stop telling me that you work well independently and in groups

This was originally published on June 4, 2012.

If you’re a recent grad, there’s a 50% chance that your resume or cover letter includes a mention that you “work well both independently and in groups.”

Announcing this is like announcing that you show up for work on time. It’s expected that you’ll do it; it’s not a bragging point.

I don’t know where this trend is coming from (college career centers, are you to blame again?), but I see it constantly, and you must remove it immediately.

{ 177 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    A professor of mine said she gets questions about how well candidates work in groups when people call her for reference checks.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Asking in a reference call is totally different though. I might ask a reference how a candidate handles conflict or gets along with others too, but putting it on your resume is weird and subjective.

      1. Anonymous*

        I’m just responding to saying you don’t know where it’s coming from? That is why – employers care about it. It might not be effective to say it on a resume, but if lots of people do it it’s almost by definition not weird.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I think of it as weird as putting “professional appearance” or “punctual” on your resume. Employers might require/ask for it, but it doesn’t go on your resume because it’s so basic and silly.

          1. Anonymous*

            Do 50% of recent grads do put “punctual” or “professional appearance” on their resumes?

          2. ella*

            If I’ve gotten praise for my independence/group work on performance evaluations (or for my punctuality, I suppose), would that make it any more appropriate to mention it on my resume or cover letter?

            1. LBK*

              I think it would have to be written more specifically than that – was there a large group project you had a particularly notable part in? Did you serve as the department’s glue, getting people who had tunnel vision for their own tasks to start working together and focusing on the big picture? Did you emerge as a peer leader in the group, being trusted to make decisions that impacted the ultimate outcome of your work? There are a lot of ways “works well in groups” could be intepreted, and each of those examples I gave would tell me something different about you.

            2. Joey*

              Unless it was some extreme circumstance, no. That would be like bragging that you made it to class everyday.

              1. Andrew*

                Although I don’t put stuff like that on my resume, I can understand the motivation for people to put it on and for the advice to include it, since so many companies use programs to screen resumes based on the words used. Basically, it just comes down to one of the main principles of good writing: Show, don’t tell.

              2. Mike C.*

                I always make sure to point out my skills at maintaining homeostasis on my resume. Employers want a warm body, not a cold one!

          3. Stephanie Harman*

            Dear Sir/Madam

            I would appreciate some clarification please>

            Are you saying, we should put either, one thing or the other i.e. ‘team player’ or, on reference at all?

            In anticipation of your reply, I appreciate you help

            Kind regards

  2. Sophie*

    I see that it can be naive/an obvious and basic skill to include, but what about all the job postings that list work well independently and in groups as a requirement of the position or a qualification of the candidate?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Those job postings are being ridiculous and just throwing in buzz words they’ve seen elsewhere, but it’s still not an argument for including it on your resume. I mean, some job postings say that you must have a professional appearance, but you wouldn’t put that on your resume.

      1. SevenSixOne*

        I think this is because plenty of How To Get A Job guides (that aren’t yours) include advice to mirror the language in the posting to increase your chances of getting a callback or to prevent getting lost in the mythical applicant tracking system abyss.

      2. Azulao*

        Um, I put it in a recent job announcement because I’ve had to deal with people who don’t work well with teams. So, I’m not throwing in buzzwords, I’m expressing a serious need.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          But very, very few people think “I work terribly in teams!” (even when they do). It would probably get you better results if you talk specifically about what they need to accomplish in teams and what skills you’re looking for in that regard. Just “works well in teams” doesn’t convey a lot, especially since the term is so over-used now, which has drained it of much of its meaning.

          1. Ruffingit*

            It would help a lot if ads were more specific in many areas, this being one of them. If you want people who work well in teams, what do you mean exactly? That they are able to divide work well, that they don’t snatch other people’s work and do it for them, that they lead the group? What exactly does it mean? I’d appreciate specificity in ads and I know others would too.

            1. LBK*

              This, exactly! “Working in a group” is so meaningless – is that just my day to day work on a team of coworkers? Working with clients where I may be interacting with 10-15 different people at their company? Working on cross-department projects where the work is split up depending on job function? Frequent large meetings where we’re expected to come up with a final decision based on feedback from all attendants? There are so many ways this could be intepreted and you may be good at one and not good at others.

            2. jmkenrick*

              This is such a good point.

              I’ve worked in teams for a variety of things, and there’s a huge difference between working in the team in which everyone has a common goal, versus a team, where all have slightly differing focuses, which can sometimes conflict (ie: budget vs. timeline vs. QA) and you have to align those visions….versus sales teams, when the common goal was to sell the product, but the individual goal is to maximize sales for yourself. The list goes on, I’m sure.

              There are definitely great candidates who would shine in one of those capacities, and not do as well in other areas.

          2. Azulao*

            What *I* mean is: show up when the group is meeting, be nice to your group members behind their backs as well as to their faces, do your agreed upon part *and* follow up to see if other people need help with their parts, suggest ideas but then don’t get mad if they aren’t taken up and when they are taken up be ready to do the lifting, and when things go wrong, don’t duck.

            1. LAI*

              I feel like this behavior isn’t specifically about “working with groups”. This is just being a decent co-worker. And you shouldn’t have to spell these things out on a job posting because they should be automatically expected. Who doesn’t expect their employees to show up when the group is meeting, be nice to group members, and do their agreed upon part? Maybe I could see someone needing some guidance or a reminder on the following up part, but you should just have to tell them once. And you shouldn’t need to put “follow directions” or “do what you’re told to do” on a job description either.

