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The Job Posting Test: Can a 12-year-old understand it?

In the June 13, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader calls out employers for jargon in job descriptions. Should a job posting be intelligible?

Question

job postingNick, please look at the job posting below. Was this written by a computer? Why can’t employers just use common sense and plain English? If it was written by a computer, no wonder the jobs aren’t getting filled! Maybe it makes sense to you? Not me!  Why not just say: “We need a school teacher?” That’s what the requirements are basically asking for but not directly saying.

So many job postings are filled with meaningless jargon and double-talk. I realize there are special vocabularies in some fields, but how does double-talk attract job applicants? Can you imagine how this company delivers training to its customers if it talks like this?

Customer Service Learning Delivery Consultant will bring innovative, solutions-driven learning solutions to life in delivery across: Small to large scale multi-site training project deployments and cross-functional training initiatives, New team member onboarding (across all levels), Team member enrichment and skill building that drive results across key operational metrics, including First Contact Resolution, Average Handle Time, Customer Experience, and Team Member Engagement.

Additionally, this position will

  • Deliver learning activities for team members through a variety of formal and informal learning channels including instructor-led, web-based, virtual and other delivery approaches.
  • Provide feedback on team member participation to managers.
  • Drive continuous improvement through feedback on current training practices and programs based on classroom experience and operational feedback – help bring these suggestions to life in partnership with program owners.
  • Work with business partners to identify and anticipate upcoming communication and training needs.
  • Support the development of systems, process, and soft skills training for team members.
  • Support project deployments by recommending and/or coordinating communication and training needs.
  • Translates adult learning theory into practical learning experiences and works successfully within cross-functional teams to plan, deploy and embed the knowledge and skills in the target audience.
  • Serves as a Master Trainer for specific courses by participating in program development as a subject matter expert for delivery and/or content, conducting Train-the-Trainer sessions and supporting Trainers and Leaders in the delivery of courses.
  • Prepares business leaders and other SMEs as instructors. Observes, evaluates and gives feedback.
  • Develops and educates other Delivery teammates through peer-to-peer coaching and mentoring.
  • Identifies and shares opportunities to reinforce knowledge and skills in the workplace after the learning event concludes, leveraging learning interventions as levers to drive higher levels of workplace performance.
  • Develops learning reinforcement tools such as job aids and other learning tools.

Maintain excellent knowledge of content, effective facilitation and delivery skills, and latest knowledge of the education environment for effective delivery.

Nick’s Reply

I don’t think this job posting was written by a computer. It was written by a bureaucrat and blessed by an HR department.

I do workshops for employers, hiring managers and HR managers to help them recruit and hire more effectively. When we discuss job descriptions and interviews, I offer them a rule of thumb: Explain it so a 12-year-old can understand it.

Job posting jargon drives away good candidates

When a recruiter relies on jargon, potentially good candidates are turned off and lost, not because they don’t understand the jargon, but because they understand perfectly well that the employer can’t explain exactly — and clearly — what it wants. That’s a risky company to work for, because it means the employer itself is confused.

As you point out, in many kinds of work there are legitimate, specialized vocabularies. For example, in technical jobs like engineering, information technology, and medicine — among others — insider jargon has specific, well-defined meaning. It serves as shorthand for complex ideas.

Then there’s business double-talk like we see in this job posting: high-falutin’ language that implies sophistication where there is no clear meaning. It drives away people who might be able to do the work if it were described plainly.

I’m not kidding when I suggest, “Say it so a 12-year-old will understand it.” That’s a good way to make sure the employer itself understands the job it wants to fill. There is no question that many HR managers — who write those painful job descriptions — have no idea what a job is really all about. How can they possibly select the right applicant?

So, for the astute job seeker, the kind of job posting we’re looking at here is usually a signal to steer clear of a company where confusion and double-talk prevail.

I think jargon drives away the best candidates.

A confusing job posting reveals bigger problems

Insider jargon is often a cover for poor management practices. An employer that uses a lot of jargon often fails to understand its own needs. For example, in the job posting you submitted, the employer keeps referring to the importance of bringing something to life:

  • The new hire will “bring innovative, solutions-driven learning solutions to life…”
  • The new hire will “help bring these suggestions to life in partnership with program owners.”

