When perfectly good words go bland, or worse…


Due to the prevalence of various social media platforms, the buzz about personal, professional and business branding has rapidly gained momentum. Being in touch and tuned in to these venues is of utmost importance in the competitive landscape created by the instantaneous nature of information sharing. Of course, not everyone is enthusiastic about this phenomenon. They may wonder: how much do words matter when it comes to image, reputation and public perception?

Like many people, I’ve been following along as events have unfolded in the Toyota recall situation. One of the most widely reported aspects of this fiasco was the obvious absence of a corporate response early on. When Toyota’s executives finally did come forward to publish their reactions, many consumers and industry advisors felt it was too little, too late, and thus not very credible. Through various media sources, Toyota has begun the arduous process of damage control to regain the public’s trust in their brand.

Similar to Tiger Woods, Toyota’s once pristine image has transformed into a comedic punch line through their handling of a series of “indiscretions” or lack of forthright disclosure of such issues. Efforts to repair this publicity nightmare have included television, radio and print media advertisements. Several full page newspaper ads have contained letters of apology from the company’s leaders as well as status updates on steps they have taken or plan to put in place to address the unintended acceleration issues or failure of electronic safety mechanisms.

Despite this, it seems not a day goes by without additional revelations of quality concerns or new reports on neglectful practices by the company. Many are questioning whether these incidents have created irreparable harm to the brand. Or, if it will be used as a learning opportunity, where by Toyota once again will reinvent and lead the auto industry.

Regardless of the long term outcome, for the time being, Toyota’s tagline “moving forward” seems eerily misplaced under the circumstances. Likewise, the choice of the phrase, “but we’re not stopping there” contained in one of the recent full page letters to Toyota drivers carries an unfortunate irony when picturing an unstoppable vehicle.

So this brings me to the general concept of communication and how perfectly good words go bland, or worse… Most people, or companies for that matter, don’t have Toyota’s PR and marketing budget at their disposal when crafting their branding messages. And, clearly from the above examples, experts may not even prevent unanticipated word choice interpretations from occurring.

Below are a few otherwise absolutely decent words or phrases that due to overuse or poor placement don’t always pack the desired punch or perhaps may even leave a negative impression. The context here is career marketing materials such as resumes, cover letters, professional profiles or business bios.

Seasoned professional – This overly used sentiment is meant to show experience and knowledge. Unfortunately it usually comes off as stodgy, dull and unoriginal.

Results-oriented – Practically everyone and everything is concerned with results, so this can seem empty and vague. Better to actually describe specific results in tangible terms.

Team player – Like it or not, all of us are expected to “play nice with others.” Almost as meaningless and space wasting as saying you are a hard worker.

Proven track-record – If I had a dollar for every time I’ve seen this on a resume, I would be hanging with Gates and Buffett. Unless you wear Dolphin shorts and Saucony running shoes at work, this is an awkward cliché.

Responsible for – One of the most common, yet, least powerful ways to lead into a description of work history. Much more impressive to begin with an action statement that tells what you actually did, versus a summary of what you were supposed to do.

To Whom It May Concern: -OR- Dear Sir / Madam: Even if someone is concerned, they likely are from this century and would prefer a less antiquated greeting to compel them to keep reading.

Over 32 years experience in… Very narrow descriptor which tends to scream “out of touch with today’s issues.” Stating a specific number could actually limit appeal, unless it happens to be the exact amount requested.

The collection above provides frequently seen examples of generic language that typically has the opposite impact than intended. When trying to stand out, it is critical to select meaningful words that portray the subject in a favorable light.

Bland, boring or predictable cliché phrases often bring a negative connotation. Depending on context or perspective, even neutral or innocent terms, such as Toyota’s “moving forward” slogan, can provoke very contradictory messages in our minds.

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1 Comment »

  1. Hi Kelly – Yes, that is a good list of over-used words. And I’ll a lot of us in hiring roles just gloss over them nowadays. Good reminder for us all to pick words that have real meaning!

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