              1. Anon2*

                I don’t know… I feel like there are a lot of “unspoken” expectations that we actually talk about quite a lot, and yet don’t really follow through in practice. For instance, people talk up and down about how showing up on time is an “unspoken rule” even as they are complaining about the numbers of employees and coworkers who don’t follow it. Perhaps these things are not as universally understood or agreed upon as we all think. Now, that doesn’t mean it’s valuable to an employer to see a subjective statement on a resume, but it does mean that employers are justified in specifically asking for those qualities. But, if an applicant has some objective way of demonstrating those qualities in a resume or cover letter, such as mentioning that they receive unsolicited praise for a perfect attendance record, that should really count for something with a potential employer. All you have to do is take a good look around at the world to see that those qualities cannot be taken as a given.

        2. LBK*

          How many jobs are there that don’t require working in groups, though? And who’s going to say they aren’t good at it? This information is going to be more accurate coming from a reference or being gauged in an interview. Putting that they work well in groups on their resume/cover letter basically just tells you they read the job posting, it doesn’t mean they actually do that.

  3. Queen Victoria*

    It was listed as a requirement in a job I applied to recently, and I was also asked if I work well independently and in groups in an interview several weeks ago. I agree that it’s a really trite cliche that shouldn’t even be a talking point though.

  4. Ask a Manager* Post author

    I’m going to copy and paste a comment I made on this post when it was originally published:

    Job postings ask for plenty of things that are subjective — excellent writing, diplomacy, initiative, etc. But you don’t just write a cover letter asserting that you have those things. If you want to address them, you demonstrate them — good writing through writing a great cover letter, diplomacy and initiative through citing an achievement that demonstrates those, and so forth. But you don’t just say “I have initiative,” just like you shouldn’t announce “I work well independently and in groups.” If you want to address those, you demonstrate them. (Or at least you do if you’re going to be a strong candidate.)

    1. Legal jobs*

      We don’t have the space to demonstrate everything in a one page cover letter, especially with job ads that expect a laundry list of qualifications even with entry level professional positions. I was ince told “you didn’t mentiion that skill” althiugh i demonstrated it (“collaborated with sales team to devrlop and negotiate contracts that produce new revenue of x amount”). I think the problem is an unrealistic hiring prucess for those not coming with referrals. I don’t think there is much that can be done to meet the conflicting view points unless one has an insude knowledge of what is actually being sought. By hiring managers.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        In most cases, the expectation is not that you will address every single thing in your cover letter. Your resume should address the most significant pieces, and your cover letter should flesh yourself out from there. But if they list 20 qualifications, you don’t need to mention all 20 — just the most significant ones. No good hiring manager will expect otherwise — and yes there are bad ones out there, but you will turn off the good ones in the process of trying to please the bad ones.

      2. Underemployed*

        I believe this 100% and it’s why I’ve put things on my resume I really didn’t want to. I’m sure it hurt me, but I also was asked by someone why I didn’t apply for a position at their company. I told them I did, weeks earlier. My ‘show, don’t tell’ resume meant the HR software rejected my resume for not having the exact words right.

        By the time you fill up a resume with all of the nonsense from a job description to avoid being rejected, there’s not much room to show and expound on them.

    2. Adjunction*

      It may make you feel better Alison to know that I just taught my beginning college students a module on resumes/cover letters/interviewing skills wherein I said “Do not state that you have attributes. PROVE IT. If you say you have initiative, discuss the things you’ve done at work that prove that.”

      I also told them not to follow-up on their application materials aka hassling hiring managers. I specifically used the phrase “mentally move on.”

      So, some of us are trying to deflect the horrid advice people are getting from career counselors and centers in school.

      1. Legal jobs*

        I think there are more bad than good hiring managers for lawyers, so it could be because lawyers are their own special set of problems when it comes to job searching rather than I am describing a generalized problem.

        Non-lawyer hiring managers typically don’t understand what to seek in hiring lawyers (so they really are focused on are you a team player bc of what they genericaliy believe about lawyers) while lawyer managers are too focused on the prestige of how you acquired the skills (Were you at Skadden Arps when you were negotiating those outsourcing agreements? No? Then I don’t see how that experience is counts)

        1. Adjunction*

          The class is very interesting, it’s like a live version of your blog actually because the questions they ask are much like the ones you receive here: “OK, so my mom is telling me to call the hiring manager every single day to make sure they know I’m interested…” and “I did not get along with my previous boss at all and he fired me after we had a screaming match in the hallway one day. How do I explain that to my next employer?”

          We’ve had some great discussions and I’ve been able to help them understand how to handle these situations and why everything they are hearing from parents/career center/etc. is totally wrong. I credit your blog with helping me be able to help them!

    3. Lisa McS*

      This 1000%.

      We’re looking for a media relations person right now, and one of the things mentioned in the ad is ‘demonstrated excellent verbal and written skills’ and specifically requests a cover letter. It also mentions exactly who to address the materials to.

      I’ll tell you that my screener is very glad to be able to quickly say “no” to everyone who writes a two sentence ‘cover letter’ and/or addresses it to Hiring Manager’. (She is also weeping blood over the fact that very few of the candidates understand what a cover letter is for, but that’s another issue).

  5. Kerr*

    Job ads? I’ve seen so many that use this language, and I’ve been asked about it in at least one interview. (“Do you enjoy working more independently or as part of a team?”) If I were trying to hit all the points in a job ad and didn’t know better, I’d be putting it in my cover letters or resume.

    It would be nice if professors bothered to teach teamwork skills when they assign group projects, but that’s a topic for another day.

      1. Lora*

        Heh. I ask which role in the team the new grads were in their team projects. The “right” answer is “I was the one who did 80% of the work ahead of time and reminded everyone else to do their share and included their terrible half-baked nonsense that they emailed me at 3am the day it was due.” There are other good answers, but that one is my favorite. Means they can work independently, have a good work ethic, are driven to do a good job independent of other things, realize that life is not fair, make efforts to be inclusive of other team members even when they were being difficult, etc.