What does that mean? If this employer asked you to submit a paragraph explaining how you’d bring things to life, what could you say? What could you say in a job interview? How does “bring it to life” help the employer attract the workers it needs — and satisfy its customers?

Double-talk is not impressive. It often reveals a failure to communicate. Worse, it suggests the jargonating manager and department are making stuff up.

B.S.

Some jargon is simply b.s. What do you think this b.s. means?

  • “innovative, solutions-driven learning solutions” [Tautology is often a sign of confusion!]
  • “Small to large scale multi-site training project deployments and cross-functional training initiatives”
  • “effective facilitation and delivery skills”

What does this b.s. mean, at this company and in this job?

  • “Drive continuous improvement through feedback”
  • “works successfully within cross-functional teams”
  • “embed the knowledge and skills in the target audience”
  • leveraging learning interventions as levers to drive higher levels of workplace performance” (Another tautology!)

Nothing in those words and phrases helps a job seeker judge the job or decide whether they can do it. As you suggest, this seems to be a teaching or training job. The problem is that the jargon in the posting makes it impossible to decipher the details of the job or to guess what would make a person successful at it.

B.s. in a job description also suggests loads of b.s. in a company’s sales pitch to customers. If you want to test an employer’s credibility, review the product and service offerings on its website. If fluffy wording matches jargon in the job description, you probably know all you need to.

(Employers don’t have to be boring when they post a job. See Now THIS is a job description.)

Tell it to a 12-year-old

Even a highly technical job should first be described simply so virtually anyone can understand what work needs to be done and what the objective is. This welcomes candidates from other fields, disciplines and work domains who might be able to bring something new to the job.

This:

“Customer Service Learning Delivery Consultant will bring innovative, solutions-driven learning solutions to life…”

Or this?

“We need an experienced teacher or trainer to show our customers how to do XYZ.”

Once XYZ is defined simply, any smart child should understand what the employer needs. Then more details of the work can be described, more specialized vocabulary can be introduced, and the employer and job candidate can have a productive discussion. A 12-year-old probably can’t do the job, but defining the job at that level is a good start on finding good candidates.

What’s missing in this job posting is a definition of XYZ, which might be quite detailed. What’s also missing is an answer to these questions:

  • Can any good teacher learn enough about XYZ in a reasonable time to do this job?
  • Or, is expertise in XYZ necessary?

This job ad just doesn’t tell us.

An employer that can’t tell you what it wants is very likely going to waste your time if you apply for the job.

Thanks for sharing a good example of why the employment system is so broken and why jobs aren’t getting filled. Employers can’t fill jobs they can’t describe clearly and simply.

For an example of another kind of problematic job posting, see Is this the worst job ad ever?

This is a lulu of a job description. Have you encountered worse? Tell us about it — and please share examples of the worst job-ad jargon you’ve seen! What do you look for in a job description before you’ll apply?

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69 Comments
  1. I agree that job listings filled with jargon and cliches are a red flag. While in the job search, when you are reading job description after job description, the bad ones really stand out.

    • That’s what managers say about resumes :-)

  2. When I read a job description like this, it says to me that they already have a candidate, internal or H-1B, picked out, and they do not want normal people to apply. Or they are a cult.

  3. Eight years ago, a CEO of a major national trucking company wrote a glowing report, perhaps a “mission statement”, explaining what the company was doing to “go forward”. It was written with most of the jargon discussed here.
    Two years ago, the company died.

    • Companies and divisions that spend a lot of time on mission statements are almost always in trouble.
      Companies who know what they’re doing don’t need them.

  4. As is typical of these job postings, I have no idea who the company is, what the company does, what product(s) it makes, nor the services it provides. Does it make some life-changing product that shakes up the market, or do employees just go out and push over old people in wheelchairs to make dumb YouTube videos?

    It amazes me that companies do this. There could be an ideal employee out there who would say, “Man, I’ve always wanted to work in that field” or “Man, I’ve always wanted to work for ABC Company!” Likewise, HR will now probably get resumes from people who find out the industry/company and say, “Hell, no.” And a bunch of time has just been wasted.

    • Unfortunately, after Ideal Employee figures out that they really are the perfect fit for the position (and, in fact, the employer would agree), they will never be interviewed. Because they would never have sufficient buzz words to make it through the scanning software…

    • It’s a $10 billion company. All I published was the job posting itself, so we can’t blame the company for not telling what it does in the ad. Though a few specifics that mapped the work/job onto the business would have been nice inside the description. You know — to make it relevant.

