“Open-minded and flexible team player.”
“Motivated, top-notch self-starter.”
These are examples of what I call fluff bubbles. Other examples can be found in those self-presentations of having a “high level of energy” and an “optimistic attitude.”
The problem with phrases like these is not even the fact they have long been overused, like worn-out Velcro. The problem is they are lacking in substance; when the fluff bubble bursts, there is nothing left.
I can’t even blame garden-variety job seekers and networkers (and those new to the game at that) for using phrases like these as they try to position themselves. After all, plenty of job descriptions out there have phrases like these included, supposedly describing the desired soft skills for the job.
But echoing these phrases back at employers doesn’t make them sound any more convincing. Moreover, even though job descriptions seem to include these candidate “qualities” as a matter of routine, employers like to regard these things as a given in any new hire.
The “litmus test” for spotting fluff bubbles
1. Is the phrase something most people could apply to most jobs?
Would you know from any of the above examples what that person’s line of work or industry is? Of course not! It could be a dental hygienist, a paralegal, a K–12 administrator…or, for that matter, a sanitation worker! That’s precious space wasted to proclaim how you work, rather than using it to showcase key qualifications.
Or think of what a job seeker might say in a cover letter: “I believe I have potential.” Chances are that will make the reader go like: “Duh! You want the job! Of course you say you ‘believe you have potential.’”
2. Is the phrase something nobody would claim the opposite of?
Joe put on his résumé that he is a “hard worker.” What will the hiring manager make of that? “Well, finally, here is a hard worker! I knew it—all the others are slackers! Hey, didn’t that other résumé even say it outright?”
Sound absurd? Of course; it is absurd. Nobody would claim to have anything other than desirable qualities.
Take “excellent communication skills” as another example. I think it unlikely that anyone would say, “Oh, no, I don’t have ‘excellent communication skills’—I head for my cubicle first thing in the morning and hope to be left the &@%# alone all day.”
Better alternatives to fluff bubbles
You are trying to speak to the needs of your target audience. When you are a job seeker, trumpeting broad, random qualities is not the most promising approach. Rather, start by putting yourself in the employer’s shoes, and then show your capacity for generating results.
As I discussed in an earlier blog post, job openings exist because employers are in need of results in some of the following categories:
- Make (more) money
- Seize an opportunity (or solve a problem)
- Save money, time, or both
- Recruit, train, and develop staff
- Develop relationships with other organizations or the general public
- Retain existing markets and customers
- Develop new markets and customers
Your past employers kept you around for as long as they did because you were capable of producing the results they needed, perhaps without you even realizing it. A Certified Professional Résumé Writer can help you “unearth” your capabilities to be front and center on your résumé or in your LinkedIn profile.
Moreover, talking about results will allow your audience to infer the competencies you must have. For example, if you masterminded a grand opening of a new store location, and went on to boost revenue by 200% from the first to the second year, you probably couldn’t have done it without some kind of effective and efficient business planning!