When crafting a resume, it’s important to include powerful, action-focused words that highlight your skills and expertise.
But too many job applicants make the mistake of using weak words that dull their contributions. One of the most common offenders? "Helped."
“‘Helped’ is not a good word,” says Elaine Varelas, managing partner at career consulting firm Keystone Partners. “It’s kind of a vague thing.”
The word “helped” lacks any true meaning, she says. Plus it lacks substance, fails to grab the recruiter's attention and doesn't paint candidates' prior experience in the best possible light. A resume with the word "helped" communicates to an employer that "there’s no level of ownership,” explains Varelas.
Even if you worked in an administrative or junior position, says Varelas, there are much more powerful words to show that you assisted on a project, such as “supported,” “managed” or “collaborated.”
But regardless of the word choice, you must still provide concrete examples of your achievements.
Varelas gives the following example, "I helped our marketing team launch an annual PR event.” This description is extremely vague, she says. For all the hiring manager knows, your role could have consisted solely of carrying boxes into the event space.
“Instead of saying, you 'helped,’ tell me how and what you did,” says Varelas, because recruiters want concrete details showing how you implemented change and owned a position or task. In the previous example, you could briefly describe how you reached out to and secured vendors, got notable people to attend or garnered media coverage for the event.
Varelas notes that the main reason people use weak words like “helped” is because they fail to ask themselves three key questions: What was the problem before you arrived? What action did you take to resolve the issue? And finally, what was the end result in comparison?
Using powerful words sets you apart from the competition says Barry Drexler, an interview coach with more than 30 years of HR experience at companies like Lehman Brothers and Lloyds Banking Group.
A recruiter is much more likely to interview a candidate whose resume says, “I called 200 corporations and managed to get 75 to advertise with our company, which boosted our revenue by $100,000 within a one-year period,” over a resume that says, “I helped the ad sales team increase their revenue by $100,000.”
Drexler adds that even if you’re not applying for a leadership or managerial position, companies still want to see that you can take ownership of a project, or a subset of it, and deliver results. And if you really didn’t do much more than help, then that information probably shouldn’t be on your resume to begin with, notes Varelas.
“Your resume needs to be specific, and it needs to show me a skill,” she says. “Being helpful is a nice skill, but it's not meaningful. “