    • Problem is, even “normal” job postings too often leave me scratching my head about what the job actually entails, how I would fit, or why I would want to join the company. Just a mindless list of free floating “must have” skills and talents without any context.

      This posting reminds me of a very funny early 1980’s computer program that generated bogus consultant “reports”. You entered a title, and it would randomly generate about two pages of grammatically correct very fancy sounding jargon laden gibberish. It was a joke of course, but in retrospect disturbingly prescient.

  5. Great question, topic and responses.

    I can’t help but wonder how uncomfortable the initial phone screen will be when the candidate asks simple questions.
    “What can I do for you”?
    “What are the goals for this year?
    “What metrics are key indicators of success”?
    “Why made you decide to bring in a consultant”?

    They will have no idea. Thus, every time they have a phone screen with someone it will drive them back to change the job description.
    By the end of the journey and tons of wasted time (or maybe a failed hire or two) , they will learn that they don’t need to hire a Customer Service Learning Content Delivery but rather an IT/operations/pm minded person who can set up a collaboration site when Sales teams can share information in real time and stay apprised.

    Seriously. There are no shortcuts to proper job description and documentation. Personally I get very concerned when i notice this. It means the compensation scheme may also be off and eventually a full audit will need to be done to clean it up.
    It means HR doesn’t really know what makes up the job and what people actually do, let alone measure success or determine a salary.
    And THIS is why traditional HR people are a little leary of more progressive ones. The progressive ones don’t “practice HR” in the princess palace and delight in the jargon but get involved— leaving a lot of room to work from the “Outside In” to ensure there really is alignment and fairness.

    • @HR Hybrid: You know that ordinarily I’d expect the job candidate to explain what they’d do for the employer. But this is an employer soliciting an applicant, so I agree with you — and your killer questions would bring a phoner to a dead halt. Heck, they’d probably get mad at you for asking “impertinent” questions while they “assess” whether they want to “take you further.”

      Great questions for vetting the employer!

  6. Do any of the company’s managers and supervisors teach? lead by example? give instant feedback to associates? Does the author of this gobblydegook understand that successful management is the development of people? Do they understand that managers are the ones who teach and train their subordinates?

    What could a company want with a trainer that speaks fake professional jargon rather than English?

    God forbid that the position trains other HR novices.

    Sure trainers are needed for some basic training but not the B.S. listed in this foolish posting.

    • Heh heh.

      • I agree. Obviously it is the hiring manager who needs to be trained. What do they want? A Purple Squirrel or a Unicorn?
        The Purple Squirrel is someone who has the 50+ Must Have requirements in the job description.
        A Unicorn is willing and devoted to make it happen even when they are overwhelmed with their daily tasks. As Lucile Ball once said “If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it. The more things you do, the more you can do”.

  7. I also agree that these kinds of job descriptions are red flags. They’re useful for identifying companies that are too clueless to communicate clearly. The only problem is that there are so many of these, you have to throw out most of the descriptions you read, even if you suspect there’s a job somewhere in there for which you’d be well suited.

    I also agree that this (along with the sad fact that employers got very spoiled during the recent recessionary period and now think they’re entitled to perfect employees when they’re far from perfect themselves) is why so many jobs are going unfilled. The real problem rests a lot more with employers than with employees and candidates, as far as I can see.

    I would recommend that if you’re not a top-tier candidate (say, if you’re just entering the job market and don’t have much experience at anything, are trying to change careers, etc.) that you reply to some of the more reasonable of these crummy ads, but realize up front that this probably isn’t a great company and you probably won’t stay for long – that you’re basically just getting some experience to put on your resume before moving on to better things. And if you do have great experience and have a job now, throw these out and leave them to other candidates.

    Companies that can’t manage to communicate what they want and need will mostly go out of business, and hopefully in time be replaced by companies that have a clue. This will probably take years if it does happen, and is very painful for those seeking reasonable work. It sucks big-time, but it’s a reality for now. The best thing to do, I think, is to work at figuring out what you want to do and are suited to do and get good at it – and then, when you get there, be ruthless about responding only to companies that communicate like coherent adults. If you’re good at what you do, there’s really no long-term benefit to you in working for a company that isn’t.

