Time Magazine ran an article this week about the #1 thing employers don’t want to see on your resume: “Proficient in Microsoft Office.” Really, though, you shouldn’t say you’re proficient at anything.

“Proficient” has become synonymous with “adequate” in the job market. It’s an over-used term that has lost its real meaning. It’s time to move on.

The #1 Thing Time Magazine Says You Shouldn’t Put on Your Resume

Time’s article claims that employers are simply sick of seeing “proficient in MS Office Suite,” and that it’s the equivalent of saying you can “use a knife and fork.” It’s a “duh” skill for the modern American office—everyone applying for office jobs knows how to use Office.

Time goes on to say that “padding your resume with ‘skills’ shared by everyone with an office job signals to employers that you actually don’t have any skills at all.” That’s a pretty scary message to have on your resume!

Take a good, long look at your resume. How many statements do you have on it that everyone else has? If your resume doesn’t make your skill set look unique and perfect for the job you want, it’s not doing you any favors. It’s time to make a few changes!

Why “Proficient” is Killing Your Resume

It’s not just being “proficient” at MS Office that’s killing your resume—it’s the word “proficient” in general. See, in the English language, when a word is overused in a specific way for a decently long amount of time, it loses its power. It’s not enough to be “proficient” at something.

Think about it: Would you go to a “proficient” doctor? He’s adequate. His skills are fine. If you have a scraped knee, he can certainly put some Neosporin on it and give you a band-aid. If you have a sinus infection, he can prescribe you Amoxicillin with the best of them. But what about the day you have a heart attack? Will you still want the care of Dr. Proficient, or will you insist on the top rated heart doctor in your community?

You’ll want the best. So do employers. No one wants to hire the employee with “proficient” skills. They want the employee who excels. They want the employee who achieves. This is you, but you have to show it through better word choices.

What to Say instead of “Proficient”

You have expert skills in something. Those are the skills you should highlight. If you aren’t sure what your best skills are, ask a friend—or better yet—ask a co-worker. What is the thing that everyone asks you to do for them?

Instead of “proficient” try words like:

  • Advanced
  • Expert
  • Experienced
  • Highly adept
  • Savvy
  • Accomplished
  • Proven

Time Magazine suggests being specific in the skills you list. They give the example of making amazing pivot tables in Excel as a skill you might highlight (if you can, indeed, make kick-ass pivot tables).

Industry-specific software master is always good to highlight on your resume, too. When Jarell and I bid on instructional design contracts, we always list our mastery with the many learning management systems in our bios. Employers in our industry always want to know that we can use the software they’ve decided to use to build their learning products, so we list education-specific software like Lectora, Captivate, and Articulate.

So, as you’re replacing “proficient” on your resume, think about your future employer. What skills will they need from you? What will they be impressed that you can do? What makes you more than adequate to do the job?

Remember: Make it easy for employers to see that you’re the perfect person for the job. Perfect isn’t “proficient” and neither are you. You are much better, so let your resume reflect it!

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