10 words you must NEVER use to describe yourself

10 words you must NEVER use to describe yourself

Who am I to tell you how you can describe yourself? Nobody. So ignore me at your leisure.

On the other hand, I can tell you for free that the words you use in your résumé, your LinkedIn profile, your Twitter bio, your cover letter, and in spoken language, create a response in the reader, which can condemn you faster than the blink of an eye.

Believe me on this. Recruiters, hiring managers, potential clients, and those in your social community will scorn you, even ‘delete’ you, based on the emotion these words evoke. I am not saying it’s right, but you will be judged if you use these words. And not judged well.

  1. ‘Guru’, ‘legend’, ‘maven’, and ‘ninja’: Incredibly, these are used a lot! They are very common in Twitter bios for example. Seriously? Have you paused to consider what these words actually mean?  What they imply? And you are happy to ascribe them to yourself? You are a ‘legend’, are you? And you say so? Publicly? Nothing writes you off, and smashes your credibility as quickly as describing yourself with words like these.
  2. ‘Expert’: Not as bad as the words above, but from the same stable. You have gone too big. You may be an expert. Just don’t say it. We will be the judge of that.
  3. ‘Humble’: Just by saying it, you prove that you are not.
  4. Generous’: You may be, but if you are prepared to say it in public then you are not humble (see above). And we value ‘humble’. And we want our ‘generosity’ without thought for personal gain and acknowledgement. So don’t say it. Live it.
  5. ‘Honest’: If you have to say it, it’s clear you think it’s a ‘special talent’. We view it as a given. Do you have to work at it, we wonder?
  6. ‘Rock-star’: Oh, heaven help us! (Unless you are, in fact, a rock-star, but we doubt that)
  7. ‘Nice guy’: No seriously, I have seen this on three twitter bios recently. You are announcing you are a ‘nice guy’? Surely that is the ultimate accolade that has to be bestowed by others. Narcissistic, much?
  8. Exceptional’:  Too big. Too much. Too bad.
  9. ‘Funny’: Pretty much every person I have ever met who describes him or herself as ‘funny’… isn’t.
  10. ‘Visionary’: Just (don’t) do it.

If these traits are true about you, then other people will say them about you. In references. On social media. In private conversations. Say them about yourself, you look silly at best, and a right plonker at worst.

Got any more? Please leave your comments below.


UK readers, please join me in London on September 10th. Two masterclass presentations. One for recruiters, one for Owners/Managers


About Greg Savage

Over a career spanning thirty years, Greg Savage has established himself as a global recruitment leader. Greg is a regular keynote speaker at staffing and recruitment conferences around the world.

Connect & Subscribe

Subscribe to this blog and join me on social media. I have a lot to say. Some of it even quite good.

Subscribe (Why wouldn't you?)
Facebook (A great recruiter hangout)
Twitter (50,000+ other people do)
LinkedIn (Find out who I actually am!)
YouTube (A great face for radio)
Instagram (Pics of my recruiting travels)
Pinterest (Pin me down)
Google+ (.. because.. it's... Google?)

, , , , ,

55 Responses to 10 words you must NEVER use to describe yourself

  1. craig kelly July 29, 2014 at 8:38 am #


    • Mike Varnell July 31, 2014 at 12:08 pm #

      Leader; motivated; driven; top performer; self-starter; ambitious

  2. Dexter July 29, 2014 at 10:04 am #

    My pet peeves are mentor, thought leader, change agent and entrepreneur (a term used liberally by sole traders!).

  3. Jonathan Rice July 29, 2014 at 11:26 am #

    Thought leader

    • John Lane July 29, 2014 at 12:52 pm #

      Thought leader +1

  4. Fiona Hewitt July 29, 2014 at 12:06 pm #

    Beat me to it …. thought leader.

  5. Ros July 29, 2014 at 12:12 pm #

    These famous last words by any candidate raises alarm bells : “I won’t let you down” – inevitably they do!!!

  6. Chris Heswall July 29, 2014 at 12:13 pm #

    That was a good laugh Greg!

    Whilst Sales people are not wall flowers,using self promotional vocab like that fits firmly into the FIG JAM camp 🙂

    And it mostly boils back to one word – EGO

  7. john milce July 29, 2014 at 12:19 pm #

    The following is a genuine extract from a CV I received recently. Only the name has been changed to protect the poseur:-

    “X is a cross-disciplinary change agent focused on intrapreneurship (not sure if this a new word I hadn’t come across before or a typo – JM), creativity and innovation to leverage untapped potential within organisations.

