Dear Sam: I’m trying to incorporate as many resume keywords into my resume as possible, but I feel like it sounds cliché and too much like the other candidates’ who are applying for the same jobs. If everyone in the marketing field is “motivated” and “creative” with “strong communication skills,” how can I differentiate myself? — Amanda

Dear Amanda: Great question! To clarify — there is a big difference between buzzwords and keywords. The overuse of buzzwords can actually hurt your candidacy because they are essentially generic “fluff” words that are overused and unimpressive to hiring managers who have read the same terms hundreds of times before. Some of the most common buzzwords include “self-motivated,” “team player,” “hard worker,” and “goal-oriented.”

In contrast, keywords (or phrases) are industry-specific and usually include specialized skills, education/training, and experiences that are important for the role. Keywords can usually be found throughout a job posting (typically in the “Desired Skills” or “Qualifications” sections), and hiring managers and applicant tracking systems look for these keywords when assessing a candidate’s fit for the role. The use of keywords is critical because the presence and prevalence of keywords can affect a candidate’s ranking within an ATS. For a marketing position, examples of keywords could include “brand management,” “event planning and execution,” “community outreach and engagement,” and “print and online communications.”

In can sometimes be hard to differentiate a buzzword from a keyword (especially if they relate to the industry or position), so instead of completely eliminating terms like “creative” and “strong communication skills,” back these statements up with examples so that you can add value to your claims. You want to show the hiring manager that you possess these skills instead of just telling them that you do. For example, instead of saying “Great team player,” provide a bit more detail: “Collaborated with cross-functional departments and teams, working effectively with Sales, Marketing, and Finance, while also cultivating relationships with external stakeholders including clients and vendors.”

Another way to demonstrate your skills/abilities without simply stating them is to include excerpts from performance reviews or letters of recommendations so that an outside source is the one who is highlighting your key strengths or validating your claims. In other words, providing testimonials about your communication skills and work ethic is much more valuable than you simply listing the words “hard worker” or “great communicator” on your resume.

You are correct in assuming that a lot of your competitors will possess similar skills and experiences to you, so stating the basics or obvious aspects of your background and knowledge without backing them up with specific examples will do little-to-nothing to differentiate your candidacy. Instead, proudly highlight your accomplishments and include eye-catching keywords that go above and beyond basic buzzwords.