        Oh, you were an “ideas person”? You were the “leader who directed the others to do the work”? Hmm, that’s not at all interesting.

        1. majigail*

          Let’s be honest, I think we all want that person working for us. The “team” person not the idea person. I’m the idea person, I don’t need another.

        2. Anonymous*

          I had a number of group projects in grad school, and if I had to talk about them in an interview I’d pick the one in which I played a role that could relate to the job in question. In one played a role in design/presentation/file management. In another I was the lead on a certain type of content and research.

          I’d treat answering it the same way as answering any question – look for a true, non-cliched opportunity to highlight accomplishments or ability that relates to the position I’d applying for.

        3. Clever Name*

          Heh. That was certainly me. I hated group projects in school since I usually ended up doing all the work. One project was so bad because 2 of the members didn’t do a thing. Didn’t show up at the get-together, didn’t get me the materials they were supposed to, etc. so I did all their work too. I actually told the professor that person x and person y did nothing and I did their part. I’ll be damned if they were going to get an A on something they didn’t take part in.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              Same experience here. We ended up getting an A minus on the project because only one group could get an A.
              Neato. sigh.

              We had two individuals that could not be bothered to show up for the group meetings, nor check the work online. Thank goodness for the online work. This allowed the prof to track who was logging in and who wasn’t.
              He said he was going to adjust the A minus accordingly. No way to know if he ever did that.

              I was grateful for the A minus at the end of it all. It was the best I could get out of the situation. I felt it was wildly unfair to pull my grade down because I had no control over what others did. The prof felt we should have had more control over the group. I wanted to ask him how that was working for him in his own life- but I kept my mouth shut. Reality is that some times the best you can do is make lemonade.

          1. KC*

            Yeah… this was me in college too. I HATED group projects because my GPA was important to me, even if it wasn’t important to the rest of my group. Fortunately, professors included peer evaluations in addition to their own evaluations of the result, in which I was VERY honest. I’m with you–if you didn’t attend any of our group meetings, do your portion of the project, etc., I’m not sharing the group’s success with you.

            1. Anx*

              It’s terrible.

              My GPA wasn’t as important to me as my work at the time, and I hated others in my group were waiting on me and had a difficult time working around my schedule. I never wanted credit for something I didn’t do, but my life did not revolve a single assignment like theirs did. It wasn’t fair for anybody.

              I let them know ahead of time though, and tried to find ways to contribute that suited my strengths.

          2. Cath@VWXYNot?*

            Ugh, yes, this. In my degree programme, everyone took the same courses for the first two years (British system, much more focus on *just* the major and literally nothing else, no mixing and matching allowed). EVERY professor split us into groups of four alphabetically, using the exact same class list, so I got the same three people – one good, one lazy, one perpetual no-show – for every. single. project. The two of us did 80% of the work each time. Luckily, some of the profs actually realized and started telling us we could just skip the useless group members’ sections and they’d grade us just on our own contributions.

        4. Anonymous*

          I would never hire somebody who said that they always did all the work in group projects at school. That’s the person who thinks that everybody else is an idiot, with huge control issues.

          1. JMegan*

            I don’t know about that. I’ve certainly been in groups where I ended up doing most of the work, not because I am a control freak, but because I cared *justthismuch* more than anyone else in the group, who didn’t care at all. Set the bar low. :)

            My hesitation about this answer is that it’s along the lines of “I’m a perfectionist” when asked about your worst quality. Because it’s so obviously the “right” answer, I feel like anyone with half a brain is going to say it, whether or not it’s true. Why would you *not* tell your interviewer that you were the person who did the lion’s share of the work and kept everybody else on track?

            1. jmkenrick*

              Playing Devil’s Advocate, I do remember a high school project where we started our first group meeting to find that one person had already decided how to divvy up the tasks and accomplished a bunch of the work.

              I think this might be the types of person Anon is thinking of?

              She may have accomplished a lot, but it doesn’t exactly speak well to her teamwork skills. (Or frankly, her time management skills, since you really should wait to see if people are going to slack off before you start picking up their slack, lest you wind up with an inordinate to-do list and no one to blame but yourself.)

              1. Artemesia*

                I once had a student arrive in a graduate class who had already developed a logo for her team, a team name, and a plan for the focus of the team project. At the end of the project before the class presentation, she produced a 60 page document to pass out to the class.

                I am thinking ‘works well with others’ doesn’t cover it well.

            2. Dr. Speakeasy*

              In my experiences with assigning group work – having a time or two where a person is the one who does all of the work happens. Being the person who ALWAYS ends up doing the work is often a reflection of that person not giving their team members a fair shake.

          2. Samantha*

            Not really. Sometimes it just means the other group members don’t really care about the grade they get, so it falls on the shoulders of the person who does care to get the work done. In group situations I was never the one to immediately speak up and put forth my ideas or try to tell others what to do. But if it became clear no one else was going to step forward and the project wasn’t going to get done well, I’d step in because I cared about my work and my grades.

          3. Tinker*

            Don’t know if I’d necessarily go that far, but I think this is a good point. The thing of “always the one who does allllll the work” kind of smells to me a little of “martyr? likes to throw their buddy under the bus? or just unlucky?” I’ve got one group work experience that I still use as my answer to the “example of a problem on a team” question, and even that one I don’t describe that way — it was more “We all mostly got along and cranked out the work, but one of our team members behaved in such a way that he was kicked out of class halfway through the first semester and the dean got involved, and blah blah valuable lesson in keeping focused on the project through all that.”

            That being said, after high school my experience with group work is not typical — we had a very strong ethic of mutual support generally, so group projects ended up mostly being just an extension of that existing expectation.

