President Trump Has a Word Choice Problem. So Do You.

President Trump Has a Word Choice Problem. So Do You.I confess I was an English nerd in high school, earning straight As on papers and tests and almost always knowing the answers to in-class questions. I was so used to top-shelf accolades that I was surprised in my senior year when I earned a B+ on an essay I had written. When I approached my teacher to ask why, she surprised me even further by claiming that my word choice was lazy and could be improved.

At first, I thought she was saying that there was an objective standard that made word choice right or wrong. It took me several years, I’m sorry to say, to realize that the lesson she was trying to teach me was much deeper, subtle, and important that that. She wanted me to recognize that communication is never about what I think or what I say – it’s about how well you understand what I think or what I say as a result of my word choice. Word choice is only effective if you, as my reader, understand me.

Which brings me to President Trump. Without judging his word choice, I would simply point out that he uses select words repeatedly. He clearly favors terms such as “disgusting,” “fake,” “wow,” and “beautiful.” The question is, how well do these words communicate his intent and his opinion? On more than one occasion since he entered the 2016 Presidential race, his verbal or written statements have been misinterpreted based (in part) on his word choice.

My goal in this post is not to analyze the President’s communications or the media’s interpretation of his statements. I’m simply using his very public example of the problems poor or limited word choice can create.

Does this matter? I would argue that it does. Regardless of your politics, I suspect you would agree that word choice and grammar have and continue to cause the President problems in communicating his message to the country and the world.

Which brings me to your resume. Are you communicating your brand with the right words in your resume, LinkedIn profile, cover letters, voice mails, emails, and interview responses? Are you reusing the same verbs or terms too many times? Chances are that you do.

Word choice enlivens your career communications, helps you to share your brand more crisply, and empowers you to say more with less.

Consider the verb “manage.” This is an overused word in most resumes, regardless of which form it is used in (manage, managing, managed, or management), and this is a potentially unwise practice when it comes to communicating your brand. Yes, key words are critical, and if you’re pursuing management-level roles you unquestionably need to include the word in your documents and online profile numerous times. But how many times is too much (and yes, you can use any word or key term too many times)? Repetition, when pursued too aggressively, numbs your readers to your message. Bored with reading the same thing over and over, they may begin to tune out your message, which of course you do not want them to do.

Word choice enlivens your career communications, helps you to share your brand more crisply, and empowers you to say more with less. Words are enormously powerful and should always be used with care. In career communications tools, they enable you to cross an unseen bridge to your reader and influence them. So why use “manage” in every other sentence when, in fact, you did more than manage?

This isn’t common knowledge among job seekers, but there is a hierarchical way to think about skill sets that, when leveraged, helps drive home the point that you are management material or already possess management skills. This hierarchy has been developed by the U.S. Department of Labor as part of their exhaustive Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) and is referred to as Data People Things.

According to the DOT, the basic idea is that “every job requires a worker to function, to some degree, in relation to Data, People, and Things. These relationships … (range) from the relatively simple to the complex in such a manner that each successive relationship includes those that are simpler and excludes the more complex.”

For example, the hierarchy for People skills looks like this, with the lower-level skills having the higher number and the higher-level skills have the lower number:

  • 0 Mentoring
  • 1 Negotiating
  • 2 Instructing
  • 3 Supervising
  • 4 Diverting
  • 5 Persuading
  • 6 Speaking/Signaling
  • 7 Serving
  • 8 Taking Instructions – Helping

I find I can better showcase my client’s capabilities in their career communications tools if I employ a similar approach to the verbs I use in their document. With a verb like “manage,” I could make the case for a hierarchy that looks something like this:

  • Leading
  • Directing
  • Driving
  • Spearheading
  • Guiding
  • Managing
  • Supervising
  • Persuading
  • Influencing

Now, this is arbitrary and subjective and you could easily argue with my selections and order, as well you should. But the basic point that you, as a job seeker, need to give some serious thought to which verbs you use when, is still valid.

In addition, you might want to consider using the lower-level verbs such as “influencing” or “persuading” in your descriptions of early-career achievements while reserving higher-level verbs such as “leading” or “directing” for recent-career achievements (if it is valid for you to do so, of course).

This simple technique will help you to improve your verbal and written job search communications and thereby share your brand more directly. By electing not to over-use the same verbs to a ridiculous degree (I’ve seen some verbs reused 10 times or more in a resume – that’s overkill), while ensuring enough repetition to satisfy the ever-present key word count concern, you can elevate your visibility without risking the alienation of your readers.