10 overused words on LinkedIn that will bury your résumé

Once again, LinkedIn searches its 135 million résumés and tells us the clichés to avoid. For starters, ‘creative’ and ‘effective.’

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Are you a creative and effective organizer, with extensive experience and a proven track record?

Are you a motivated, innovative problem solver who boasts dynamic communication skills?

Your mother would be proud, but forgive LinkedIn for pointing it out: You’re also a cliché in a business suit.

LinkedIn today released its 2011 list of the most overused professional buzzwords and phrases in profiles, no doubt sending people around the world scurrying online to revise. Creative tops the list of most overused words in the United States, followed by organizational and effective, LinkedIn reports. Last year, extensive experience led.

The social network has 135 million members worldwide, including (it wishes you to know) executives from every Fortune 500 company. It’s not the place to sound like a freshman communications major who is proud to have mastered the jargon.

Differentiate yourself

“It’s a very competitive market, you want to be able to differentiate yourself,” says Nicole Williams, LinkedIn’s connection director and author of the book, “Girl on Top.”

“We’re kind of lazy, and we end up putting in words that feel comfortable by virtue of their overuse. But they’re not the best words to use.”

LinkedIn’s analytics team trolled through your tired phrases and mine to offer several top 10 lists by country. In the United States, here are the words that will bury your résumé:

1. Creative

2. Organizational

3. Effective

4. Extensive experience

5. Track record

6. Motivated

7. Innovative

8. Problem solving

9. Communication skills

10. Dynamic

Williams compares the background noise of the buzzwords to the teacher in the “Peanuts” TV specials: a droning wah-wah-wah-wah-wah-wah that has no meaning.

“We highly recommend that people get into their profile and update it and make it thorough, and ultimately stay away from these buzzwords,” she says.

Clichés around the world

Lest we Yankee cliché-mongers feel singled out, we’re not alone. The top words and phrases by country were:

Creative: Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Multinational: Brazil

Dynamic: France

Effective: India

Problem solving: Italy

Motivated: Ireland

Managerial: Spain

Track record: Singapore

However, the searches abroad also focused on English language buzzwords, raising the likelihood that its sample audience was skewed toward expatriates in places like Spain or Italy.

The goal for a good profile is similar to that of good writing in general: Show, don’t tell, Williams says.

“You want to be particular about it, making sure you’re not using the same words everyone’s using,” she says. “Otherwise you just get lost in that pile of résumés.”

For example, few professionals list unmotivated among their characteristics, so how does motivated make you stand out? The word organized may distinguish you from the legions of distracted slobs in the workforce, but how many of them fess up in their profile to being disorganized?

Instead, come up with concrete examples to demonstrate what makes you so special.

In its report LinkedIn suggests that instead of saying you have “extensive experience in sales,” note that you’ve worked in sales for 10 years and hit your quota the last 12 quarters. Note specific deals you’ve closed.

“Saying you closed target … gives a hiring manager, potential clients and colleagues a sense of the types of deals you’ve handled in the past,” LinkedIn says.

VP of miracles?

Still, while creativity is a good idea in your profile, don’t strive for Yeatsian turns of phrases in your job title, Williams says. If a recruiter is looking to fill a particular opening, you risk cutting yourself out of the running by being too clever.

“I met a woman the other day, and she’s ‘the VP of Miracles,'” Williams says. “And I’m like, ‘No. No one knows what that is.”

As for LinkedIn, crunching the numbers on clichés seems to be a bit of PR brilliance. In 2010, the story on buzzwords garnered coverage in venues like CNN, Today.com, and The Los Angeles Times. The campaign also won an honorable mention in PR News’ 2011 Platinum PR Awards, says Krista Canfield, LinkedIn’s senior manager of corporate communications.

“The goal of the campaign was not only to announce a list of data that would be fun for the media to write about, but to also elicit site activity by LinkedIn members,” Canfield says. “A campaign like overused buzzwords creates not only excitement about the listing, but also encourages members to revamp their LinkedIn Profiles.”

A confluence of interests—managers who were beginning to hire, and employees (or unemployed workers) who are looking for a new position—could make it a hit this year as well.

“It got a lot of traction last year, because people were trying to update their profiles, their résumés,” she says.

Russell Working is a staff writer for Ragan.com, where this story first appeared.

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