    • @LDL: “be ruthless about responding only to companies that communicate like coherent adults”

      Bingo. It’s very difficult for people to swallow this advice, because the job-board lottery system conditions them to keep pressing the lever because on some random schedule, a reward pellet drops out of the chute. In behavioral psychology, we know that a random or intermittent schedule of reward produces the desired behavior the most.

      But your advice is 100% on the money.

  8. I read that Ulysses Grant kept a rather dim Captain on staff. He used this man to vet all his Orders of Battle. His reasoning was if this man could understand the orders, the officers in the field would be able to understand the orders.

    Using a “Grant’s Captain” is a very effective communication tool.

  9. Here’s an ad for a “senior corporate communications specialist” with a local clown company called Aspen Technology, https://www.linkedin.com/jobs/view/313922115/. Based on the job description, what they are really looking for here is a motion graphic designer. I’m guessing they don’t want to pay a designer-level salary, and “communications specialist” is more aligned with the administrative field which pays less. Another theory is that this dumb company used to post the same senior graphic design job over and over (nobody was ever “qualified,” including myself), so they came up with this title sans the word designer because they alienated every designer in the state and need to attract a new round of suckers. What they’re too stupid to get is that nobody qualified will find this job in their search as a designer looking for work will be searching for jobs with “designer” in the title, not “communications specialist” (I only found it in the “People also viewed” column on StinkedIn).

    (Btw, would have been nice to know the name of the company in today’s blog post.)

    • Google “aspen technology SEC violations”
      The history is rich……

    • @Sighmaster: I didn’t see a need to publish the name of the company, but there’s always a Google search…

  10. At least they didn’t use the words “rockstar” or “ninja” in the description.

    • I never understood how “rock star” become the euphemism for a desirable employee. Do you really want to hire someone who’s spoiled, temperamental and sleeps late?

      • …and shows up for work drunk and smashes the office furniture…

      • Certain industries are catering to “the kids” that’s why they use such silly euphemisms. It’s about controlling the narrative and the employee. Experienced, middle-aged workers want money, not “all you can eat snacks,” ping-pong and bringing your pet to work. It’s all part of the Frat boy culture that Silicon Valley has created.

        • It’s not just Silicon Valley. Google “VentureFizz Office Tours”.

        • @Frustrated: “Certain industries are catering to “the kids””

          You’re not referring to Millennials, are you??

          • A manager at a concert venue once told me (he swore) that when Elton John performed, he demanded red carpeting runners everywhere he walked backstage. Maybe I need to add that to my list of “needs” if I ever have to find work in the corporate world again. I’m a rock star, baby!

      • @Mark: No brown m&ms.

  11. I’ll take a slightly different tact. I’m in the technology area. I’ve interviewed for many positions as well as written quite a few descriptions. I tend to be more direct, employing the 12 year old model, but what I find is after I get done, a couple things happen.

    First, whoever is responsible for posting this, whether HR or just someone in an assistant role, will ask others what they might need, including my manager/director. Everyone will have some input into what they’d “like” to see. That results in job description bloat. We are hiring, say a new database administrator, and they may need to handle networking, or write reports, or do some other work. When all that gets added to the description, we start to end up with not the ideal candidate, but also the mythical candidate.

    Second, the HR person will try to craft, wordsmith, rewrite, etc. the post to make sense to them. However, they aren’t doing this job, so they end up mangling the description somewhat.

    I do agree that we miss good candidates, often because they are intimidated by the posting. I usually tell someone if they meet 50% of the requirements apply. What’s the worst that could happen? They reject you? You have a decent chance of that anyway in my field, just because of numbers.

    I also think some of the punching up of the verbiage will come when employees that contribute to the description want to make their own work sound important, so they’ll use jargon that they might want to see added to their own title/description.

    • @Steve:

      “That results in job description bloat.”

      Back in the days of printed job ads HR would create composite ads, along the lines of what you’re talking about. Bloat. But back then there was a reason, though it wasn’t good: to save money. A composite ad cost as much as any job ad, but HR could save money by squeezing loads of specs into just one ad — then sort the incoming resumes into several job buckets. One job ad back then could cost $1,000, so you see the reasoning. It still caused the same problems you’re describing.

      “the HR person will try to craft, wordsmith, rewrite, etc. the post”

      Translation: “HR will justify its role by messing with the goods, to the detriment of getting the job filled.”

