Remember the episode of Friends when Joey wrote a recommendation letter to help Chandler and Monica with the adoption process? Joey didn’t trust his own ability to draft a convincing sentence, so he relied on the help of a thesaurus, with less than ideal results.
The episode was funny, for sure, but similar scenarios that aren’t quite so funny play out in real life all the time, especially among job seekers who want to come off more like a brainy Ross than a goofy Joey. If you find yourself reaching for the thesaurus as you draft your resume and cover letter, keep these warnings in mind. That little book (or function in Word) can be your friend, but it can also steer you off course if you aren’t careful.
Be wary of big words
As Monica explains to Joey, you don’t have to use big words in order to sound smart. In fact, trying to sound smart is a risky proposition by nature, and it isn’t always necessary. Most employers are not impressed by generic smarts and would rather choose a candidate with strong abilities and qualifications in specific and relevant areas. Puffing up your tone and adding empty syllables to your words can undermine your ability to showcase your most important skills and experience.
Honesty and integrity are more important.
While a thesaurus can help you avoid repetition in your resume and make your application more dynamic, you don’t want to rely on it so much that it obscures your own unique voice. Again, don’t overthink your word choices if this move diminishes the integrity of who you are and way you would say things.
The thesaurus doesn’t always know best.
Sometimes the replacement word offered by the thesaurus carries a slightly different meaning or implication than your original word. And sometimes the difference is vast, and the new word, while technically similar, represents a completely inappropriate choice. The thesaurus should serve as a guide, and the options it presents should be taken as suggestions, not perfect alternatives.
Expand your own vocabulary.
Reading books and articles written in a high register can help you expand your vocabulary. Try an online subscription to the Economist or the New Yorker, and you’ll expose yourself to new words and sentence constructions that will expand the limits of your vocabulary and strengthen your linguistic confidence. It’s always a good idea to expose yourself to new applications of the English language that demonstrate what’s possible and that help you find creative and accurate ways to express yourself. The thesaurus is certainly useful, but in order to gain the most value from this tool, you’ll need to respect its limits.
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