          4. Ann Furthermore*

            No, I have to disagree with that. I did a group project in grad school — which annoyed me right off because I was enrolled in an online program so thought the dreaded group projects would not be part of the program. Wrong!

            Anyway, the project was for an International Business class, and we had to do a group paper on a start-up venture in another country. My company had just recently opened an office in Dubai, so I suggested using that. Everyone thought that was a great idea.

            It was a 3 person group, and 1 person dropped the class. The professor didn’t want to pull someone out of another group, because we were already 2 weeks into the 8 week class. So then it was just one other guy and me. He agreed to continue with the original idea about using Dubai, and we divvied up the work between us. He said that he wasn’t that great with Word, so I told him to email me his portion of the paper and I’d combine his stuff with mine into one document, and turn it in.

            When I got his part of the project, and read through what he had written, I was embarrassed on his behalf. Not only was it not graduate school level writing, I’m not even sure it was up to high school standards. Poor grammar, misspelled words, run-on sentences, sentence fragments, you name it. I was appalled.

            I refused to turn in anything like that with my name on it, so I spent the weekend before the paper was due re-writing his portion of the paper and combining it with what I’d already done. His research was pretty solid, but his writing skills were appallingly bad, and I did not want there to be even a chance that his work would be mistaken for mine, and impact my grade.

            So yeah, maybe a bit control freakish, I was not about to put my name on something that read like it was written by a 5th grader who has not been paying attention in their English class.

            1. Ann Furthermore*

              On the other hand, the last class in the program was basically one big group project, and that worked out really well. Everyone had their different strengths. We talked during the first week of class to figure out who would be responsible for what, and then had calls twice a week to make sure everyone was staying on track, or to find out who needed help with something.

              Everything moved along smoothly and got turned in on time. And I got an A.

            2. Tinker*

              It’s interesting, I was just commenting to a friend of mine that most of the earlier group projects I did in college, at least half the team members couldn’t write their way out of a paper bag. They’d do their part of the work and write what amounted to a draft of their section, then I (sometimes with someone else) would “put the parts together” by way of adding little bits here and there like punctuation and untangling the horrific abomination they’d created with their document styles.

              To a degree, I could take that and say that I essentially wrote the entire final paper, which is more or less true, and give the impression that I was the shining star of the team, which is not strictly untrue. But I considered the fact that I’d end up dealing a lot with the writing component of the project to be more of a benefit that I brought to the team and less of a detriment on the part of the other people. My approach was not one of keeping terribly strict score.

              I think it’s an important skill to be able to work in an environment where differences between people arise and still be able to focus on the overall direction of the team, and it seems like the “consistently was the only adequately contributing member” narrative raises questions about that ability.

              1. Ann Furthermore*

                Well, there’s a difference between pulling something together, and having to start all over again. Like I said, the guy’s raw research was pretty good, but the writing was so bad that there truly was nothing salvageable, and I was not willing to have my name anywhere on it.

                In other group projects, everybody wrote their part and then someone put it together. Sure, sometimes there were stylistic differences, and maybe I thought there were things that could have been written more eloquently or concisely, but I didn’t nitpick that and insist that my writing style was the only acceptable alternative, or the best way to go.

                In this particular case though, I truly did wonder how this guy had managed to get himself an undergraduate degree.

                1. Tinker*

                  Heh, I think I was a bit too delicate when I described the situation. In my case, while I guess one could go back and forth about whether it constituted “starting all over”, there was not a lot of usable text. The person had done their part of the research, but when they sat down to write it… well, bless their heart, poor dear, it was of amazingly horrible quantity.

                  Hence I would say “Oh, I will take these parts and lead the process of putting it together… and, ehrm, making some revisions so that the style isn’t too inconsistent” — by which I meant, make it so that it isn’t the case that parts two and four of the report suddenly take a dive into “barely comprehensible and written in ten-point navy blue font for some bizarre reason” and throw in a lot of pictures for part four so it’s not obviously much shorter than everything else.

                  How one deals with that probably does depend on the exact nature of the project — in these cases, the underlying work behind the report wasn’t necessarily to be sneezed at — but it still felt like I had a choice there to give my group members the benefit of the doubt or not, and I think there’s sometimes something to be said for picking the former option.

          5. Cat*

            I think it depends. If they’re talking about high school, sure – most high school kids are slackers (though if we’re talking about someone who has some years of post-high school experience, I no longer really care if they were a slacker in high school or not, but then I also wouldn’t be asking them about high school group projects). If they’re talking about college or grad school, I would be surprised since most colleges and grad schools I’ve had experience with have more motivated students. But that’s not universal, I’m sure.

        5. Chriama*

          However, I think the people who did all that work will be more diplomatic in their answers that people who didn’t. They’ll try not to badmouth their group members and might end up seeming a little less hardworking as a result.

        6. Leah*

          If I heard a response like that, it would raise a concern that the person could not actually work well in a team. I worked with someone on a semester-long group project who routinely did things assigned to other people well before they were scheduled to be done and didn’t do them well. We tried to talk to her but to no avail. One of the team members had a laid-back personality but always did what he needed to do and the rest of us were pretty intense about our work. We had no idea why she did it. If we had turned it what she had done, we would have failed so the rest of the team also did the project parallel to her.

          A year or two later, I was talking to a mutual friend of ours and it turned out this person had complained her team was “lazy and ungrateful”.

    1. Anonymous*

      I have no idea why they ask that at interviews (Alison, any wisdom?). I mean, what job these days don’t include both? Sure there are jobs that are more collaborative and some that are more independent, but it’s not one or the other.

