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Buzzword 3

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Don’t buzz: How to avoid using the overused when writing your CV

Written by Karin Lee Modified: Apr. 13 2021

If English is your ‘L2’ (second language), don’t fall into the trap of using superficial buzzwords to describe your abilities in your CV/LinkedIn profile.

The old phrase ‘I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place’ came to mind when I was reading a LinkedIn article the other day entitled, These are the absolute worst buzzwords ruining your career. For example, the author states that after enjoying the number one spot last year of being used in jobseekers’ CVs and LinkedIn profiles, the word ‘motivated’ has now fallen out of the top ten overused words. Not to worry, however, as there’s a new list of buzzwords being utilized by writers that are guaranteed to put off readers. Strong language here that grabbed my attention, as it was surely meant to do.

Guilty of a crime?

So why the rather strange phrase above? Because when I was reading this bluntly worded article (it asks at one point, “Which of these buzzwords are you most guilty of offending people with on your CV or LinkedIn profile?” – yikes) , I started thinking about all the ‘L2’ people who 1) read this advice, 2) become terribly insecure, and 3) start wondering about what in the world they’re supposed to do when describing their abilities in English. They’ve been told to make the best impression possible using professional language that hiring managers will understand. How are they to go forward? They face a dilemma: Should they use these buzzwords and risk having their CV and application tossed because they’re too cliché? Or do their best using other words and risk having their CV and application tossed because they’re not making sense?

Unfortunately, I don’t have the perfect answer to this (though I do have an imperfect one, more to follow); my first impulse is to tell them to go onto a search engine and write in f.ex. ‘synonyms for motivated’. But what if their language skills aren’t strong enough to determine which words that pop up are appropriate in the context of job-seeking? This is an answer that works better for a native speaker – and even then, this person has to think very carefully or they might choose a word slightly off the mark.

A new way of thinking and writing

So I go with my second impulse, which is to tell L2ers to show through briefly written examples that they are (to take a whole bunch of buzzwords) ‘motivated, professional, creative, successful, strategic, focused’ people who would bring all of these positive personal qualities to their newfound position. For example, let’s use creative, strategic and successful:
In my most recent position as marketing consultant, I created a new plan for using LinkedIn to promote my company’s new customer service department; after six months, studies showed that customer satisfaction levels had increased by 23 percent.
Or something similar edited for CV use, perhaps in a list format. What’s important here is that the L2 applicant tells their story without having resorted to using worn-out clichés that make their application disappear in the digital crowd. Easy, no?

Of course, not easy – and I did warn you that my answer was imperfect – but like most things worth having it’s worth taking the time to work hard at getting it right, putting the time and effort into not falling into the trap of taking the easy linguistic way out. For instance, one of the most traditionally used buzzwords ever must be ‘hard-working’ (as in, ‘I’m a hard-working individual who…’). And if people can use this word to try and get work, shouldn’t they also be able to work hard when putting their best resumé foot forward?

Don’t buzz

L2 Lesson of the Day: Don’t buzz. But don’t get frightened off of writing by these articles, either. Use them as a challenge to present your best ‘English self’ possible when telling the reader your abilities and experience story.

Read more tips and advice regarding CV and cover letter

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