  12. Although some historians have challenged the veracity of this ad copy, it remains an excellent example of a succinct job description:

    “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.”

    — Ernest Shackleton

    Sir Ernest did write a Letter to the Editor of the London Times in December 1913 which produced a sizable response to his proposed voyage to the South Pole:

    “THE NEW EXPEDITION. | TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES. |

    Sir,–It has been an open secret for some time past that I have been desirous of leading another expedition to the South Polar regions.

    I am glad now to be able to state that, through the generosity of a friend, I can announce that an expedition will start next year with the object of crossing the South Polar continent from sea to sea.

    I have taken the liberty of calling the expedition ‘The Imperial Trans Antarctic Expedition,’ because I feel that not only the people of these islands, but our kinsmen in all the lands under the Union Jack will be willing to assist towards the carrying out of the full programme of exploration to which my comrades and myself are pledged.

    Yours faithfully,

    ERNEST H. SHACKLETON.
    4, New Burlington-street, Regent-street, W., Dec. 27.”

    Source: http://www.antarctic-circle.org/advert.htm

    • Love it! Like this article, when a Marine recruiter gave the job description to a seventeen year old who was thinking of enlisting.

      “The Marine Corps will make you puke, make you cry, and when that’s over, you’ll be sent to the most miserable, dangerous, godforsaken place on the planet. So let me ask you: Why should I let you join my corps?”

      http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/02/magazine/02lives-t.html

    • @Steve: I always enjoy your little stories. That one’s a gem. There’s always a freebie in a good PR letter :-)

      Back in those days, every word in a job ad cost money. I think we could save the newspaper industry, HR, and job seekers’ sanity if websites started charging by the word for job postings. It would re-generate the ad revenue that used to support good reporting, and clamp down on stupid job postings.

  13. I’d venture you should even be able to sing it to the classic Sesame Street song, “Who Are The People In Your Neighborhood?”. I wouldn’t want my kid being taught by whomever makes the cut on the example job description.

  14. When my kids were in school I spent time on a bunch of school district committees, and got exposed to educationese. That’s what most of this is (strewn in with standard business-speak.) People who get PhDs in education want to sound like scientists or economists and so develop this jargon, and then they impart it to their students. My teacher friends would understand this stuff. But I agree there is way too much of it.

    So here is what all this means:

    “Drive continuous improvement through feedback”
    Get evaluations from your classes and do something about them.
    “works successfully within cross-functional teams”
    Don’t hide in the bathroom all day.
    “embed the knowledge and skills in the target audience”
    Teach.
    “leveraging learning interventions as levers to drive higher levels of workplace performance” (Another tautology!)
    Talk to students outside the classroom. Make them sit in the corner?

    • @Scott: You’re hired.

      BTW, I’ve seen the same thing you have: educationese. It’s the language spoken by most (not all) public school superintendents who fail as teachers.

  15. Companies purposely write job descriptions with jargon so candidates can’t find key words to insert into their resumes to beat the ATS. As mentioned, they probably have a candidate identified for the position. Posting is an EEOC requirement. They also have the “optional” question on the application asking candidates to self-identify gender, ethnicity, disabilities and veteran status. Don’t forget, the longer the company’s position is posted, the more people see it and apply. The company stays in the public eye. It’s about branding and legal compliance not hiring qualified candidates.

    • @Ellen-Rachel: YOU MEAN THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT INTERFERES WITH HIRING???????

      • Must be all of those “government regulations” :)

  16. I think the jargon is being used to hide that it would take several people to do everything they included!

    • @Dale: I’m enjoying all the reasons suggested for the job jargon. I think it’s just stupid people writing that stuff. Er, I mean, educationally challenged achievers seeking paths to greater relevance and true compensation value.

  17. Perhaps they are looking for Moses to lead them to the Promised Land.

  18. K, here’s a recruiter’s take. HR should not be in recruiting (recognize this advice, Nick? HR doesn’t know how to write sales copy, they don’t know how to push back on a hiring manager who thinks this is effective, and doesn’t understand that 200 bozos who didn’t read the posting will apply for the job anyway.

    Hitting the network and reaching out to talented training professionals with three sentences that tell them what this is all about? 99% of HR people just aren’t equipped for this. It’s why today’s current hiring system is completely broken.

    This job posting is the perfect result of today’s hiring process.