      Unless the correct answer is “I can’t imagine a job that doesn’t have both, but I prefer independent with checkins every week because I don’t like my thoughts interrupted/I prefer mostly collaboratives where we’re in whiteboard discussions every three hours/etc.”

      1. John*

        Can’t answer why an interviewer would ask but will point out that HR has a strong hand in job descriptions used for ads.

        At our company, they want to use consistent language, so the descriptions often don’t line up very well with the actual positions.

        So it’s likely someone in HR recruiter and not the hiring manager who adds in this crap.

        1. Joey*

          Next time they do that ask why the language needs to be so consistent. And why can’t you just stay within the parameters of the job functions, but just more accurately describe the work. That’s still consistent with their intentions, but helps attract better candidates at the same time
          Their brains will probably freeze up. :-)

  6. Bryan*

    I saw someone I know who had just graduated and was applying for jobs post that they didn’t know how many time they could write eager to please. Can you imagine getting a cover letter from someone who said they were eager to please? I cringed so hard I was worried my face would stay like that.

    1. Meghan*

      I’ve received multiple cover letters where the applicant said they would “relish the opportunity.” That word in that context puts me off so much – the job is not a hot dog!

    2. Ruffingit*

      Eager to please? Are they applying for the position of golden retriever? That is really very, very bad wording.

      1. LBK*

        That is literally the exact same image I had when reading that phrase. Not just a dog, specifically a golden retriever. Weird!

  7. Anonsie*

    I remember being explicitly told to do this as a teenager, yeah.

    I want to imagine teenagers nowadays get better advice, because I sometimes choose to live in a world where everything is in order and all the problems of my youth have been wiped away by the scrutiny of time.

      1. Anonsie*

        I sometimes think I’ve got it, and I think I can really tell young people the things that I wish I’d known or been told before, and I think I can really help people.

        Then I remember that when I was younger none of that stuff stuck because it had no context to adhere to, and you only ever learn by experience anyway.

  8. Em*

    It’s like in a dating profile when someone says “I like going out, but I also like staying in.” Well, I would hope so – otherwise does that amke you a party animal or a homebody!? I think it should go without saying.

      1. some1*

        About 12 years ago my then-roommate and I were at a bar and this much older man (could easily have been either of our dads) came up to us & said, “So do you girls like rock music?”

    1. Anon-ish*

      Reminds me of the “I have hair and personal qualities” comment from a few weeks back.

    2. jmkenrick*

      Dating profiles are the worst offenders at this, and other generic stuff. I think it’s the same logic as job searching.

      You want to be open and appealing to everyone, but in reality, you’re probably better off being explicit about what makes you DIFFERENT than other people – that way, the ones who don’t like you will self-select out early in the process and you don’t have to waste energy going on dates with them.

      1. Eden*

        This is why, when I had an online dating profile, it listed things I didn’t like and wasn’t good at. Met my husband like this, so it wasn’t completely a bad approach. He doesn’t like rollercoasters either :-)

    3. Yup*

      To me it’s like the inane sports commentary that’s presented as thoughtful analysis: “Steve, what do you think they should strive for on the field today?” “Well, Joe, I really think they need to get out there and score more goals than the opposing team.”

      1. Kai*

        HAHAHA yes! And afterwards, “what do you think went wrong out there?” “Well, we played a good game and gave it our all, but the other guys played really well, too.” Zzzz……

      2. Mints*

        Ha! One time, during the world’s strongest man competition (Mr. Mints likes every obscure sporting competition) the commentator said “Wow, he is really strong”
        I just, what …

      3. Stephanie*

        Richard Sherman sounded kind of nuts, but I was really glad for once to hear something else in a post-game interview aside from “We played really hard and won. I thank God for our conference win.”

    4. Cath@VWXYNot?*

      I wish I could remember where I got this from, but it’s great advice for both CVs and dating profiles:

      “don’t say that your interests include reading and walking. Everyone reads, and everyone walks. You may as well say you like breathing and farting”.

    5. Stephanie*

      Roommate/housing ads are terrible about this as well. I felt like I was reading the same roommate wanted ad repeatedly without getting any real insight into a potential roommate’s personality or living style. Based on Craigslist ads, I’m convinced 70% of DC residents enjoy yoga and reading.

      “I’m clean in shared spaces, but not a neat freak.” Sooo, what does that mean? Define your level of clean.

      When I was trying to fill my roommate’s room, I found I got way better responses when my ad was specific and honest.

  9. LN*

    Psh! They’re just reflecting the originality of hiring managers who love to put vague and buzz-wordy skills in the job description! Oh, do you want someone with “attention to detail” who “has 3-5 years of experience”? How original!

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Well, wait, those two examples seem like reasonable things to include in painting a picture of the ideal candidate. (“Attention to detail” isn’t that helpful because everyone thinks they have it even when they don’t, but it’s not crazy to include.)

      1. Del*

        Honestly, I tend to find “attention to detail” really redundant as a descriptor — what job doesn’t require it? It gives me zero information about what the job actually involves.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I agree. It’s far more helpful to explain how it’s going to be used — like “we need someone who can catch the tiniest errors in 70-page research reports, down to a missing comma” or whatever the case is.

            1. ArtsNerd*

              Whereas I would not be good at something THAT detail-oriented, and would self-select out. But a generic “attention to detail” phrase? I’d be all “oh yeah, I’m all about the nice little details” because I care about executing my projects well.

              They just tend to be more of the “take all of these 70-page research reports and distill them into final, compelling marketing materials by Thursday” variety. So sometimes there’s a typo.

        2. the gold digger*

          I think it’s useful. To me, “attention to detail” indicates a job where there is going to be a lot of tiny, picky stuff, like preparing financial presentations that get changed a million times because the numbers change and you have to go back again and again to make sure everything ticks and ties.

