Photo from THP Creative/Getty Images.
Do you use cheesy clichés, overblown superlatives, or breathless adjectives to describe yourself in your social media profiles and marketing materials? Do you write things about yourself you would never actually have the nerve to say?
Here are some words that are great when other people use them to describe you—but you should never use to describe yourself, along with a few other words that everyone seems to use (many make annual appearances on LinkedIn's lists of most overused words and phrases from LinkedIn profiles).
Either way, think hard about swapping them out of your social profiles—and your website, marketing, and other company communications:
Most companies claim to be innovative. Most people claim to be innovative. Most are, however, not innovative. I'm definitely not. And that's OK, because innovation isn't a requirement for success. (You don't have to be new—you just have to be better.)
And if you are innovative, don't say it. Prove it. Describe the products you've developed. Describe the processes you've transformed.
Give us something real so your innovation is unspoken but evident, which is always the best kind of innovative to be.
Usain Bolt: world-class sprinter with the Olympic medals to prove it. Serena Williams: world-class tennis player. (Oh, let's just say it: best female tennis player ever.)
But what is a world-class professional or company? Who defines "world-class"? In your case: probably just you.
Maybe you're data driven. (Wow, you try to objectively think through decisions?) Or maybe you're customer driven. (Wow, you try to please the people that pay you?)
Or maybe you're just plain old driven.
No matter what the form, driven is like "motivated." Or "inspired." It's filler.
Stop using it.
Say you have "extensive experience in web design." Fine, but how long you've been in business indicates nothing: You could still be the worst programmer in the world.
What matters more is what you've done: how many sites you've created, how many back-end systems you've installed, how many customer-specific applications you've developed (and what kind) ...
Don't tell us how long you've been doing it. Tell us what you've done.
Like Margaret Thatcher said, "Power is like being a lady; if you have to say you are, you aren't." Show your expertise instead.
"Presented at TEDxEast " or "Predicted 50 out of 50 states in 2012 election" (Hi, Nate!) indicates a level of authority. Unless you can prove it, "social media marketing authority" might simply mean you spend way too much time worrying about your Klout score. (If people still worry about Klout scores.)
Really? You focus on doing what you get paid to do?
"Responsible" cuts two ways. You can be responsible (but, one hopes, isn't everyone?) or you can be responsible for (which is just a boring way of saying that you did something).
If you're in social media marketing, don't say you're "responsible for social campaigns"; say you grew conversions by 40 percent using social channels. "Responsible" is a great example of passive language begging to become active.
Don't tell us what you're responsible for. Tell us what you've done. Achievements are always more impressive.
The majority of businesses can sell goods or services worldwide; the ones that can't are fairly obvious.
Only use "global provider" if that capability is not assumed or obvious; otherwise, you just sound like a small company trying to appear big.
Check out Chris Rock's response (not safe for work or the politically correct) to people who say they take care of their kids. Then substitute words like motivated.
Never take credit for things you are supposed to do—or supposed to be.
See particular words often enough and they no longer make an impact. Creative is one of them. (Use finding creative references in random LinkedIn profiles as a drinking game and everyone will lose—or win, depending on your perspective).
Creative is just one example. Others include extensive, effective, proven, influential, and team player. Some of those terms may truly describe you, but since they are being used to describe everyone, they've lost their impact.
We all have a track record. It may be good, it may be bad, but we all have one. (And they're all "proven.")
I actually like what "track record" implies: You've done stuff, hopefully awesome stuff. You've gotten results, made things happen, come through in the clutch ... so share a few facts and figures instead.
Describe on-time performance rates, or waste percentages, or under-budget statistics; let your track record be proved by your achievements.
This word usually modifies another word: organizational development, organizational optimization, organizational behavior, organizational values, or organizational communication....
OK, let's stop there before we nod off.
If you are "vigorously active and forceful," um, stay away.
People who try to be clever for the sake of being clever are anything but. Don't be a self-proclaimed "ninja," "sage," "connoisseur," "guerrilla," "wonk," "egghead," etc.
It's awesome when your customers affectionately describe you that way. But refer to yourself that way, and it's obvious you're trying way too hard to impress other people—or yourself.
Museums have curators. Libraries have curators. Tweeting links to stuff you find interesting doesn't make you a "curator" or an "authority" or a "guru."
I know many people disagree, but if you say you're incredibly passionate about, oh, incorporating elegant design aesthetics into everyday objects, then to me you sound over the top.
The same is true if you're passionate about developing long-term customer solutions. Try the word focus, concentration, or specialization instead.
Or try love, as in, "I love incorporating an elegant design aesthetic in everyday objects." For whatever reason, that works for me. Passion doesn't. (But maybe that's just me.)
Fingerprints are unique. Snowflakes are unique. You are unique—but your business probably isn't. That's fine, because customers don't care about unique; they care about "better."
Show you're better than the competition, and in the minds of your customers you will be unique—without ever having said so.
Check out some random bios and you'll find plenty of further-modified descriptors: "Incredibly passionate," "profoundly insightful," "extremely captivating...."
Isn't it enough to be insightful or captivating? Do you have to be profoundly insightful?
If you must use over-the-top adjectives, spare us the further modification. Trust that we already get it.
A few people start multiple successful long-term businesses. They are serial entrepreneurs.
The rest of us start one business that fails or does OK. We try something else, try something else, and keep on rinsing and repeating until we find a formula that works.
Those people are entrepreneurs. Be proud to be "just" an entrepreneur, because you should be.
A strategic decision is one that is based on the big picture. Shouldn't everyone be able to make decisions based on more than what is right in front of him or her?
"Strategic" is a close cousin of "strategist," another buzzword that bugs me. I sometimes help manufacturing plants improve productivity and quality. There are strategies I use to identify areas for improvement, but I'm in no way a strategist. Strategists look at the present, envision something new, and develop approaches to make their vision a reality.
I don't create something new; I apply my experience and a few proven methodologies to make improvements.
Very few people are strategists. Most "strategists" are actually coaches, specialists, or consultants who use what they know to help others. Ninety-nine percent of the time that's what customers need—they don't need or even want a strategist.
You won't just decide what's right for me and force me to buy it? Wow.
If your process is designed to take my input and feedback, tell me how that works. Describe the process. Don't claim we'll work together—describe how we'll work together.
That's my list — clearly subjective and definitely open to criticism. More important, what do you think? What would you add or remove?
(Special thanks to Nancy Owen for pointing out a number of typos in the original article, as well as suggesting a number of better word choices. Thanks Nancy!)