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Quit Using These 10 Words to Describe Yourself on LinkedIn

Why? Everyone else is using them too. Check out LinkedIn's 2013 Most Overused Buzzwords list.
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Words can make a huge impact.

Or not.

Even the most descriptive, most meaningful words can lose all meaning when they're used too often. That's why most corporate communications don't really say anything. Clichés, hyperbole, and buzzwords may sound impressive, but over time--since everyone uses them--they begin to mean nothing.

Read the word "extensive" and you don't immediately think, "Great, a comprehensive suite of services covering a broad range of applications!" Instead you skim right over the word because you've seen it thousands of times in the same context. In a business setting, "extensive" is filler.

Here are more examples: the 10 most overused words and phrases from LinkedIn profiles in 2013 (along with my thoughts on each). Take a look and then think about removing over-used words and phrases from your website, press releases, and other company communications:

1. Responsible.

Responsible cuts two ways. You can be responsible (but hopefully isn't everyone?) or you can be responsible for (which is just a boring way of saying, hopefully, that you did something). If you're in social media marketing, don't say you're "responsible for social campaigns;" say you grew conversions by 40 percent using social channels. "Responsible" is a great example of passive language begging to become active.

Don't tell us what you're responsible for. Tell us what you've done. Achievements are always more impressive.

2. Strategic.

A strategic decision is one that is based on the big picture. Shouldn't everyone be able to make decisions based on more than what is right in front of them?

"Strategic" is a close cousin of "strategist," another buzzword that bugs me. I sometimes help manufacturing plants improve their productivity and quality. There are strategies I use to identify areas for improvement but I'm in no way a strategist. Strategists look at the present, envision something new, and develop approaches to make their vision a reality. I don't create something new; I apply my experience and a few proven methodologies to make improvements.

Very few people are strategists. Most "strategists" are actually coaches, specialists, or consultants who use what they know to help others. Ninety-nine percent of the time that's what customers need--they don't need or even want a strategist.

3. Creative.

In 2011 and 2012 "creative" was the most used word in LinkedIn profiles. It's the prime example of a word used often enough that it no longer makes an impact. If you're creative, describe what you've created--if it's cool enough everyone will recognize just how creative you are.

4. Effective.

Really? You actually produce results for the money you're paid? Wow.

5. Patient.

I'm torn on this one, because I have strong feelings about patience. But I get it. Patient is a great example of the power of an antonym. The opposite of patient is impatient--and no one would describe themselves as impatient--so why say you're patient? Like "motivated" or "results oriented," "patient" should be a given.

A better approach could be to describe how you hung in there, went the extra mile, or gave people one more chance to prove themselves.

6. Expert.

As Margaret Thatcher once said, "Power is like being a lady; if you have to say you are, you aren't." Expert is one of those things it's great to be called but you shouldn't claim to be.

Instead, show your expertise. For example, unless you can prove it, "social media marketing authority" might simply mean you spend way too much time obsessing over your Klout score.

7. Organizational.

Clearly this one's followed by another word: organizational development, organizational optimization, organizational behavior, organizational values, organizational communication....

I'll stop before one of us falls asleep.

8. Driven.

Check out Chris Rock's response (not safe for work, btw) to people who say they take care of their kids. Then substitute a word like "driven."

Never take credit for things you are supposed to do--or supposed to be.

9. Innovative.

Unless you developed a new product, created a new process, or are truly the first to do something, you're not innovative. And that's okay.

Most companies claim to be innovative. Most people claim to be innovative. Most, however, are not. (I'm definitely not.) That's okay, because innovation isn't a requirement for success.

If you are innovative, don't say it. Show it. Describe the products you've developed. Describe the processes you've modified. Provide links to case studies and projects completed.

Offer something real so your innovation is unspoken but evident--which is always the best kind of innovative to be.

10. Analytical.

So you'll examine things closely. So you'll determine essential features. Hooray for you.

Instead, describe the outcome of an analysis. Show you predicted the debt crisis and steered your clients out of risky investments. Show you analyzed production data and helped improve a client's productivity by sequencing work differently.

Show us the results of your analysis and how it helped you or your clients do something better or faster or cheaper. Then it will be obvious you're a responsible, driven, innovative, analytical expert.

IMAGE: igorlt/Flickr
Last updated: Dec 11, 2013

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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