    • @Rob: And HR still can’t design circuits or “do computers.” :-) So why do they insert themselves in the selection of people who do?? AND WHO LETS THEM?

  19. “Perhaps they are looking for Moses to lead them to the Promised Land.”

    That would require a job bullet of:

    “Must be able to part seas”

    from which few resumes were gleaned….

    • “Must be able to part seas” is not a good job function description. Instead consider this:

      “Must be able to strategically enable cross-functional teams to engage in vertical aqueous engineering design using Voice of the Customer, Lean Manufacturing, and Agile design methods. Must also have working knowledge of MS Office products.”

      • I don’t know if that is sarcasm, but it is also really sleep inducing.

        How about

        We want you to,
        – work with many different teams
        – Champion customer interests
        – know lean manufacturing
        – be adept with Agile
        – be competent with Microsoft Office

  20. I agree with several of the posters how this type of job posting/wording is becoming commonplace in today’s work environment. Unfortunately the source of this stupid approach to hiring is found in the hallowed halls of academia, specifically the nimrods who major in human resources. The young, dumb, and enthusiastic students believe the garbage emitted by the “experts” standing at the lectern. The self-proclaimed “experts” only experience is the theory they learned. Many of these “experts” are seeking their 15 minutes of fame and a legacy that will be soon forgotten.
    Prior to going into business for myself, whenever I applied for a position and the initial contact person was associated with HR, I quickly held up a silver cross and declined the initial interview. It made so sense to attempt to explain my qualifications to some bubble-headed nimrod who didn’t have a clue what I was willing to bring to the table.
    Unfortunately this mindset permeates other disciplines of the so-called higher education facilities in America, e.g. advertising, marketing, business administration, education, and of course politics. Time to end the madness.

    • @Tomas: Sadly, you’re right, and the nimrods earn the epithets.

      “whenever I applied for a position and the initial contact person was associated with HR, I quickly held up a silver cross and declined the initial interview. It made so sense to attempt to explain my qualifications to some bubble-headed nimrod who didn’t have a clue what I was willing to bring to the table.”

      While I know some HR people who can dance interview circles around hiring managers and do it well, even if they don’t know the subject area in depth, most are wasting everyone’s time.

      There’s an ethic in corporate America: Managers should not waste their time on job applicants until HR has screened them. Most managers really believe this and do as they’re told. I just keep LMAO every time I hear this rationalization for “letting someone else do it.”

  21. That job ad sounds like the kinds of job ads I used to see all the time at my previous job, and I am seeing them in my current job. I work in higher ed., so this kind of gobbledy-gook isn’t limited to the K-12 teaching profession.

    I have long thought that people who write this must think it makes them look smarter…but how smart is it if the best people can’t figure out what the job entails from the ad?

    You shouldn’t have to have a Ph.D in education in order to figure it out, nor should you have to hire someone with one to interpret it for you.

    I wonder how long that job, if it is a “real” job (i.e., not a fake job ad designed to make HR look busy), will remain unfilled.

  22. I’ve worked around call centers for a long time, so I knew exactly what the ad was about. The company is looking for trainers to train call center managers to manage their call center representatives. The trainer will know some call center process and some typical metrics. I found the ad online and even figured out the company they are selling their services to. The ad is meant to screen out people who haven’t done call center training in the past. I agree it’s badly written.

  23. As succinctly as possible I will summarize that “Job Posting”.

    They do not have a clue as to what they want the person to do.

    At DEC, our job descriptions were concise and minimalist. Every employee at every level was expected/encouraged to develop their personal job description. The was really easy, when you opened your mouth and said “Someone should …”, you were expected to stand up to the plate and do that and champion the cause. Those who did became shining lights, those who didn’t left from boredom.

  24. I think that business relies upon phrases to try to describe everything in one saying, so that they get their money’s worth. Schools drive a lot of this stuff, with keywords and phrases changing depending upon changes in policies that are somehow driven across all schools at the same time countrywide. I know that all that you had as an example were terms that I learned in business school, but a job seeker would not normally know what they mean. I think it is a lot of hocus pocus that business uses to drive their organizations and these change over time to mean the same thing – they want people that will produce and work their butt off!

    • @Mark: Perhaps it’s a matter of PR and Marketing driving HR off the word cliff.

