10 Soundbites that could ruin your CV

With so little space to play with on your CV, why waste it with meaningless cliches and soundbites? Here's ten of the worst and how can get around them.

June 20, 2023

There area huge number of cliched soundbites that can ruin even the finest CVs. Over the years at Coburg Banks, I'd say we've read most of them.

You've got a maximum of 30 seconds for your CV to impress a recruiter, so it would be a terrible shame if it failed because it was full of meaningless phrases and throwaway buzzwords that detracted from the core message.

Here are the top ten phrases we constantly see repeated in offending CVs. If you spot any of them in your CV, don’t worry, there are some quick fixes below to help you get you back on track and a downloadable checklist at the end to ensure your CV impresses.

Let’s kick off with a classic…

1. "I have a strong work ethic."

And? How does this set you apart from others given that everyone says it?

Avoid using this phrase all together anywhere on your CV.

Instead, give an example where you have gone the extra mile; working late to meet a deadline or going out of your way to clinch that sale.

The recruiter will be smart enough to understand the inference.

2. "I’m a team-player."

We see this one mentioned on so many CVs, but there is nothing anywhere else on there to back the claim up or give it any substance.

Demonstrate how you collaborated with colleagues to meet an objective, how you understood your role in the task and how you delivered.

Again, avoid using the phrase itself if you can.

3. "I always focus on the bottom line."

Another cringe worthy bit of terminology that is meaningless unless you can really demonstrate how you contributed to the success of the business.

Your best bet here is to be more descriptive with your career achievements which show how you've impacted the bottom line.

This doesn’t always mean adding pounds, shillings and pence through sales revenue - you could illustrate how you saved the organisation time and resources which all go towards that bottom line.

4. "I’m self-motivated."

I’m never really sure what point someone is trying to get across when they stipulate this little gem on their CV.

By self-motivated do they mean they are motivated enough to simply get out of bed every morning and do a day’s work?

You would guess not, but equally an employer would hope that everyone they employ is self-motivated and doesn't require a constant stick up their backside to produce any work.

Avoid this phrase. Use examples in your CV where you demonstrate initiative and hard work and the resulting achievements. That way, this particular soundbite can always be avoided.

5. "I’m detail orientated."

As opposed to what?

If you state this as one of your core skills and then have a typo on your CV or covering letter don’t expect much sympathy.

If possible, use an example to demonstrate how you've been detail orientated in your career rather than just chucking it in as a phrase.

It might not be a natural fit to put this into your CV so you might have to put this information into a covering letter.

6. "I’m a hard worker."

Really? Oh, that’s a relief.

With your CV sitting on the ‘maybe’ pile of CVs, don’t expect this little bit of insight to see you move onto the ‘yes’ pile.

Don’t just put it down as one of your key attributes; instead demonstrate it throughout your CV with details of why you consider yourself to be a hard working individual.

7. "I have great communication skills."

So do dolphins.

Why have you got good communication skills? Is it motivating teams, presenting to large audiences, creating a press release or newsletter?

Again, this is a piece of terminology that is either put on a CV or said in an interview, without any real thought of what it means.

8. "I have a proven track record."

Like so many of the points above, this one is all about the detail. Anyone can say they have a proven track record, so prove it.

Use the key achievements sections of your job history to shout loud about what you've done.

Give specifics, give numbers, give details: “I ran a promotion that had an ROI of 3:1, creating a footfall increase of 120%”.

Facts and numbers will be far more impressive than yet another sound bite.

9. "I like a fast-paced environment."

Work load expectations have increased dramatically over the last couple of decades with even the public sector finally realising they can expect more from individuals for the same salary.

During the recession years, businesses became leaner and a lot learned to operate and adapt quickly so as to stay in business.

Consequently, the phrase ‘fast-paced environment’ is as good as redundant these days. Most businesses are fairly fast-paced these days. In fact you might want to question a company that isn't and how that could impact your career prospects).

Stating that this is how you like to operate is just a waste of prime real estate on your CV.

10. "References available by request."

Everyone is guilty of putting this on their CV. Prospective employees will obviously be asking for references before they take you on, they won’t ponder whether they can ask!

This should be deleted from all CVs - use the space for something more productive.


Give your CV plenty of thought before you fire it off indiscriminately to every recruiter under the sun. Your CV should be 2 to 3 pages max, so you need to optimise every bit of it.

Think about the person reading it: As a result of reading it, does it make them hungry to know more about you? Does your CV satisfy what they're looking for? Have you accentuated key points on it which address key requirements from the advert?

Another great tip is to create several versions of your CV. As well as being able to address differing requirements from an advert this also allows you to use an old marketing trick called A/B testing.

Specifically, this means you can send a different version of your CV to similar roles and see which one has the best results. Keep tweaking and sending new versions out until you hit the sweet spot.

But above all, make sure everything you say in your CV means something. Don't use words for the sake of using words - make every one count.

Coburg Banks - Multi-Sector Recruitment Agency
We help great people get brilliant jobs in top companies.