Five More Words Candidates Should Avoid Using

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Five years ago, HigherEdJobs published an article titled “Five Types of Words to Replace on Your Resume.” You should continue refraining from utilizing — or, rather, using — those words on your resume or CV, but here are five more types of words you should be wary of using on all your application materials and during job interviews:

“New Normal”
The advice from 2015 still applies today, but for the sake of humanity, let’s hope pandemic-era corporate speak like “new normal” or “uncertain times” are no longer used in 2025 when this global health crisis is a memory. Regardless of whether we resume our pre-pandemic way of life, circumstances will be different. But that’s the point about not using “new normal”: the world changes rapidly and nothing is permanent, unless you allow your worldview to stay the same.

This meaningless phrase, along with “It is what it is,” should be avoided in everyday conversation because it adds nothing and the speaker will come across as resigned, detached, or too lazy to define reality. But it’s especially important to avoid using the “new normal” when trying to impress a hiring committee. They’re looking to hire people who are going to embrace change, adapt in the face of adversity, and innovate with the resources available to them.

Intensifiers
Do you really Want this job? Yes, very much so Well, then you should Absolutely stop using intensifiers and communicate with more descriptive and effective words. Intensifiers are adverbs or adverbial phrases that strengthen the meaning of other expressions and show emphasis, but they actually do the opposite for audiences seeking meaning.

Good editors advise their writers to tidy up their prose by removing adverbs or adjusting the syntax. For example, instead of saying you conduct a task “on a daily basis,” replace it with the adjective “daily.” Intensifiers like “very” or “extremely” don’t offer much to your application materials either. If you write “I’m highly motivated” on a cover letter, the hiring manager will have no frame of reference unless you provide concrete examples. Your application will land in a veritable pile of other slightly more, or maybe slightly less, motivated individuals who feigned similar intensity for their life’s work.

“I”
As you’re scanning your application materials for adverbs and intensifiers, also note how many times on your cover letter you use the word “I.” “I have 15 years’ experience…” “I’d make a great fit at your institution,” “I would appreciate the opportunity to discuss my qualifications.” The cover letter is about them, the hiring committee. Yes, you want them to be interested in you, but remember their need, hiring the best candidate, is more important to them than your need, getting hired.

Rephrasing sentences so that the subject is “You” is a tactic used by marketing copywriters to draw on a reader’s self-reference bias and it should be one that you use when marketing your candidacy as well. “Your institution will benefit from my 15 years of experience,” or “As you consider leaders for your department…” Just don’t preempt other application documents with throwaway lines like “As you can see from my resume/CV.”

Nominalizations
Job applicants often want to portray authority, especially in higher education with specialized departments made up of professionals with stores of intellectual capital. There’s a tendency to resort to wordiness. Or, rather, applicants tend to be wordy. See what I did there?

Nominalizations are nouns that are created from adjectives or verbs and they’re usually unnecessary, they obscure the subject of a sentence, and they make the writer seem pretentious. Persuade hiring managers with strong verbs. Nominalizing slows down your audience. They have to step over clunky phrases like “optimization of student success” because an applicant wants to inflate how well he advises his students.

“Interesting”
You know, 2020 was an interesting year. Professors found some interesting ways to teach their classes. How “interesting” something is depends on who you ask. If you did some interesting research, just explain the research and let the audience decide if it’s interesting.

Also, if your one-semester stint at a university was an “interesting experience,” maybe you should leave it off your resume or come up with a better way to describe what you learned or how the experience will benefit you in your next job. When hiring managers hear “interesting” in this context, they’ll become suspicious and think it’s a euphemism for something you don’t want to talk about. Maybe that’s your approach to piquing their curiosity, setting up something that is “interesting.” Either way, don’t tease anyone with this word by leaving whatever is so “interesting” unexplained.

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