  25. The point about writing at a level that a 12 year old can understand is well put, and fits into the art & craft of writing. I managed tech writers and part of their job spec was to determine what level of reader the end result would aim at. They could take the same product, service and process and produce a document that was suitable for a Phd, college grad, high school or less if that’s what you wanted. Job Descriptions & related postings are a form of communication that should take into account who you are talking to.

    There’s a lot of discussion about crappy descriptions and job ads by HR. I don’t know what planet you’re living on. No where I worked as a hiring manager or inside HR, was HR responsible for job descriptions. For 2 good reasons, 1) for the point often made, they can’t, because they don’t have subject matter know how. & 2) politics and cya. If I’m in HR & write the description I’m directly accountable for the result…as in the classic hiring manager angst, “HR isn’t finding me the people I need”. You have to understand how the game is played. If I’m a hiring manager, and want to hire someone, I need what is called a hiring requisition aka a “req”. Which is tied to your approved budget to hire. To get a req, YOU the hiring manager, need to give HR a job description. No description, No req, & you’ll sit there empty handed until you cough up a description. Hence, most of what you see, including the one in this note, were a hiring manager’s creation. For a HM that’s always recruiting this isn’t that much of a problem as you’ll already have candidates lined up. Getting the req is just an admin task on your part. But..they aren’t coming in the door without a req with a description bolted to it. But in my experience, very few managers recruit all the time, they lock into the SOP and it timeline

    Now I’ll contradict myself. Steve mentioned description bloat. Even if a hiring manager writes in their view THE Perfect description, all sorts of people pile on, including HR. So while HR may not write it, they may edit the heck out of it…or de facto edit it via a posting that drifts afar from the hiring manager’s intent if unchecked.

    Or there’s description BS. Hiring Manager’s who view all the above as a pain in the ass for which they have no time, just hand HR some boiler plated description they keep around to get a req, which can’t be challenged by HR, who as noted lack the subject matter expertise to challenge it. Hence, candidates end up surprised to find what the HM is talking about bears little or no resemblance to the posting.

    My wife has a saying “men don’t scroll”. Which is why the job description needs to have a well thought out title and get to the point right away. Because all that elegant prose, violin music, etc likely won’t be read. Again, don’t assume, at the level a 12 year old can quickly understand. Ti’s the flip side of Hiring Managers not reading resumes.

    I had the benefit of working for a company as a recruiter, that as a matter of policy and practice included the starting salary ranges in the job description. That’s a big time saver on both ends. And yes I confess we did edit the descriptions, but…via consulting with the hiring manager for buy ins. I also had the benefit of access to some excellent job hunter networks where I could post directly to their members. ie. we made little use of job boards which can be restrictive when you want to use unconventional posting structures. I did well by not regurgitating job descriptions. Rather I’d employ a conversation posting, about the company, the pros and cons of working for us, where we actually were located, and simply point to the formal job description via a link. In short, I focused on the context surrounding the job, the company. If interested, you could reply to me, or follow the thread on our website and apply there. I confess I was very pleased to get responses from job hunters that they wanted to work for a company who provided what they needed to know in plain English. About half of those said more or less, that they really liked the posting per se, but not the job. That was not meant as an insult, but rather they learned what they needed to know, and that the job was not for them.

  26. I think a great part of the problem is the perception of job seekers. Job seekers have been conditioned to believe that companies are doing them a favor and so they don’t question these ads (or much of anything else). They wind up accepting jobs that have nothing much to offer except employers who take advantage of them. A job is an exchange. In the current climate job seekers have to work hard for a fair deal, and believe that they are worth it.

  27. Another problem with the job descriptions on which the ads may be based, is that they are often works of fantasy because they represent an ideal job candidate, not an actual one. In addition, the ideal is often not realistically or clearly conceived.

    I’m a professional resume writer, and when clients offer to send me their official company job descriptions, I’ve learned to tell them in advance, “I’d like to see it, but during our interview I will have to verify every single point in it to make sure it actually applies to you, before I put it on your resume. Otherwise, you could find yourself in a fatally false position at an interview.”

    I have found this to be true even when the person wrote their own company job description.

    In addition, there’s the problem of the vague professional management jargon, especially when the job description was written by a professional manager (this includes HR) who understands the job only in terms of that jargon.

