The word “innovative”; is it a crime to have it on your résumé?


Innovation (Photo credit: masondan)

Did you know the word “innovative” is a cliché? According to some job search pundits it is. It made some notorious list that circulated on the blogosphere. defines a cliché as “a trite or overused expression or idea.” If “innovative” has become overused, than it is by definition a cliché, but could it be called trite?

I have to admit that I’ve been telling my jobseekers to keep “innovative” and other adjectives off their résumé and out of their vocabulary, as they are subjective–it’s better to show than tell how you’re innovative. In fact, I wrote an article bemoaning the use of words that are considered clichés, some good words at that. So it appears I’m contradicting myself, but this wouldn’t be a first.

But I had an epiphany when I was talking on the phone with a customer whose résumé I’m writing. As I was going over her résumé pointing out some of her accomplishments, I told her she is innovative, at which she agreed with great delight that, yes, she is. To get her to realize this made the word “innovative” special, not a cliché.

I once described myself as innovative but when I read that it was one of the 10 clichés to avoid on your LinkedIn profile, I stopped writing and saying that I’m innovative. After all, it’s a cliché, right? This was like the time my brother said Miso soup tastes like low tide. His expert opinion ruined the soup forever for me.

I just sent my customer her résumé with the adjective “innovative” included in the professional profile, and I didn’t feel the least bit guilty–considering she had initiated social media at her current company, implemented a preventative care program at yet another company, and more accomplishments that clearly show her as innovative.

In fact, my customer also demonstrated that she’s “creative” and “dynamic,” which are also considered taboo by the cliché police. With all of what I’ve expressed, I’m beginning to question the validity of experts who trash some great words just because they’re considered overused.

What if there are a lot of jobseekers and workers who are “innovative,” “creative,” and “dynamic,” and these are the best words to use to describe them? Should we use words that don’t mean quite the same, or should we use words from a different language? No, we need to show rather than tell, right?

“Designed a (an innovative) social media curriculum for students at risk that taught them how to market the school’s English Language Art’s program, earning Department of the Year.

I suppose this secondary teacher’s accomplishment statement shows innovation, but what’s wrong with using “innovation” in the sentence to give it more flavor. Further, when a job description calls for someone who’s “innovative,” and you’re trying to meet as many of the keywords to pass the Applicant Tracking System’s test, do you exclude this word? Just a thought.

I’m now beginning to think a little too much emphasis is being placed on finding ways to reinvent ways to describe jobseekers and workers. To hell with worrying about what the pundits consider to be clichés. They’re ruining the pleasure I get when writing a résumé or advising jobseekers on how to describe themselves, just as my brother had ruined my appetite for Miso soup.


3 thoughts on “The word “innovative”; is it a crime to have it on your résumé?

  1. Bill Knegendorf

    Bob- Your ideas are always practical and clear, but I must be missing something on this one. Using a word like “innovative” on a resume is simply making a claim. If the claim is not substantiated with facts, hundreds of Hiring Managers have told me they judge it worthless and react negatively. If facts that substantiate the claim – in terms relevant to the reader – are provided, the familiar word merely acts as an insight point for the facts. Like you, I have seen lists of “words never to use on a resume”. My read of the articles was not to use them only as a claim. Is there another “crime” mystery I am missing?


  2. Things Career Related Post author

    Thanks, Bill. I agree that assertions have to be substantiated, but I question the “crime” of claiming to be innovative or creative or any other character trait. The rules of writing a resume are changing daily. Let’s give some leeway to jobseekers and resume writers, many of whom use adaptive skills to describe their clients. Not one of my most lucid entries.


  3. Bill Knegendorf

    Bob- Your suggestion to give job seekers a strategy that incorporates flexibility and divergence from the Traditional Hiring System Model is a good one. While gathering info from 314 Hiring Managers in 23 industries, I was taught just how much they hate a system demanding that two pages (some say one) present all of the value and benefits the candidate can/will deliver to the future employer.



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