          I don’t want that job. I am horrible at that kind of thing. It takes me five times as long as someone who loves detail to do it. I would rather do work that doesn’t rely on compliance and perfection, like marketing plans and and process improvement strategies.

          1. LBK*

            The problem is that a lot of jobs that say they need “attention to detail” don’t require nearly this level of precision, so you’ll end up getting candidates who aren’t expecting it. Being more specific – “Must be able to accurately revise large, high-profile reports and documents based on frequently changing financial data” – would get you better results. It indicates that the person doing the job will be under a lot of pressure/scrutiny (“high-profile”) and makes it more obvious that the person will mostly be working with numbers (which some people specifically have trouble with, but they might be really good at catching grammatical errors).

            1. Del*

              Exactly! There are so many different kinds of fine detail out there, and picking them out often requires very different strengths and skillsets. I work in disputes, so I need to be able to sort through pages of a complaint — which might be very ungrammatical, might be handwritten and almost impossible to read, etc etc — and pull out the vital core details. That’s very different from checking someone’s bookkeeping.

            2. Anon-ish*

              Amen. I’m awesome at grammatical proofing and I can tell you if a design element needs to be moved a sixteenth of an inch to the left, but I’m borderline dyslexic with numbers.

              1. LBK*

                Exactly! I actually am dyslexic with certain numbers – I have trouble distinguishing 1, 4 and 7 so I wouldn’t trust myself to be auditing spreadsheets, but I could proofread documents all day long.

              2. Kelly L.*

                And I can grammar all day too, but I’m not…aesthetic. I won’t necessarily use the exact pretty font someone was imagining in their heads. I used to work with artists and while I can appreciate art when I look at it, I’m not fundamentally a designer and I just don’t see the world through design goggles.

            3. jmkenrick*

              This. That phrase is really overused, and ignores the fact that no one really has “attention to detail” in every possible category.

  10. Jessie*

    That phrase brought me way back to my recent college grad days! In light of that “work well independently as well as in groups,” I am often asked that question at job interviews – for mid-level project management jobs. So tell me, “Do you work best independently or in groups?” – In project management you have to work well in BOTH situations. It is SO ANNOYING.

    1. Elysian*

      When I applied at Blockbuster they gave me a personality quiz trying to figure out whether I worked better independently or in groups. It was clear what they were getting at, but I still don’t know what the ‘right’ answer was.

      1. jmkenrick*

        We gave those as well when I worked at Borders. I think they mostly test for consistency in the answers.

        1. Anx*

          I kept failing those personality tests.

          I think it’s because a lot of questions were similar, but slightly different. I actually saw them as differently nuanced questions and answered them specifically. I wonder if this is why I have a shitty personality and can’t work in retail according to those tests…

  11. Emmy*

    What if you’re actually known for working really well with other people and in groups with all sorts of dynamics? My boss recently mentioned my diplomacy, social skills and genuine interest in getting to know others to work better with them in my review. Should I just write all that out?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yeah, you’d demonstrate those skills (and can mention that your manager commended you for them), but you wouldn’t just assert that you have them.

  12. Erin*

    I removed such statements from my CV and cover letter.
    Now I constantly get asked about it in interviews. Go figure.

  13. Artemesia*

    The thing is, plenty of people don’t work well in groups. So the question I guess is, how to as a beginner make the point that you have good skills here? For new graduates who have led complex group projects in classes, or managed service projects or otherwise have some demonstrable experiences with teamwork, leadership etc, I think it is important to let people know that, perhaps in the resume or cover letter that references those kinds of experiences. I would want to see this kind of evidence and it would distinguish a candidate from the usual college grad applicant.

    Most college grads have been writing papers that no one reads, and learning to reproduce whatever the professor demands. Some programs are much more hands on, involve students in community based projects, or work in teams to produce simulated work products e.g. write proposals, develop training programs, prepare policy memos, write press releases etc etc and I want to interview people who have done this sort of thing.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The way to demonstrate those skills is to talk about work you did that demonstrates them, not just to announce “I have these skills!”

      1. Artemesia*

        Exactly. But that is pretty much true of anything about expressing competence in the job search. More people don’t than do work well in groups, have good self discipline in meeting deadlines, pay attention to detail, take initiative or demonstrate leadership. Yeah, but don’t say it — show it.

  14. Anonymous*

    I’m reviewing summer intern resumes today… someone put under skills: “Third Generation Student at X College.”

    What kind of skill is that, exactly?

    1. Confuzzled*

      lmao what?! I don’t know why this is so hilarious to me, but it is. Great skill in keeping on the tradition lol

    2. A Bug!*

      I can think of a handful of ways that the applicant might have gotten the idea that it’s noteworthy to be a third-generation student of a given college. None of them validate the idea or the decision to put it under “skills,” mind you, and a couple of them actually go past “naive” and into “questionable and concerning.”

      If you end up interviewing this applicant, I beg you to find out what he or she means by that and then share in an open thread some time!

      1. Lucy*

        I certainly will! I get the impression (her resume has other questionable features) that she’s the type of person to think that graduating from a certain private college will get life handed to her.

    3. Artemesia*

      That is the ‘do you KNOW who I am’ skill that does so much towards making sure the right kind of people have the best internships and the best shot the few jobs that make you filthy rich.

  15. Rayner*

    Gonna break your heart, Alison, but all the way through school careers meetings and CV/application lessons, we were taught to put this kind of thing.

    “I can work well in groups. I am punctual and I have good time keeping skills.” (I don’t, I am not, I don’t.)

    I think it’s because many kids really don’t have much at all to flesh out their resume at all so people teach kids this as ‘filler’ . When you’re 15, you don’t have much work experience and a resume with just your scholastic career looks ridiculous. But unfortunately, when kids grow up into adults looking for work, they don’t think to remove it, and then it sticks.