    A skilled social networker online, X has 2000 mostly decision makers as 1st level connections on LinkedIn and 17,500 members in the two professional LinkedIn communities he manages. While offline he regularly networks at the Dax entrepreneur evenings and meets many of his executive connections face to face to strengthen relationships.

    Both inquisitive and open-minded, seeing around the corner and thinking laterally are X’s value adds. Collaboratively and diplomatically, he designs sustainable Win-Win scenarios. Mentally, he is perceptive, nurturing, and supportive. These factors make him suitable for the 21st Century Knowledge Economy.”

    • J Kimball August 21, 2014 at 8:11 am #

      Wow! Makes me wish I’d hung on to a similar one I came across recently. Just taken aback with the brashness of it all!

      Of course, my Twitter does say, “All-around good guy”, soooo….:)

    • Patricia Mortimer September 24, 2014 at 12:29 pm #

      Wow, all I can say is OMG!

  8. Bree Downs-Woolley July 29, 2014 at 12:27 pm #

    Reminds me of a blog Ross Clennett wrote some years ago about words recruiters use in advertisements:

  9. Chris E July 29, 2014 at 12:42 pm #


  10. Sindi July 29, 2014 at 12:52 pm #

    people person – just annoys the crap out of me!

  11. Lorraine July 29, 2014 at 1:17 pm #

    Great article – I had a candidate tell me he was “scary” in his cover letter. Maybe this comment also fits in the FIG JAM Camp category (as per Chris’ comment above). 🙂

  12. Steve July 29, 2014 at 1:48 pm #

    I always felt the recently popular title “Talent Acquisition Specialist” was akin to a service station assistant calling themselves a “Petroleum Transfer Engineer”.

    Don’t even get me on “Human Capital Consultant” or “Chief Talent Officer” – you’re a recruiter!


    • PatCraft October 15, 2016 at 1:07 am #

      Give me a bucket…. Haha, yes or ‘Quantative Value Analyst’ (check-out chick)

  13. Jo July 29, 2014 at 2:06 pm #

    I get a lot of “passion” from my candidate’s resumes!

  14. Joe Hall July 29, 2014 at 2:11 pm #

    Go getter… If you’ve already got it, you won’t need to get it…. How many go’s does a person need!

  15. Con Kontikos July 29, 2014 at 2:41 pm #

    While on the topic of corporate nonsense words, can we all please stop “reaching out” and go back to “contacting” or “connecting” !

    • Shane Ngan August 9, 2014 at 2:24 pm #

      How about we talk like humans and use words like call, talk with and email?

    • Charles October 9, 2014 at 7:26 am #

      yeah “reaching out” that’s a really annoying one.
      I am gonna phone you
      or call you
      or contact you

  16. Laurie WIlliams July 29, 2014 at 2:58 pm #

    Love it Greg – I just wish I’d written it!

  17. Lee Brown July 29, 2014 at 3:06 pm #

    ‘Ninja’ has to be my biggest pet hate – It riles me something silly!

  18. john July 29, 2014 at 3:38 pm #

    So John Milce, you will not have to waste your time interviewing this wa#### – it rhymes with banker – the CV has said it all & more !

  19. Ruthie July 29, 2014 at 5:13 pm #

    Can-do attitude.
    Why would you want someone who can’t?!

  20. Amanda July 29, 2014 at 6:48 pm #

    “Pick Me” written in the top left hand corner of a CV has to be the worst thing I have seen recently!

    • Chuck Norris August 1, 2014 at 7:43 pm #

      How about this one….. a guy with a picture of himself on the cover page with a speech bubble coming out his mouth bearing the words “Hello! My name is Kenny!”.

  21. Lee Young July 29, 2014 at 8:07 pm #

    Oh my word this article is so true and many have highlighted a few of the typical beauties I come across. ‘Thought leader’ is an immediate no-no, as too is anyone who claims they are; ‘the best (insert role) in their field’. Other recent gems would include the phrases; ‘born winner’, ‘marketing maverick’, ‘serial entrepreneur’ (whatever that means) or just the general line of, ‘I am perfect/the most qualified or the best candidate for this job’- invariably this means they are not, at all.

