Andy Lester

Technology, careers, life and being happy

Never put “excellent communication skills” on your resume

| 11 Comments

Never put “excellent communication skills” in your resume. Who doesn’t think they have “excellent communication skills?” It means nothing. It’s fluff that detracts from the real content of your resume. Instead, give the reader examples of how you use those skills.

Imagine four different people who have put “excellent communication skills” on their resumes, and their thought processes:

  • “I give weekly status presentations to upper management about project status. I can put ‘excellent communication skills’ on my resume!”
  • “I taught a lunch & learn session on JavaScript. I can put ‘excellent communication skills’ on my resume!”
  • “I’ve written articles for the company newsletter. I can put ‘excellent communication skills’ on my resume!”
  • “I am proud of my ability to spell and use basic English mechanics. I can put ‘excellent communication skills’ on my resume!”

So when someone reading your resume sees “excellent communication skills” on your resume, which one will she think it means? Chances are, she’s going to assume you’re the “I can spel gud” guy and gloss over it.

(Have you noticed that while you read this article, you tire of reading the words “excellent communication skills”? So does the poor hiring manager who has to read it on every resume he gets.)

Instead of putting those dreaded three words on your resume, replace it with a description about how exactly you use these skills. Doing that is an iterative process that digs down to find the interesting stuff that the hiring manager wants to read.

The other day I was helping my friend Katie with her resume, and I spotted the dreaded “excellent communication skills” near the top. We had an exercise to come up with something better that went a little like this:

Andy: “Why do you say you have excellent communication skills?”

Katie: “I don’t know, I’m just good communicating. People talk to me.”

Andy: “How do you mean they talk to you? About what?”

Katie: “There was this one time where I was on a project with these outside consultants, and consultants were upset because they weren’t getting what they need, and management didn’t know what was going on. It was just a mess. And people were really frustrated and they’d tell me all the things that were going wrong.”

Andy: “Good! And so what did you do?”

Katie: “I talked to the project leader, and explained what was going wrong that he hadn’t heard about, and we worked on ways to make sure everybody could keep track of the deliverables, and get them to the consultants. And then the project leader asked me to do status reports for upper management. It all worked really well.”

Andy: “So would you feel comfortable saying ‘Reworked project process to increase communication, both vertically and horizontally, across the company and with outside consultants?’ And can you specify how many people were on the project, too?”

Katie: “Yeah, that sounds good. And plus, there was this other time….”

Notice how with just a little digging and iteration (shortened for this article) Katie and I turned her vague “excellent communication skills” into something that tells the reader exactly how she has used those skills to benefit the business. What we wound up with is far more impressive than being able to write clearly.

As I’ve said before, don’t put self-assessments in your resume. Give the evidence and let the reader make her own decision.

What are your dreaded cliches on resumes that mean nothing? Let me know in the comments below.

11 Comments

  1. Thank you for your post. I, too, hate the dreaded “excellent communication skills;” however, there is a catch-22. Most job posts require “excellent communication skills” as per the job descriptor. Most resumes are electronically vetted for key words before ever making it to the desk of an HR person. So in order to make it through this process using the key words in a job description, should one still avoid “excellent communication skills” in his/her resume?

    • I’d be surprised if anybody required those keywords in your resume. They’re typically looking for specific technologies. There may be value in having a “Keywords” section at the bottom of a resume, but what you’d put in there would be synonyms for key skills.

      • I am just searching for job and I would say 80% of postings list something like “Strong communication skills both written and verbal”

        My concern is the same as KFMac’s – how to address this and avoid cliches? Any idea what keyword they could search for?

        The problem is that postings are mostly from recruitment companies and do not give too much details, so it’s hard to find out what they might mean.

        For example, these are requirements from a real posting (apart from industry experience and computer skills):

        •Highly organised
        •Strong communication skills both written and verbal
        •Able to establish and maintain rapport with a diverse group of people from management to clients
        •Results oriented

        So, any tips on how to reply to cliches without cliches?

        • You want to give examples of your having had to use your excellent communication skills. Reread the article, specifically the part about reworking Katie’s resume. “Excellent communication skills” is exactly the example we work through.

          I’ll also point out that the terms you listed in the bullets are just as meaningless and vague in the job listing as they are in a resume.

      • You absolutely should revisit your advice on this…you’re information is simply not correct.

        Companies who outsource the majority of pre-screening/vetting procedures to Taleo and the like will NEVER see your resume unless it makes it through the keyword driven “gatekeeper” process which is ENTIRELY automated….this was true in Feb 2012 and is even more-so today. You have good word choice but your information is otherwise badly out of date and only fits the late 90′s model where a human was still likely to be involved in initial screening at some stage. Suggest you revisit this or take it down.

  2. I was super close to including that dreaded phrase until I read your article. Thanks!

  3. Andy I think that dreaded phrase is just one of many clichés that abound in CVs. Paying special attention to it’s abuse and advising against its use will do nothing to help recruiters choose the best CV from a pile. As you said, looking for specific explanations for generic terms is probably key, but having said that, there is still no reason to exclude any term so long as applicant grabs attention with what’s being said.

    An important other note is the use of software to filter on keywords. This is much more prevalent in IT and software domains : I noticed the tone of your plight is baised towards technology, not other domains where that term is perhaps more important. This is where filtering out this “term” could do more harm than good.

  4. How do I have bad communication skills on my job? I’m writing reports and turning them in to supervisor. How do I still have bad communication skills?

    • Nobody is saying you have bad communication skills. The point is that saying that you have “excellent communication skills” is meaningless and impresses no one, so don’t bother putting it on your resume.

  5. okay. wise man. . what do you say instead?

  6. I just finished having this same conversation with my husband. I’m working on his resume and he said to put in about excellent communication skills because it’s required. I explained to him that it’s a requirement but not a qualification which is what the companies are looking for on the resume. I copied/pasted your article and sent it to him as he’s military and going through a transition assistance program before he retires. Thank you so much for this great piece!

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