    Sorry. D:

    1. Mena*

      But just because you were taught it by out-of-touch educators doesn’t mean it is right or a good idea. A hiring manager is telling you that it isn’t helpful – that means it isn’t helpful and should be avoided. “Just because someone told me” isn’t a reason to continue.

      1. Rayner*

        No, but for kids who don’t know any different, and who haven’t been taught properly or through life experiences to change anything, it seems right to them. It’s logical to talk about but not on your CV or cover letter. Rather it should be in interview that you talk about it.

        I meant with my comment to imply that it is of course wrong but these people saying it may not know any better, so they keep on doing it.

  16. Confuzzled*

    Sigh, college career centers. Mine actually advises you use a paragraph format on resumes rather than bullet point, in addition to having a brief summary of every job. Why aren’t these places extinct?! or at least upgraded and revamped?

    1. College Career Counselor*

      Holy crap. I’m sorry to hear that, Confuzzled. You have my sympathies.

      1. Confuzzled*

        Thanks! I have faith you aren’t steering your students in the wrong direction lol. There is hope!

    2. Audiophile*

      I had someone suggest that to me. Then an HR person took a look and immediately said scrap that.

    3. Emily K*

      I’ve actually had success using the “brief summary of each job” tactic. For each professional job I just included about 2 sentences, below the title/dates and above the bulleted list of accomplishments, that was a summary of what I’d done in the role:

      For instance:
      “Transformed a lackluster sales strategy that relied on a small number of large deals into a diverse clientele with 25% of overall sales made to small businesses. Streamlined practices to increase sales in scope and volume using existing resources. “Greened” sales department by eliminating unnecessary paper mailings.”

      Then my bullet points follow with the specific accomplishments that, taken together, created the summary accomplishments above. Like:
      -Created new online catalog and sales portal, which now accounts for X% of annual revenue;
      -Designed and implemented email marketing program, which now accounts for X% of annual revenue;
      -Increased paid subscriptions by 254% in first year.

      And so forth. The bullets were concrete, specific duties and accomplishments. The summary above the bullets was the “so what?” What impact did I have on my department and what will I be remembered for doing while I was there? My former coworkers won’t remember the details of my tasks and the stats on how things did, but they’ll remember that I diversified our clientele, that I got us to stop wasting paper without sacrificing customer satisfaction, and that I grew our sales without increasing the marketing budget.

    4. Tina*

      I swear, not all College Career Centers are the root of all evil job search advice! AAM is the only blog (of any kind) that I read religiously, and I’m always relieved whenever I realize that my advice and opinions align pretty well with Alison’s.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Ditto here. Once I found this blog I stopped cruising the internet for advice. One stop here is all I need.

    5. Laura*

      It’s not just them, sadly. One of my friends who was recently laid off has been collecting unemployment and attending the “career center” type classes their area “recommends” for those on unemployment (pretty heavily recommends: it was hinted, albeit inaccurately as she later learned, that failure to attend could jeopardize her payments).

      Which, among other things, has meant recommendations regarding personal branding, this sort of thing, etc.

      1. Ali*

        I had to go to one of those when I was unemployment too. They mostly taught us how to use their system to upload our profiles and look for jobs, some of which were posted in other places anyway. I could’ve done this from home and not had to waste an hour or so, plus the money on bus fare. So annoying! When I got my next job, it was from applying to an internship on a job board for my industry, then getting a job from that once the three-month interning period was up. I didn’t even need the unemployment office’s help!

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I don’t know if it is better in other areas, but here the unemployment office is uhhh… not well respected as a job source. And employment counselors need to get modern.

    6. Bryan*

      I wonder what it’s like applying for a job in a college career center. Do you have to drop off your resume in person so they’ll be impressed with how outgoing you are and interview you on the spot?

      1. Tina*

        Ha, not a chance! Our office would find it just as inappropriate as most employers if someone just showed up out of the blue wanting to drop off their resume, much less be interviewed. That’s not “outgoing,” that’s disrespectful of people’s time and thinking you’re too good to go through the designated channels.

    7. Artemesia*

      I worked in a college program once which had a great record of their undergraduate graduates getting good jobs, often rising quickly to second or third level positions from their initial entry level jobs. We prepared them not only intellectually but with very strong group skills, analytic tools, and projects that provided some hands on experiences in business or community (as well as lots of simulated experiences). We found the college career and placement office to be worse than useless. It sucked up a lot of money and simply misadvised. We had to essentially provide the guidance a career office should provide. Part of that was how to showcase the skills and experience you have although you are a new college grad.

  17. Anon Accountant*

    We were told by our college professors to put it on a resume and that not everyone works well independently and in groups. Plus our career center told us the same thing.

    Only 1 career counselor from the center would say to avoid putting that on a resume or cover letter.

    1. fposte*

      Maybe in accounting it’s different, but in most areas, undergrad college professors aren’t likely to be looking at general population resumes or trying to be hired among them.

      The problem is that you don’t have to work well independently and in groups to say you work well independently and in groups. You could equally say you’re a genius with superpowers, and I’d have just as much sense of the truth of the thing from the assertion.

  18. Audiophile*

    So… I should probably remove that paragraph from my cover letter where I mention how my positions required “attention to detail, multitasking and prioritizing, following procedures, etc. And that I’ve been praised by employees and supervisors for my work.”

    1. fposte*

      I’m guessing the quotes aren’t literal :-).

