Other than your work experience, the first thing many hiring managers will notice about your resume is your writing style. Including too many adverbs - or, put generally, words that end in “-ly” - can make your resume look inflated and bring your judgement into question.
Learn how to limit your adverbs, along with useful examples of alternatives you can integrate, in this guide.
Why you should limit adverbs
All statements fall into two categories: subjective and objective. Subjective statements are more like points of view or opinions (“I did that really well”) while objective statements are facts backed up by quantifiable evidence (“I completed the board in 30 seconds, twenty percent faster than the average”). Objective facts can't be debated or misinterpreted — and that's what you want to accomplish on resumes.
Adverbs are always used to emphasize subjective statements. In other words, when you use adverbs on your resume, you’re basically presenting your point of view of yourself rather than a solid case.
Saying you’re an “excellent communicator” or that you accomplished a task “efficiently” are both subjective statements that have no quantifiable meaning to hiring managers. Worse yet, they fluff up resumes and make them harder to skim.
How to remove adverbs from your resume
Here's a quick step-by-step guide:
- Scan your resume and target any subjective statements. A good candidate are adverbs that end in -ly, like successfully or efficiently.
- Remove these adverbs.
- Think of a hard number or metric that you can use to show the impact of your work. Use that instead.
- Use a strong action verb to highlight what you did.
Fortunately, removing adverbs from your resume and replacing them with hard-hitting, quantifiable, and objective statements is relatively simple if you employ these tips. Let's dive into the above steps in more detail.
Eliminate unnecessary adverbs
Your first step should be to scan your resume and target any subjective statements. Looking for words that end in “-ly” is one way to do it — these are usually adverbs that can be removed or improved on. Once you’ve found one, replace it with a data-backed objective statement.
Removing the adverb "successfully"
Let's go through an example:
- Weaker: “Successfully implemented a new time management system”
- Stronger: "Implemented a new time management system, reducing payroll errors by 37 percent in the first quarter"
Always think about how you can replace subjective statements with some numbers-backed data.
Removing the adverb "significantly"
Let's take a look at another example so you get a hang of how to replace adverbs with more objective language.
- Weaker: Significantly decreased uninstallation rate by innovatively introducing an interactive tutorial at app launch.
- Stronger: Decreased uninstallation rate by 40% by introducing an interactive tutorial at app launch
This shows how much you reduced the uninstallation rate by, giving an immediate, clear impression of how successful your work was. Instead of saying something was 'significant' — use data to make it clear and obvious to a hiring manager.
Removing the adverb "efficiently" or "resourcefully"
One more example:
- Weaker: Efficiently and resourcefully identified steps to reduce return rates so that the company could eventually save several thousands in costs.
- Stronger: “Identified steps to reduce return rates by 10% resulting in an eventual $75k cost savings”
The second objectively shows your ability to channel efficiency and resourcefulness.
Quantify your resume
When looking at the objective examples above, one important recurring theme is the usage of numbers. Anytime you can use objective data, hard numbers, or metrics to demonstrate your capabilities, it will be much more effective than using buzzwords.
Removing the adverb "successfully"
Here’s another before and after example of how replacing an adverb with an objective number can help strengthen impact.
- Weak: Successfully designed a company-wide digital marketing strategy
- Strong: Designed and executed a company-wide digital marketing strategy that drove $500,000 in product sales
If you write that you “successfully designed a company-wide digital marketing strategy”, you aren’t going to make nearly as much of an impression as if you were to use hard numbers like in the second example. This statement plainly shows how much of an impact your strategy was, leaving any personal subjectivity out entirely.
Quantifying examples as a student
For students, the advice is the same. Let's look at an example:
- Weak: “Enthusiastically participated in student engineering club”,
- Stronger: “Elected president of student engineering club; facilitated monthly meetings of 25 members”.
The second example includes quantifiable achievements, something you should always try to do.
Obviously, your specific background will be different, but taking the time to quantify your contributions will go a long way toward demonstrating your competency. For more help, read our guide on how to quantify your resume.
Use strong action verbs
Verbs are, by definition, action words - use them to say exactly what you did without requiring an adverb to embellish it. You should aim to choose strong action verbs that work on their own rather than listing dull verbs that sit flat on the page.
For example, rather than saying that you “answered customer complaints”, you could say that you “resolved hundreds of client escalations, leading to a 40% increase in client retention.” Whereas “answered” has a passive or receptive tone to it, “resolved” sounds like you took charge and handled the situation.
Don’t say that you “worked as part of a team to ensure product success” unless you’re looking for a disinterested hiring manager. Instead, aim to say that you “collaborated with developers and product management team to assess 67 project outcomes”. This informs the hiring manager about who you worked with, and how many times you worked with them, making your experience clearcut.
For more ideas, see our list of strong action verbs, divided by job category.
Stop describing soft skills
Just like adverbs are all subjective, soft skills are, too. Removing directly listed soft skills from your resume and replacing them with quantifiable examples of your capabilities will bring a new level of competency to it.
Consider this - which has more impact?
- Weaker with the adverb: "Creatively redesigned the company logo”
- Stronger without the adverb: "Redesigned the company logo as part of a rebranding initiative that resulted in a 30% increase in brand awareness among the target demographic"
The creativity is implied in the numerical success of the campaign, making the latter a much stronger choice.
Replacing the adverb "efficiently"
Efficiently is one of the most common adverbs — and one that you should always aim to replace.
- Weaker: Efficiently collected and recorded data
- Stronger: Developed an Excel macro and standardized reporting templates, resulting in efficient data collection and a 35% reduction in turnaround time.
The latter makes your efficiency implied.
In summary, soft skills are good to have on your resume - just not written out. Show your abilities with quantifiable, objective results. For more, read our guide on how to integrate soft skills in your resume here.
Your resume is a critical document in helping to influence your future. Just like you wouldn’t wear a teeshirt and jeans to a fancy dinner party, you shouldn’t aim to make a soft pitch with your resume.
By removing adverbs and soft skills from your resume and integrating objective, numerical data, you’ll be making a much stronger impression on hiring managers moving forward.
There’s a lot to keep in mind when making your resume, and sometimes it helps to get another perspective. One easy way to do that is to run your resume through our free, fast assessment tool, Score My Resume, which uses AI to pick up on any areas that need work.