    Underline your skills and qualities with humility, a wrecking ball filled with TNT is not required.

  22. Alconcalcia July 29, 2014 at 9:54 pm #

    Some of these could quite easily have appeared on CVs too. I have definitions for them all: http://www.alasdairmurraycopy.com/alconcalcias-blog/ever-wondered-what-the-clever-phrases-in-those-job-ads-actually-mean

  23. Mark Pearce July 30, 2014 at 12:01 am #

    Oh dear. Do people really use the word ‘ninja’ in their resumes or LI profiles? I couldn’t help but laugh reading the comments.

    Great article and thankfully i’ve not managed to use the words so far.

    Recruitment evangelist…….. Recruitment preacher….. Recruitment vicar….. I’m working on it.

  24. Jen July 30, 2014 at 6:20 am #

    Very informative. How about 10 positive words you should use to describe yourself. 😉

    • Greg Savage July 30, 2014 at 8:24 am #

      Great idea. I look forward to your blog on that Jen

    • Chuck Norris August 1, 2014 at 7:35 pm #

      How about none?

      Unless someone asks you “how would you describe yourself?”.

  25. AntG July 30, 2014 at 12:33 pm #

    Champion. “Leader” preceded by five adjectives.

    • Paul B October 14, 2016 at 2:35 pm #

      Champion should only be used if you’re in Newcastle and in answer to the question ‘How are you, today?’…

  26. Quirky July 30, 2014 at 5:47 pm #

    A quick search on LinkedIn gave me self proclaimed 739 “Ninjas”, that’s excluding the good folk from Ninja Blocks and Fruit Ninja which are both worthy.

    • Stephanie McDonald February 5, 2016 at 8:41 pm #

      I’ve been endorsed for my ninja skills, but am not a self proclaimed ninja. It was actually a joke about the whole ninja thing by some recruiter friends. Good times.

  27. Mok July 30, 2014 at 10:56 pm #

    It is a sad state of affairs / life when one can only describe themselves as a “thought leader” … “guru…”. to me implies that one is capable of creative bullsh*** or blagging their way through life.

    my other pet hate is all the crappy extensions like Six Sigma Black Belt … I could go on for hours but won’t.

    great post Greg …

  28. Maverick Recruiter July 31, 2014 at 9:30 pm #

    I have to laugh at this, primarily because a simple Google Search of the term Greg Savage and Guru and the second result is this little video – http://youtu.be/zXiSCbaViVY in which Greg is referred to as Guru, Legend, Firebrand and more.

    If you just search for recruitment Guru Greg Savage he is listed in at least 7 out of the first 10 results in actual recommended listings or references a ‘recruitment guru…”.

    I love much of what Greg writes and would not question his successes. But this strikes me as somewhat hypocritical. It would appear that having exhausted the term Guru, Legend and Firebrand himself and even being dethroned by the likes of the self confessed Recruitment Guru, James Caan that Greg is now attempting to distance himself from a term which has undoubtedly brought him an abundance of success over years.

    Besides, who really cares? It is a free world. People are entitled to use any term of reference if it works it works. Those who are paying these so called self styled Guru’s and Industry Experts don’t care as long as they get the required results. Let’s be honest there are plenty of so called Industry Experts, Game Changers, Business Consultants and similar out there ripping off SME’s and similar with the offer of sage advice and exclusive wisdom. I can name at least 3 who haven’t got a clue what they are talking about and haven’t recruited anybody for over a decade. But they still make a good living selling crap seminars and training courses.

    • Greg Savage July 31, 2014 at 11:31 pm #

      Thanks for your comment “Maverick Recruiter”

      (Wouldn’t it be cool if people who post negative comment on a blog actually identified themselves?)

      It seems you have not understood my blog, or you have not read it at all.

      The title gives it away though “10 words you must NEVER use to describe


      I did not Google my name as you did, but I am pretty confident I have NEVER refereed to myself as a “guru or “legend”. If other people have, well what can I do about that except laugh it off as silly?

      Which, by the way is EXACTLY what I did in that video. Shane called me a legend and I make some comment saying that is ridiculous and not even my family think that

      So where “Maverick” is my hypocrisy in this matter?

      I actually spell it out for you in the blog. If OTHER people say it, well done. If YOU say it about YOURSELF, bad move

    • Felix Nater August 4, 2014 at 12:18 pm #

      Mr. Savage, normally I don’t challenge post but this one got my attention. Rather than argue to disagree. What’s the difference between my what I have on my Twitter, LinkedIn & website content and your respectable expertise?

