Whenever I do a presentation about job postings, I literally make up a sentence on the spot using a ton of buzzwords. “Who here is looking for a highly collaborative team player who loves to work hard and play hard in a fast-paced startup environment?”
The smiles and shy laughter say it all. If they don’t have a job posted with some BS buzzword one-liner now, they’ve read one before. Everyone does it. In fact, I tested my theory. I made up 4 different sentences and tried to find at least 1 job post with that exact phrase. I found 40+ for each one.
Why? The short answer is that most people are just making shit up. We weren’t taught how to write job postings, so we lean into the business cliches and buzzwords. We say a lot without saying anything at all.
At least not anything with meaning. And while your postings mean nothing to you, they’re sending those candidates you want so badly running.
Buzzwords In A Job Posting Aren’t Communicating Anything
Both sides have different ideas of what all these words mean. As a candidate, you have no idea what the employer is really looking for. You talk yourself out of applying because you’re just not sure if you’re qualified.
For example, being a collaborative team player at Disney is a different trait than being a collaborative team player at Three Ears Media. We’re a small company. Here at Three Ears, being collaborative is about evening tarot card readings when we’re having a stressful week or passing tasks back and forth when we’re stumped or need support. Poop jokes in the group chat.
Now, I don’t work for Disney, but I’m just going to assume dropping a poop joke in the executive group chat wouldn’t fly. So instead of adding “Collaborative Team Player” to your job post, why don’t we try describing what that actually means at your organization?
Decoder: What Buzzwords In A Job Posting Really Mean To Candidates
I’m not alone. Candidates, recruiters, HR – we all hate the buzzwords. Especially when they become code for something different altogether.
That’s why I asked on LinkedIn and we had some fun. What do these buzzwords *really* mean? Are they code for chaos? It turns out, they are. Here’s what everyone else had to say about buzzword bingo in your job posts.
“We work hard, and we play hard.” Tell me you are a bunch of dudebros and have a foosball table in the office without telling me you are a bunch of dudebros and have a foosball table in the office.Daelynn Moyer
“Work/Life integration” it is intended to be a spin on work/life balance, but it always hits me as “work is going to be integrated into every part of your life and this job will become your identity.”Tori Renaud
“We want someone who can hit the ground running.” I feel like it goes without saying that you want someone who can ramp up quickly. But when this statement is included, it can mean, “We don’t have a thorough onboarding experience and need you to wade through the ambiguity while driving huge results within two weeks.”Brianna Doe
The cherry on top – no salary listed by “competitive salary.”Klaudia Amenábar
Moral of the story? Recruiters need to learn to write job postings made up of universally understood words and phrases instead of sugar-coating them with buzzwords that scare candidates off. Tell candidates what you really mean.
Assuming you have the best of intentions, try depicting your expectations for a candidate’s performance as accurately as possible – what their day to day will look like, what results you need to see in a year – rather than the same “works well under pressure” and “work hard, play hard” phrases. Put the buzzword in context. What does a collaborative (for example) person do that someone who isn’t collaborative would never do?
When candidates read your job postings, they should get a clear image of what working for you will be like – they shouldn’t be left wondering what kind of “ground” they need to “hit running.”
Kat Kibben [they/them] is a keynote speaker, writing expert, and LGBTQIA+ advocate who teaches hiring teams how to write inclusive job postings that will get the right person to apply faster.
Before founding Three Ears Media, Katrina was a CMO, Technical Copywriter, and Managing Editor for leading companies like Monster, Care.com, and Randstad Worldwide. With 15+ years of recruitment marketing and training experience, Katrina knows how to turn talented recruiting teams into talented writers who write for people, not about work.
Today, Katrina is frequently featured as an HR and recruiting expert in publications like The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Forbes. They’ve been named to numerous lists, including LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Job Search & Careers. When not speaking, writing, or training, you’ll find Katrina traveling the country in their van or spending some much needed downtime with the dogs that inspired the name Three Ears Media.