5 Clichés to Keep Off Your Résumé

With job searches becoming so challenging, experts say vague language won’t get past most firms’ candidate filters.

Michaela Buttler

Senior Consultant, Korn Ferry Advance

These days, the average job search takes about five months. During that time, a job seeker might send out literally hundreds of résumés, trying first to pass muster with automated applicant-tracking systems, then with a human recruiter or hiring manager.

But too often, experts say, those résumés feature problematic elements like vague language and unhelpful formatting. And tactics that might have worked in years past have become cliché. “Clichés are meaningless uses of precious résumé real estate,” says Tiffinee Swanson, a Korn Ferry Advance career coach. Clichés and other missteps to avoid include:

Cliché 1: Using business buzzwords.

Tired of hearing phrases such as “out of the box,” “best in class,” “added value,” and “innovative”? So are recruiters. Long ago, these words and phrases lost whatever power they might have had. Generic business jargon on a résumé can make a candidate sound arrogant, uncreative, or both. Some companies have even programmed their applicant-tracking systems to filter out résumés that use these and similar terms.

Instead of relying on clichéd language, use action verbs to describe your responsibilities. For example, you can effectively and tangibly highlight how you add value and innovation by using language like “rewrote outbound sales-pitch phone script, resulting in 15% annual revenue gains and 10% shorter calls.”

Cliché 2: Saying you have a “proven track record.”

There’s no shortage of self-descriptive clichés that candidates should avoid, among them “hard worker,” “good communicator,” “team player,” and “problem solver.” Many recruiters find that these terms aren’t particularly useful in describing a candidate’s skill set.

But “proven track record” is a pet peeve of Swanson’s because it appears so often on résumés from people at every stage of their careers. Candidates are likely mimicking the language of the job posting they are applying to; recruiters often say they’re seeking a candidate with a “proven track record” of raising revenue, managing workers, or something similar.

But just because the recruiter relies on the phrase doesn’t mean the candidate should. Use your résumé to actually prove your track record by representing what you have accomplished in your career,” Swanson says.

Cliché 3: Listing all your jobs.

Someone starting out in their career doesn’t have many professional experiences, so it’s fine to list them all. But too often, mid-career and even senior-level candidates iterate every role they’ve ever had. Indeed, recruiters say it’s not uncommon for current résumés to include roles from the 1990s. Those early-career jobs most likely aren’t germane to the one you’re applying to now, and listing them eats up résumé space that could be dedicated to your recent career history—which matters more.

Detailing the last 15 years of roles is generally enough, says Swanson. For a 2024 job search, 2009 would be the cutoff year. Unless a role you had before 2009 is particularly relevant to the one you’re applying for now, leave it off.

Cliché 4: Making your contact information really big.

Candidates want to make sure a recruiter knows where to find them. But too often, they’ll use giant font sizes for their names, addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses. They’ll compound the mistake by aligning all that enlarged information at the top left of the page—some of the résumé’s most precious real estate, says Michaela Buttler, a senior consultant at Korn Ferry Advance. That means information essential to the job search, like a candidate’s experience and accomplishments, gets punted further down the page. “Anything you want them to see shouldn’t be in the bottom right corner or on the second page,” Buttler says.

Trust that recruiters can read your contact information. Put your full name in a slightly larger typeface in the résumé header. Beneath it you should place your contact information in the same type size you’ve used in the rest of the résumé.

Cliché 5: Listing your responsibilities without context.

A vague descriptor like “sales manager” can dramatically undersell a candidate. “Quantify as much as possible,” Buttler says. Describe sales growth under your leadership, for instance.

Even if the role doesn’t lend itself to an obvious revenue-generating metric, you can still do other things to highlight your impact. “Think about how you made the company better, faster, or more efficient by serving in that role,” Buttler says. 


For more expert career advice, connect with a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance.