With so many job applicants and so few jobs available, making your cover letter and resume stand out from the crowd is essential. Recruiters don’t have a lot of time to look carefully though every email they receive, so including certain keywords and phrases in your application will help ensure you get noticed—and land the all-important job interview. Use the wrong words and phrases? Well, then you can wind up looking unprofessional. So what magic words are hiring managers looking for?
We quizzed some of the top hiring experts out there about what catches their attention in a resume or cover letter, and how to land the job of your dreams. Keep scrolling for the goods, and fingers crossed you land that job!
Use action words
The consensus when describing your talents and accomplishments: Use action words.
“These words can spruce up your cover letter and resume, and help you get noticed,” said Rachel Jay, career writer for FlexJobs. “Instead of using the common words ‘increased’ or ‘worked on,’ try ‘maximized’ and ‘improved.’ If you find yourself using the phrase ‘I believe,’ try ‘I will’ for a more confident approach.”
Dr. Kat Cohen, the CEO and founder of IvyWise, an educational consultancy that helps students around the world gain admittance to the schools of their dreams, agreed but said it’s important to lock down your soft skills first.
“Many job applicants overlook the value of soft skills or fail to highlight these qualities on a resume and cover letter. Neglecting these more qualitative attributes can be a costly mistake, given that a Wall Street Journal survey of over 900 executives in multiple fields found that 92% believe soft skills are as valuable as technical competencies,” she said. “I recommend reviewing your work experience and nailing down three to four valuable professional qualities you really excel in, such as being a leader, thinking creatively, problem solving, and adapting to new situations.”
Once you have identified the soft skills you want to emphasize, Dr. Cohen said to then find verbs that relate to these qualities.
“Some great examples of actionable words that tie into soft skills are ‘initiated,’ ‘created,’ ‘developed,’ all of which can be used to highlight strong leadership skills and creativity,” she said.
Descriptive words work, too
“Descriptive words are always great because you can really imagine the person completing the work,” said Jane Pesch, senior staffing manager at WinterWyman, who added that words like “increased/decreased,” “managed,” and “generated” are great words when you add actual numeric values to a resume or cover letter.
“It makes the tasks seem more tangible. It helps to put more weight behind your statements,” she said. “I recently had a client looking for a candidate that had strong document-preparation experience. I screened a candidate that noted in his resume how he had created a more efficient database for documents, thereby ‘decreasing production time by 20%.’ That was a great example that I could present to the client.”
Use the words in the job description
When in doubt, look at the words highlighted in the job description.
“Take what they’re looking for and integrate it into a story you tell about the fabulous things you’ve contributed to your last company,” said Claire Wasserman, co-founder of Ladies Get Paid, a career development platform for women.
Wasserman also likes verbs that indicate “impact,” such as “exceeded,” “achieved,” and even “saved time,” because “time is money. Any way you can demonstrate when you generated money—indirectly or otherwise—makes the strongest case for why you should be hired.”
She added, “Whenever you describe what you’ve done in the past, you need to demonstrate the impact it had and try to quantify it as best you can. Saying what you did isn’t as impressive as saying what the result was. A good formula to follow is ‘I did x measured by y resulting in z.'”
Avoid empty adjectives
As for what words to avoid altogether, Dr. Cohen said to skip words like “interesting,” “outstanding,” or “unparalleled,” because they can’t be proven or backed up in any way.
“A hiring manager wants to learn what you were responsible for and the skills you obtained; he or she is less interested in adjectives like these, which do not point to any specific ability or form of expertise,” she said. “Ideally, your references will use these kinds of words to describe your work, which is far more impactful than you applying them to yourself.”
So, think: active, descriptive, and impactful words when it comes to your resume and cover letter. You should be ready to dust off your lucky interview outfit in no time.