Spice Up Your Resume with Strong Adjectives
It’s not just what you say matters, it’s how you say it.
This rule is true for all communication, including written documents like your resume. If you didn’t already know, your resume should not just be a bare list of accomplishments. It’s a powerful, customized document that makes a case for why you should land the job.
Your resume makes this case not just through actionable content, but through powerful phrasing. And just like action statements and active verbs, strong adjectives are an important part of convincing resume language.
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Why Strong Adjectives are Helpful on Your Resume
As a general principle, strong adjectives make any kind of writing more colorful. They’re the spices that make a dish tasty, the hues that make a sunset beautiful, the extra “little something” that makes a gift special.
On your resume, good adjectives help describe your impact more fully. They make plain lists of accomplishments more interesting to read and emphasize your key selling points. While there’s only so much personality you can show on your resume, good adjectives can help answer “how would you describe yourself?” through a piece of paper.
In the same way, bad adjectives can detract from the writing on your resume. Some adjectives are bland, overused, or meaningless when applied to your professional life. Instead of coloring your writing, these can make recruiters confused, disengaged, or even make them roll their eyes.
Stick around to learn some examples of these bad adjectives so you can avoid them!
Where Do You Place Adjectives?
You may not realize it, but adjectives are all over your resume.
Most notably, you use them to describe yourself in your summary of qualifications. We actually recommend using a strong adjective as the first word in your summary, like this:
In this short but vital section, it’s important to pick words that you want the recruiter to think of when they think of you. Describe yourself with adjectives that highlight your key skills and the key qualifications of the job.
You also have several opportunities for adjectives in your bullet points for your professional experiences. These are more often used to describe the projects you worked on or what your impact was, like this:
In these situations, a well-placed adjective can show not just what you did, but exactly why it was impressive.
The only place you should typically avoid adjectives on your resume is in your skills section. This section needs to be a quick checklist of your competencies that hiring managers can scan over. It also needs to include the skills mentioned in the job description, written exactly as they appear in the posting so that they get picked up by Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS).
For this reason, you shouldn’t elaborate on the finer points of your skills in this section; let your bullet points do that. If you really need to specify a competency level of one of your skills, use a simple “Basic”, “Intermediate” or “Advanced” in parentheses like this: “Adobe Photoshop (Basic)”
Strong Adjectives to Use for Your Resume
A note before moving on: It’s important to vary the adjectives on your resume. Remember, the objective of including strong adjectives on your resume is to spice it up, and repeating the same word multiple times will defeat the point.
When you’re picking a strong adjective, take care to ensure you pick one that best fits your unique skills or the project you’re describing. Don’t pick a strong word at random just because it sounds good!
You want your adjectives to illustrate what sets you apart, so only choose words that are proven by the examples in your bullet points. After all, showing your skills on your resume with tangible accomplishments is more important than just telling the reader about them.
These are just a few examples of certified strong adjectives — they’re descriptive, specific, exciting, and are not overused.
These are adjectives that aren’t too bad on their own but are a bit overused. Using one of these words may not be a cardinal sin on your resume, but you should mix things up by using one of the synonyms listed after it instead whenever possible:
- Analytical: Methodical, Meticulous, Systematic, Logical
- Dynamic: Engaging, Captivating, Energetic, Passionate, Invigorated, Fast-paced
- Flexible: Adaptable, Agile, Resilient, Multi-Talented, Versatile, Resourceful
- Organized: Streamlined, Efficient, Systematic, Methodical
- Proactive: Forward-Thinking, Driven, Motivated, Self-Starting
- Self-Motivated: Well-Versed, Proficient, Adept, Expert, Practiced, Experienced, Ambitious, Confident
Weak Adjectives to Avoid on Your Resume
Use an Alternative
These adjectives aren’t the worst per se, but recruiters are definitely getting tired of seeing them on resumes. They’re so easy to overuse that they may trigger an automatic negative response from recruiters.
Avoid these bolded words and use one of the alternatives listed after:
- Strategic: Tactical, Organized, Intentional, Optimized
- Detail-Oriented: Analytical, Meticulous, Diligent, Focused, Conscientious, Thorough, Attentive, Critical
- Innovative: Progressive, Groundbreaking, Original, Imaginative, Modern, Unprecedented, Radical, Disruptive, Pioneering, Inventive
Steer clear. These are adjectives that are either weak on their own, obvious for any professional, or so overused that they’ve become clichés. A few of these are words that hiring managers have even gone on record to say that they hate.
These are clichéd:
These are obvious and unimpressive. It’s expected that any professional will carry all of these qualities, so they don’t really help your resume!
These aren’t technically adjectives, but they’re so common and hated that we have to warn you!
- Team Player
- Independent Thinker
- People Person
Now that you have a handy reference for strong adjectives to use on your resume and weak ones to avoid, refer back to this article as you work on your resume. Vary your vocabulary and your reader will be more engaged — which means they’ll be more likely to consider you as a candidate!
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