Career Matters

By Lily Whiteman

Use powerful language

Bookmark and Share

Wow! It’s cool! It’s awesome! It’s great! I have recently heard these types of hyped-up, well-worn phrases used to describe everything from a new kitchen knife to a ho-hum press release to a shuttle liftoff. So nondescript and unspecific, such phrases are almost too vague to inform, impress or persuade anyone of anything; they are generic to the point of being meaningless.

Then there are the ubiquitous bureaucratic phrases, such as: “We implemented a robust, multifaceted infrastructure.” My personal favorite: “your tour-of-duty” when referring not to the schedules of traveling soldiers but to the schedules of stationary, desk-bound feds.

What’s wrong with such phrases? Their pomposity, verbosity or inhumane tone make them almost instantly alienating and unmemorable.

Contrary to popular belief, federal documents need not be as stilted and impenetrable as the tax code. After all, feds are people, too. So when they are targeted by communications, they — like other people — are usually impressed, persuaded and reached by the same types of words and phrases that impress, persuade and reach non-feds: words and phrases that are precise, vivid, energetic and concise. And like most humans, feds respond best to information that is delivered in a humane tone.

You would be wise to incorporate these principles into all of your written and oral communications — including the list of achievements you should provide to your boss before your annual review, as well as to your résumés and job interviews. If you bury your achievements in vague, nondescript, bureaucratic language, you will dig your own grave. Alternatively, if you describe your achievements in vivid, persuasive power words and phrases, you’ll probably impress your boss and potential employers. And your achievements will stick to their brains like verbal Velcro.

An example of a commonly missed opportunity to use impressive, memorable words: I’ll bet that your résumé — like those of most federal managers — fails to establish you as an expert in your field. One way to convey your high stature would be to position the title “Expert in X” under your name at the top of your resume. But if you’re like most established professionals, you underestimate your achievements, don’t consider yourself an “Expert in X” and therefore don’t believe that you deserve that title.

Reality check: You probably are an “Expert in X” if you serve as your office’s go-to person on X, have education or training and many years of experience in X, supervise other people in X or have presented or published on X.

Nevertheless, if you don’t yet qualify as expert in X, you may adopt a different, but still impressive, title, such as “Specialist in X.” Another option: Mention in the body of your résumé that you have X number of years of experience in or played a pivotal role in X project.

Some additional vivid, persuasive power phrases to incorporate into your descriptions of your achievements:

• “I am an award-winning X,” or “our award-winning project.”

• “I managed/produced multimillion-dollar contracts/budgets/savings.”

• “I managed projects that were high-dollar/high-pressure/ high-priority/high-volume.”

• “I thrived in a deadline-driven environment where every project was put on a fast-track to completion” or “Without fail, I met tight, non-negotiable deadlines” or “I managed high-profile/high-visibility/high-traffic projects.”

• “I created from scratch a new procedure/process/regulation/technology” or “I brought my projects in on-time and on-budget.”

• Other attention-getters: “first-ever, precedent-setting, trailblazing, record-breaking.”

• “I produced glitch-free Xs” or “I single-handedly accomplished X” or “The techniques I developed served as a model for X.”

• “Evidence of my first-rate reputation includes X” or “I received exemplary evaluations every year since X” or “I went the extra mile time and time again by X” or “I organized a top-to-bottom overhaul of X” or “I managed a cradle-to-grave X” or “My project drew the following positive feedback from my managers” or “I received top ratings on evaluations by attendees at the trainings and conferences I organized” or “I was specially recruited for the project/job because of my X skills” or “Evidence of my problem-solving skills includes X.”