      “Over a career spanning thirty years, Greg Savage has established himself as an undisputed global recruitment leader. Greg is a regular keynote speaker at staffing and recruitment conferences around the world.”

      I don’t have a problem with anyone who extols their own virtues because in the end one is judged by their deliverables not their opinion.

      • Greg Savage August 4, 2014 at 12:32 pm #

        I dont really know what you have on your website et al Felix, but I hope I don’t have any of the words I highlight in my blog on MY website. There is nothing wrong with “extolling your own virtues”. I just recommend not going too far.. and most of these words are much, much too far..in my opinion..which is what my blog is 🙂

        That sentence you take from my website is pretty much fact. I DO speak at staffing conferences around the works. Fact “leader in global recruitment..” maybe a bit grandiose, but why do I get invited to speak at those conferences all over the world? And then again here you are,from “Charlotte and New York” reading and commenting on my blog.. so maybe that is true too:)

        But of course Felix, your opinion is as valid as mine, so thanks for reading my blog, and for your thoughts

        • Felix Nater August 5, 2014 at 2:46 am #

          I enjoy interacting with top notch professionals like you who regard a good argument. Thanks for the reply. Suffice to say I will leave it at the opinion level and continue enjoying your social media leadership which, I appreciate.

  29. Darren Ledger August 1, 2014 at 2:55 am #

    Okay having had a bit of a heated debate with Greg further to my earlier comment (under the name of Sharpehunter) maybe my accusation of hypocrisy was untoward and unfounded. As such this is a public apology.

    However, I still stand by my view that how someone refers to themselves or what job title they have shouldn’t be important providing it is legitimate and not intended to mislead.

    A bigger issue of course aside from all those self proclaimed guru’s, evangelist’s, agents of change and maverick’s who very often do live and breathe their industry is the more pressing concern of the use of the title ‘Consultant’ in recruitment.

    Very few of them, certainly less than 3% could actually consult their way out of a phone box. Few if any have any consultative values or solution delivery ability. This misrepresentation is far more pressing than someone using the term guru.

  30. Chuck Norris August 1, 2014 at 7:29 pm #

    Here’s an idea: describe what you DO, and then back it up with action.

    Lots of consistent action.

    Let clients and candidates arrive at their own conclusions about you – they’re going to anyway so help them arrive at the good ones.

  31. bill40 August 2, 2014 at 8:32 pm #

    bill40 tears up CV, deletes linked in account and bursts into tears….

  32. john milce August 3, 2014 at 9:19 am #

    James Dolan wins a lollypop for correctly identifying the guy in my earlier posting (via an email to me)

    (James, John, …I also had a comment from James which actually identified the is person by name and LI profil,e but I have decided not publish that. I am sure you will understand.. cheers Greg)

  33. Meg Peppin August 11, 2014 at 4:58 pm #

    I love this.

    However, I will confess that I recently fell into one of the traps; I had a to write a bio for something and described myself as an expert, in a field in which I could be considered to have some expertise. Whilst checking my copy, my husband politely pointed out that it was for others to decide if I was an expert. Blushing, I made appropriate adjustments, we’re all allowed a little fallibility right?

  34. St3luccio August 12, 2014 at 6:35 pm #

    In general I don’t like to describe myself; I think “who I am to judge myself?” – that’s why I don’t like this question in a hirin recruitment “how would you describe yourself?” – don’t you ?

  35. Stephanie August 14, 2014 at 7:11 pm #

    Diva…..come on ladies..really?

  36. ramya October 23, 2014 at 4:29 am #

    to tel about myself in word…. i can say i m UNIQUE 🙂 it wel suits me wid my character nd creativity ….

  37. Greg Jackson December 12, 2014 at 12:38 pm #

    Cant does cut both ways.I instantly bin any job ad/proposal that asks if I am “passionate” or capable of “thinking outside the square.” One is dated and always sounds more date site than job site, the other always indicates a nest of conceptual squares.

  38. RW Stoufus November 26, 2015 at 6:32 am #

    Introduced as “Visionary & Marketing God”
    Went on to describe them self as “Laid back” and “self-effacing”

    I Bullshit you not…
    Next stop…Recycle Bin.

    RW Stoufus

Leave a Reply