Forward-Thinking

  5. Problem-Solver

  6. Goal-Focused

If your resume contains any keywords in the latter two categories, you may want to purge them and replace them with more specific, impactful keywords that make you stand out as a knowledgeable, well rounded candidate. Above all, be sure to select keywords that adequately describe your skills and talents (and not those you would like to have). Be confident and clear, and you can create some great keywords!

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