      It’s fine to say “My attention to detail has become so famous here that my boss brings gaping schoolchildren in to marvel as I reject infinitesimally inferior teapots”–that’s an illustration of your quality. What doesn’t tell me much is “My work at Retailco requires attention to detail.” What does detail mean to you–never mixing up pesticides and beverages, or spotting the single error in a 20-page spreadsheet? What were you praised for, and why and how? Are you unflappable? The one they turn to for creative solutions? Commended for your ability to work with anybody? The person who always knows where the stapler is? (Seriously, you could frame that in a way that would sell yourself pretty well.)

      Not that you have to turn it into a saga that covers every detail, but specific is good. There are two reasons: one, it’s supporting evidence that makes it less likely you’re saying it because you think I want to hear it, and two (which we don’t talk about so much), it’s narratively compelling.

  19. Adam*

    I know I had this on my resume at one point. Not sure if a college job center was the culprit, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Pretty sure I’ve been asked some variation of this question “Do you prefer to work independently or part of a team?” in every interview I’ve had or seen “must be able to work independently and/or part of a team” on most job postings as well.

  20. Cube Ninja*

    “I am highly skilled at tasks related to basic hygiene and understand that social grooming is generally not desirable while on the clock.”

  21. Cube Ninja*

    “I am highly skilled at tasks related to basic hygiene and understand that social grooming is generally not desirable while on the clock.”

    1. Ruffingit*

      LMAO! “I do not clip my nails at my desk and then use them to remove the spinach that is still stuck in my teeth from lunch.”

  22. James M*

    “Hello, I would like to apply for [job]. I am perfect for this job because I meet all of the requirements. I work well, both in dependantly and in groups. My average GPA grade was 3.8 among my best classes. I have excellent attention to derail. I will follow up to schedule an interview later today. Look forward to hiring me!
    Abe Fiction.”

    Just an informal poll for readers who hire: have you or have you not seen worse in an application? For everyone else, have a happy weekend!

    1. fposte*

      I haven’t, actually, but since my attention to derail is second to none, I don’t need any more help in that department.

    2. Artemesia*

      I served once on a committee to hire a very high level financial officer in a corporation. We screened all of the applications i.e. no one weeded out the clear misses. The clear misses were downright hilarious. There was the person who applied in a spiral of tiny tiny letters on a postcard. There were resumes on funky paper with odd fonts and their picture emblazoned on the front with XCorporations new Chief of Finance underneath. The thing that amazed me about that one was that this was a guy for whom the picture was not a selling point. I actually suspected we were part of a dissertation study with some resumes having a black candidate, some a female, some a handsome grey templed male and then this odd geek. And the number of candidates for other jobs I have hired for who had bizarro email handles or were otherwise weird is high. I am sure people hiring in positions that don’t require graduate degrees probably get even weirder stuff.

    3. So Very Anonymous*

      I worked at a museum dedicated to a famous president. I was one of the editors for a project publishing the president’s papers. We got a cover letter from someone–for the position parallel to mine–who spelled said president’s name incorrectly.

    4. Kathryn T.*

      The worst I ever heard about — I’ve mentioned it before here — was a candidate who listed “Birthed four children vaginally with no anaesthetic” under “Other Experience.” For a job in HR/Legal at a Fortune 500 company.

  23. Kev*

    “I don’t know where this trend is coming from…” Perhaps because interviewers and the automated job-screening tests all ask some variation of “do you work well better in a team or alone?” (At least, all the ones I’ve been to over the past few years have done so.)

    I agree, it should be a given, like “I show up on time.” Unfortunately, people still seem to use your answer for something…

    1. IronMaiden*

      I always get top ratings for attendance, punctuality and appearance in my performance appraisals. You mean I can’t use this?

  24. Laura*

    I think the “work well both independently and in groups” is on there because a whole lot of job ads, especially for entry level, list this as a requirement using those exact words, and people figure that because the employer felt it was worth putting in a job ad, then it’s worth mentioning you can do – at least those were my thoughts on it when I used to do it.

  25. Chris*

    Couple answers to this:
    (testing new posting style)

    a) Job Posting is vague as to responsibilities:

    Some jobs literally post a job, explain the culture, and then have their skill requirements be soft stuff(i.e. “be detail oriented”, “work well independently or in groups”). These types of job descriptions are difficult to tailor a resume to since the job requirements and skill set needed are unclear within the posting. Sometimes that’s all the info you have to work with. Which leads toL

    b) Uncertainty that Company X has filtering software:

    Unless you have inside info., there is no way to know which companies do and don’t have information filters. My suspicion is that every company that auto-converts resumes to .txt formats is highly likely to have one. However, some of those companies are guilty of crime (a). Looking at it from this angle:

    Option (i) You don’t tailor to stupid point and company doesn’t filter. Ideal scenario.

    Option (ii) You tailor to stupid point and company doesn’t filter. You look somewhat silly.

    Option (iii) You don’t tailor to stupid point and company filters. You lose. Good day sir.

    Option (iiii) You tailor to stupid point and company filters. You look silly, but at least someone is reading it.

    Judging from this, you ideally want all companies to align to option (i), but, if you don’t know the company does that, you risk having your resume get sent into Exdeath’s lovely void upon sending. The best option then is to tailor to the stupid point unless you know the company doesn’t filter for silly information.

    Of course, the real best option would be for the company to list hard skills (i.e. C++, using a skill saw) rather than soft fluff.

  26. Larry*

    Most of these posts read like a managers meeting in a “Me Too!” organization. Where the questioners either just want to hear their own voice or are terribly afraid they wont be noticed.
    Invariably when I’m called in to “turn around” a store I’m dumbfounded by the lack of ordinary skills at every manager level. Mostly I find store level promotions were given to people based on some perceived skill rather than anything real. It’s the same thing when hiring, If you DO NOT LIST A SKILL unfortunately some managers will assume you didn’t read the job posting.

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