Buzz off: cliches to avoid in your next job interview

Buzzwords, cliches and jargon are best avoided in an interview. Here’s how to strike a winning balance between saying all the right things and getting it all wrong.

Job hunting can sometimes feel like an endurance sport. There are hurdles, rounds and usually a healthy level of competition.

Applications per job ad rose 9.2% from December to January, and were 26.3% higher than in January 2019, according to Seek research.

So how do you stand out from the pack when everyone’s jostling for first place?

One of the most effective ways to set yourself apart is to steer clear of cliches and buzzwords.

Tailor your application

Good recruiters can spot a copy-paste job a mile away, so it’s well worth your time and effort to tailor your application (and interview prep) to the role and company you’ve got your eye on.

This is where tone is important. Matching the energy and style of the organisation or person you want to work for shows you’ve done your research.

“It’s important to use a structure, template and language that’s appropriate for the organisation,” Lambart says, adding that you can take this one step further by identifying the role’s key capabilities and challenges before your interview to really demonstrate that you’re picking up what they’re putting down.

Back up your adjectives

Highly trusted individual. Strong communication skills. Motivated self-starter.

There’s no doubt you’re all these things and more. But this kind of jargon doesn’t really give a hiring manager a sense of the value you bring until it’s tethered to some concrete examples.

You can really lift your CV by using more action-oriented words and phrases, Rayat says.

She suggests opting for a simple-but-effective formula, such as: “I used X skills to design and facilitate Y project, and it delivered Z impact.”

“In a sentence like that, you’re conveying the … role or activity in terms of what your involvement was, your influence in that particular project, and what the outcome was,” Rayat says, adding that you’re likely to pique a recruiter’s interest because it’s evident your work makes a tangible impact.

Words to avoid at all costs? Workaholic, perfectionist and anything that downplays your own efforts – such as “just” or “we” instead of “I”.

Avoid the abstract

Vagueness can be a total application killer because you’re leaving it wide open for a hiring manager or interviewer to fill the gaps themselves, Rayat says.

Say you call yourself a “highly effective communicator”.

“Highly effective communication [to me] could be completely different to what your expectation is,” she says.

Rayat also points out that some hiring managers and interviewers have biases born of their own life experiences, so the less scope you give them to impose those biases in your interactions with them, the better.

They’re also generally time poor and can be sifting through a high volume of applications, so paint a picture for them.

“If you really want the story of your experience to be told and understood in a way that’s accurate – that really reflects your experience and expertise – you need to talk in concrete language,” Rayat says.

Practising before an interview is always a good idea. To get started, you could generate a practice interview template, and research easy tips to keep interview anxiety at bay.

Don’t be too prescriptive

In this day and age, many companies use screening software to filter high-volume job postings. So don’t make your application so cliche-free that you become a victim of your own success.

“It’s [about] striking a balance,” Rayat says. “Still use the keywords [from the job description] because that’s what the AI is scanning for. But at the same time, embed those concrete examples. And be concise: it can just be one bullet point.”

Lambart agrees these types of buzzword deserve a spot in your application for no other reason than they can help you reach the next stage of the hiring process.

“If résumés are being screened against keywords or phrases from the job description, then we need to include them in the résumé to get through the screening process,” she says. Ain’t no shame in playing the game when you need to.

Be yourself – to a point

The time to let your personality shine is in the interview stage, not in a multi-page cover letter that rattles off all your hobbies, favourite sports teams or best one-liners.

Failing to read the proverbial room in this respect could result in your application being screened out, even if you know you’re a perfect fit for the role.

“There are many cases where candidates don’t understand the culture of the organisation or the role and may be off the mark in terms of language, tone and format used in the résumé and cover letter,” Lambart says.

“If the position is a formal government position, for example, then you need a résumé that reflects that – [using] formal language – and a template that’s appropriate for the level of the role. Fun, quirky, colourful templates with photos and embedded graphics would not be suitable for such a role and are also likely to be screened out of the process.”