Ask a room full of hiring managers which resume cliche is most likely to make their eyes roll back in their heads, and they’ll probably all give you the same line:
“Proficient in the Microsoft Office Suite.”
This string of seemingly innocuous words sunk its hooks into the job seeker’s lexicon years ago, and remains a resume staple to this day—and for no good reason.
Yeah, everyone wants to flex a little. But 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. It might even throw you out of the running.
“In 2018, if you’re attempting to get a job, the presumption will be that you are computer literate,” says career consultant Carlota Zimmerman. “If a client seriously told me she was going to write ‘proficient in MS Office Suite’ on her resume, I’d ask her, ‘Why stop there? Can you also use a knife and fork?'”
This is not to disparage the entire Microsoft suite of programs, nor its users: Expertise in some Microsoft tools, such as Excel, OneNote, or PowerPoint, can be attractive to recruiters. But there are better ways to brag about your skills than relying on a stale catchall term.
Here are a few resume dos and dont’s to keep in mind.
DON’T list Microsoft Word on your resume. Period.
The only thing worse than using “Proficient in Microsoft Office Suite” as a stand-in for, you know, actual skills is using “Microsoft Word” instead.
You wrote your resume using some sort of word processing software, right? It stands to reason that you have a baseline knowledge of the most popular one out there. No need to call attention to a program most middle-schoolers can handle.
“Listing Microsoft Word as a skill should be removed from every resume,” says Andrew Selepak, a communications expert and professor at the University of Florida. “You wouldn’t list the ability to type in a resume that you typed. If you shook hands with someone during a job interview, you wouldn’t tell them one of your biggest skills is the ability to shake hands.”
DO include programs where you have expert-level knowledge.
A few individual Microsoft programs — and certain capabilities within those programs — do deserve a nod. Maybe you can work Excel pivot tables like nobody’s business. Or maybe you’re the only one on your team who can whip up a memorable PowerPoint presentation. In those cases, feel free to pepper in a few of these expert-level skills. Just be specific.
“Detailing your precise knowledge of the software is a great way to stand out,” says Zachary Vickers, a career adviser and hiring manager at Resume Companion. “Expand upon exactly how you’re proficient with the Microsoft Office Suite. Mention that you know how to build spreadsheet formulas in Excel, export PowerPoint slides into video formats, or merge productivity apps with Outlook.”
DO figure out other ways to show off.
There’s a difference between skills and experience: It’s the divide between what you can do and what you’ve already done. Recruiters want to see the latter, and industry-specific keywords that reflect that experience. So even if you’re applying for a position that would definitely require you to use programs like Word and PowerPoint, it’s better to give specific examples of how you used the programs, instead of just ticking them off.
“If I’m hiring for an admin assistant or data entry position, I prefer to see things like how many words per minute you can type, or examples of content you wrote … such as official company letterheads or ebooks,” says Amine Rahal, founder of the digital marketing firm IronMonk.
DON’T claim expertise you don’t have.
Many job seekers claim to be “fluent” in the entire Microsoft Office Suite, career experts say, when what they really mean is, “I use Microsoft Word and I’ve opened PowerPoint a few times.”
“Job seekers may have a loose interpretation of the word proficient,” says Andrew Quagliata, a lecturer in management communication at Cornell.
Quagliata used to work as a manager, and says he once learned after the fact that a new hire had lied about her capabilities. After that, he started testing candidates. “I still remember the time a candidate stood up and walked out of an interview in the middle of an Excel assessment,” Quagliata says. “He had listed ‘Proficient in Microsoft Office’ on his resume.”
Be honest: Do you really know every program like the back of your hand? If you’re embellishing, it can backfire.
DO pay attention to the job ad.
There’s one exception to pretty much all of the above: if you’re sending a resume in response to an ad that specifically seeks Office skills. That’s because applicant tracking systems, the software companies use to sort online applications, are programmed to scan resumes for keywords related to the job posting.
If the ad you’re applying to has Microsoft Office software among its required skills, you should definitely create a version of your resume that includes it. Mirror the ad’s phrasing as is — whether that’s listing each individual program or using the catchall “Microsoft Office Suite.”
“Employers’ software isn’t smart enough to understand that Microsoft Office includes Excel, Word and PowerPoint, so if the job posting lists the specific programs, your resume should list each program, too, so you can match those keywords,” says professional resume writer Kelly Donovan.
But again, if a job ad doesn’t include Office as a requirement, skip it for more relevant info.
“Put yourself in the mind of the recruiter,” says Ben Guez, founder of another marketing agency, Laxir. “Think, what skill will be useful for the position? If I am looking for a digital marketer I want to see ‘Google Adwords, ‘Facebook Ads,’ and ‘social media.’
“I don’t really give a damn if you were doing great PowerPoint in school … It won’t bring value to the company.”