Buzzwords And Clichés That Make My Head Explode

By Gerald Walsh ©

Many of you will know from previous blogs that I am a strong advocate of using plain language on resumes and in interviews. Simple, clear words – that say what you really mean – are far more effective than confusing, overused jargon.

I see many job applicants use buzzwords and clichés in an attempt to demonstrate knowledge and impress others. But more often than not they backfire.

Here is my latest list of the top 25 buzzwords and clichés used on resumes and in job interviews. In case you’re not sure what each one means, I’ve added a little translation or commentary.

Best of breed: This means something is pretty good – the best. Previously it was the term used to declare the winner of a dog show competition.

Best practices: A term invented by management consultants that (supposedly) means a one-size-fits-all methodology that can be applied universally.

Bricks and mortar: A ‘building’ in other words.

Circle back: Doesn’t going in a circle mean ending up where you started? Why would you want to do that?

Core competencies: Why not just say what you’re good at?

Customer centric: Paying attention to the people who actually pay you.

Deep dive or drill down: These terms mean the same thing, like, checking something out.

Downsizing: Nothing but fancy name for firing people.

Fresh blood: This means new people. I don’t think they actually give the old folks a blood transfusion.

Gen X, Gen Y, millennials: Honestly, I can’t keep track of how old these people are now.

Going forward: I suppose it is possible you could be going ‘backward’ but I suspect if you are going anywhere, it is forward.

Granular: I think this means ‘in great detail.’

Herding cats: Seriously, this is very insulting to cats!

Mission critical: This really means ‘important.’

Move the needle: Why not just say how your product was better than others?

Next generation: Pretty sure this means our children and their friends.

Open door policy: Anybody can come see me – if my door is open. But what happens if you’re in a  cubicle?

Price point: Why not just say ‘price’?

Put it in the parking lot: We can’t decide now so we’ll talk about it later.

Reverse fulfillment. Believe it or not, this means returning something – that you don’t like – to the store and getting a refund.

Runway: Formerly known as the amount of space an airplane has to take off or land. Now it means the amount of time a business has until it runs out of money.

Smell test: A way to measure the potential success of a product. They used to say “run it up the flag pole.”

Storytelling: This is fancy word for ‘giving a good example.’

Touchpoint: Pretty sure this is one word, not two. It means talking to your customers.

Water under the bridge: Sorry … it’s too late now!

Why does everyone laugh at Dilbert? It’s because we can relate to those situations. His caricatures illustrate just how silly business-speak has become. And it’s especially evident in job search activities like cover letters, resumes and interviews.

So, instead of using generic, nonsensical words that everyone uses, eliminate them from your vocabulary. You will stand out from others. You will appear sincere and authentic. And your talents, skills and experiences will be apparent.


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Gerald Walsh is an executive recruiter, career coach, public speaker and author. During a 25+ year career, he has interviewed more than 10,000 job candidates, completed hundreds of successful searches for a range of organizations and guided many individuals – from young professionals to senior executives – to successful career change. He is the author of “PINNACLE: How to Land the Right Job and Find Fulfillment in Your Career.” You can follow Gerry on Twitter @@Gerald_Walsh and LinkedIn.