Buzzwords or Keywords? You Decide.


Here’s the headline from an article in Fast Company featuring Catherine Fisher, senior director of corporate communications for LinkedIn, The 10 Words You Should Never Use In Your LinkedIn Profile. Sure, you may be motivated, passionate, and creative, but these buzzwords just make you sound like everyone else. Ms. Fisher lists the LinkedIn Top Ten Global Buzzwords for 2014. The list includes:

▪ Motivated ▪ Passionate ▪ Creative ▪ Driven ▪ Extensive experience ▪ Responsible     ▪ Strategic ▪ Track record ▪ Organizational ▪ Expert

I agree. These are overused words. I’ll even admit I’ve used one or two of the above words when writing a LinkedIn headline and/or summary. But, I wonder, why are resumes and LinkedIn Profile pages loaded with these words? Are these buzzwords or keywords? What’s driving the overuse of these words?

My hypothesis is this. Employers aided by technology (ATS) have made the key words and phrases a job-seeker would use to describe him/herself and his/her value to an employer into buzzwords.

Whoa, can I prove it? I think so.

Employer Job Descriptions

A good place to look to prove the hypothesis that employer job descriptions are at fault for the keyword/buzzword resumé and LinkedIn Profile page, of course is LinkedIn’s job posting. That’s where the buzzword list came from so let’s see.
I searched five distinct business sectors, three job titles—entry-level, mid-manager and senior/executive level in each sector, and three employers in each of the sectors. Keeping in character with the LinkedIn Top Ten Global Buzzwords list, I noted from the job descriptions, what LinkedIn considers a resumé and profile buzzword and the frequency that the word appeared.
The top ten buzzwords used by the employers I surveyed include—that’s right—almost the same words LinkedIn included on its resumé and profile list. Hmmmm.

▪ Motivated ▪ Proactive ▪ Expert ▪ Collaborative ▪ Strategic ▪ Exceptional experience  ▪ Responsible ▪ Strategic ▪ Proficient ▪ Organizational

Self-motivated/self-starter were also overused in job descriptions.

Applicant Tracking Systems

I’m so over writing about applicant tracking systems/software (ATS.) However, I’ll do it one more time because it’s important to see if ATS contributes to the buzzword or keyword hypothesis.

Briefly, ATS, of which there are many, all do the same thing. The software parses the information in the resumes submitted, pulling them apart and placing information in specific fields within the ATS database, such as work experience, education, and contact data. The system then analyzes the extracted information for criteria relevant to the position being filled, such as number of years of experience or particular skills. Then, it assigns each resumé a score, giving the candidate a ranking compared to other applicants so recruiters and hiring managers can identify candidates who are the best fit for the job. LinkedIn’s software does essentially the same thing.

Good idea. Use technology to assist recruiters and hiring managers to find the best-fit candidates. But, then there comes the criteria which is determined and inputted into the software by recruiters, the talent acquisition team and hiring managers.

What are criteria? Nothing more than keywords. Your resumé and LinkedIn Profile page need to match the keywords inputted into the ATS.

  • Appearance of a keyword or phrase that can be measured by its presence in the document, as well as the number of times the keyword or phrase appears.
  • Relevance of the keyword within context. (Does the keyword or phrase appear with other keywords you would expect?)
  • The higher the resume ranking, the more likely the application will end up being reviewed by a human reader.

Aha! In order for your resumé and LinkedIn Profile page to be read by a person, both need to be loaded with keywords. It’s the only way to get yourself high enough up in the ranking. So, the ATS has reduced you to the sum of your keywords or rather the right keywords according what the employer thinks are the right keywords.

Keyword or buzzword?

Every job-seeker is looking to describe who they are, but they likely learned the hard way this needs to be done in context with the job description and the ATS. That means using keywords and phrases. Ms. Fischer says, “I would stay away from these buzzwords, though, because you sound like everyone else. These words almost lose their meaning the more that people use them.” You bet they do. Ms. Fisher, if you don’t use them, you’re rejected in a nanosecond. (Okay, I’ll stop you right here. Getting your resumé into a company’s database is just one tactic in your job search strategy.)

My intention is not to pick on Ms. Fischer; she’s just reporting findings. If the job description says motivated, creative and passionate or motivated, collaborative and strategic or any combination of keywords, and you don’t use them in your resumé and on LinkedIn Profile page you’re committing job search suicide.

So, are words like motivated, track record, strategic, collaborative buzzwords or are these keywords used by employers and therefore needed to get your resumé or LinkedIn Profile page read by a human? You decide.

Branding With Keywords or Buzzwords Not a Sound Strategy

Regardless of where you fall in the keyword or buzzword camp, you are so much more than these strung together words and phrases. Ms. Fischer is correct. Anybody could say this stuff about himself or herself. The human reader of your resumé and LinkedIn Profile page will have no sense of you, the person behind the jargon.

You have a unique story to tell and need to find the best way and the appropriate words to tell it. Your best-fit employer knows how to see the value you bring without reading keywords or buzzwords.

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