Words thou shalt not use on thy LinkedIn profile - but then again...

By Neil Patrick

LinkedIn tells us there are certain words we shouldn't include in our profiles, but I disagree and here's why.

Linkedin sent me an email a few days ago informing me that I had used the word ‘strategic’ in my Linkedin profile and because many hundreds of thousands of others had too, I might want to remove it - especially since it was in their top 10 most overused buzzwords list.

I didn’t.

The reason I didn’t was that during my career, I’ve held executive board responsibility for strategic planning in three businesses - two of which were plcs. Rightly or wrongly I think this means I can and must use the word. How else could I describe it? Author of non-tactical business plans? Hah!

In fact I replied to Linkedin to explain to them why I thought they were wrong in making this recommendation to me. So far I've had no response.

Anyway, the whole notion that some words should be blacklisted through overuse seems nonsensical to me.

For the record, the top 10 must overused words according to Linkedin were:

1. Responsible

2. Strategic

3. Creative

4. Effective

5. Patient

6. Expert

7. Organizational

8. Driven

9. Innovative

10. Analytical

This got me thinking that typically it’s not the words themselves which are wrong but their application. There shouldn’t be a ‘blacklist’ of banned words which we cannot use just because loads of other people have abused or misappropriated them.

In my opinion, every single one of these words is absolutely fine provided we use them with thought, justification and most importantly, evidence.

Here’s my list of words I think we must be careful with, but not automatically reject, just because others misuse them. I also provide my thoughts as to why they are risky and how you should use them to ensure you don’t risk a backlash.


These are just tired and worn out buzzwords which make you look like you’ve given no thought to what you are really trying to communicate. Using them actually suggests you are lazy and unimaginative (unless you provide clear evidence that demonstrates why you are using them):

  • Passionate 
  • Driven 
  • Strategic 

For example, I think it's fine to say something like, ‘Author of strategic plan to take business into 14 new markets between 2010 and 2012, resulting in increased global market share of 32%.’


These words should be used with extreme caution. If others chose to apply them to you  (for example in their recommendations) that’s wonderful, but if you attribute them to yourself, you just sound like a bit of a jerk: 

  • Thought Leader 
  • Inspirational 
  • Innovative 

If you are lucky enough to have had anyone else actually write these words about you by all means include them, providing them in the form of a quote, such as ‘Described by XYZ magazine in September 2013 as one of the top 10 thought leaders on sustainable energies’. 


These are words which carry no real weight – they mean nothing unless they are backed up by quantified outcomes or benchmarks: 

  • Responsible 
  • High Impact 
  • Dynamic 

Saying you were responsible for this, responsible for that, tells the reader nothing about what you actually accomplished, merely the things that were on your job description. Much better to talk instead about what you achieved and to give quantified results.

If you say you are dynamic, what measure are you using to arrive at this conclusion? Compared to whom are you dynamic? If you've got a benchmark for dynamism, I'd love to know what it is!


These are words which must in my opinion be supported by hard evidence if we are to use them: 

  • Expert 
  • Motivated 
  • Successful 

For example, I think to say, ‘I was motivated by a desire to prove that small businesses could take significant market share from larger multinationals’ is just fine. Or to say, ‘I was successful at increasing revenues by an average 22% each year between 2007 and 2011’, is also great.

However, I think to describe oneself as a 'successful business expert, passionate and energetic'…well I think you know what I’m getting at…

These are my thoughts for what they are worth. I do hope you find them useful and if you have any other pet hates you’d like to share here, do please drop them into the comments below.


  1. I have the same issue with the word innovative.

    My whole career has been about innovation, my team membership and contribution has launched new systems or new thinking for businesses both internally and externally.

    By default, anything new is innovative, AND it is also creative.

    What is more typical of LinkedIn is their pseudo-corporate attempt to control or manage their rank and file population as though they were "staff". So I had the same reaction you did, and would also have written back saying "get lost".

    SOOOOOOO old-fashioned, and not as enlightened as explaining how important it is to be accurate, and the short- and long-term impact of mis-representing things as we would like them to be, rather than as they actually are.

    And it is surely the case when looking at a successful high-flier profile, we can all see the success levels shouting at us. Putting a profile together describing purely attitudes means there is then less space for results. That in itself tells us something.

    Yes, attitudes are important, but so are results.

    In my profile, I talk about the collaborative projects I work on.

    Some of the results from my past are worth talking about, but it is more relevant for people to talk about what we are doing now. We are or should be looking for synergy, where our passions align with those of others, and we can bring our energies to projects we collectively want to work on.

    I do hope you posted this in a good number of groups.

    May I recommend one of the StartUp communities I belong to on LinkedIn? Your posts would be received favourably there, and Successful StartUps do move on to hiring staff. At that point, it is a ground floor opportunity for you in a sector that tends to provide the most significant economic growth, and therefore employment opportunities.

    The other nice thing there is an acceptance that small businesses now have a voice and want to use it, and no denial that LinkedIn isn't just about large corporates, but also a breeding ground for small businesses that want to work in the B2B world.

    HTH, Peter.

    1. Hi Peter,

      Great to hear from you. Happy New Year! Thanks for sharing your views and reactions to my post here.

      I agree with your points - in particular I think that a major problem with LinkedIn for people with multiple and diverse skill sets is that it forces us to narrow ourselves down to fit into as you so rightly say a 'staff' profile - you have to be A or B or C. You cannot possibly be A AND B AND C. And you are not allowed either to solve this problem by having multiple profiles - something that would be really useful for myself and many others I know.

      Thanks also for the Group tip off - I'll head over there now.

      Hope 2014 gets off to a great start and an even better end for you Peter!

      Best wishes


  2. How about "Guru"?

    1. Haha! Yes I agree. And I regret my blog title everyday. Still Richard Branson ain't a Virgin I suspect ;-)