    I often find that the job descriptions aren’t helpful at all, since I get a far more complete and clear idea of the facts in the course of an extensive, fact-oriented interview. Usually, little or nothing of what is in those job descriptions belongs in either a resume or a job posting.

    As you and your original correspondent point out, “in many kinds of work there are legitimate, specialized vocabularies,” The problem is that, though the professional management jargon is essentially meaningless and is often given a different meaning by everyone who uses it, professional managers regard the vague jargon as their legitimate, specialized vocabulary, which the little people whom they hire can’t possibly understand. Their self-esteem and their employability depend on this belief.

    This leads to a further problem with job descriptions and job ads: companies, especially big ones, increasingly tend to develop their own corporate jargon, which is unintelligible even to people in other companies in the same industry. Often, a company will take a term with a well-established meaning and give it a completely different one. It’s especially bad with job titles. Often, an important part of what I do is translating company jargon into terms that will mean something to my client’s potential next employers. This often requires research, and careful wording.

    The advice to just ignore jobs where HR is involved may sound unrealistic. But there are alternatives to the HR treadmill. In the 36 years of my working life, before I became self-employed, I worked for a total of an even 100 places–as an itinerant, in my youth, and mostly as a freelancer or consultant later. (This was in an especially volatile industry, in which companies and accounts came and went quickly but the same limited, skilled, and mobile workforce was sure of employment.) In later years I got some of the work through agencies, but of those 100, only one hire was through HR, and that was because HR saw “printing” on my resume and gave me a a job as a computer printer repair tech. (It worked out fine–machinery is machinery–but I doubt that this was what HR had in mind. In any case, that was 40 years ago. It couldn’t happen with today’s HR.)

    True, freelancing has its downsides, compared to a dream job with security and good benefits. Many people in many industries are doubtless better off playing staff-job roulette. But there are fewer such jobs than ever, and getting hired for one is often a crapshoot. When such a job ends, you may be on the beach for a while before you find another one.

    This is an often uncredited reason why the “gig economy” is prevalent today. The only way skilled people can get past HR is to work as contractors or consultants, and the only way managers who really, really need qualified people now can get past HR is to hire them as contractors or consultants.

    And many job-seekers decide that “If I have to work for an —hole, it may as well be me.” If they’re good at what they do, and have some business sense and a little luck, they may find that, while it is impossible to satisfy a professional manager (much less a team of professional managers), it is quite possible, and rewarding in many ways, to satisfy a customer base.

    • So True!

      So many of the job descriptions and even phone screens are about who they want you to “BE” and not what they want you to “DO”. While “what can I do for you” ? sounds a little harsh (and there are more polite ways to ask this same question), it is a conscious effort to get the interviewer to move towards actual job and away from implicit bias and vagaries, making sure I chose to highlight the right skills as opposed to guessing and trying to “be” what they think they are looking for when they themselves don’t even know.

      There is also a category of people who don’t know what they do–they work more or less unconsciously (though sometimes well). I started writing down everything I do (with whom, what accomplished and impact) so when resume time comes, reviews, time for promotion etc. It is all at my fingertips and better than referring to a job description that never was right in the first place. As a female you really have to do this because otherwise you will see many men promoted based on potential while you are more likely to spin in a loop of having to “prove” yourself.

      And well, I laugh at the branding often wrapped up in all this. Every other employer is trying to say they are looking for needles in the haystack, at the same time they demand everyone look the same on paper. The branding is really more about conformity than authenticity and so is their work culture.

      • Everyone is more or less challenged to describe what they do for a living–there’s always a lot that is taken for granted, and thinking about what a stranger needs to know to understand your background doesn’t come naturally. With some people, even very competent people, getting enough detail about what they do for a living can be like pulling teeth. Your point about writing down what you do as you go is pure gold–I give that advice to every one of my clients. And once it’s pointed out to them, they appreciate it. It’s also important for people to know, as you say, that the information isn’t just needed for job-hunting, but for reviews, promotions, and negotiations. People tend to forget that.

        It can be, unfortunately, very risky to try to lead HR people during an interview, even if you just want them to give you basic factual information. Many HR people are totally committed to the belief that they think on a higher plane than the people they are interviewing. (After all, who’s hiring whom? Who’s running this interview? Obvious to anyone but a moron, isn’t it?) With many of them, any hint that you disagree with that, even to the extent of asking for information they didn’t chose to provide (much less a reminder that they don’t know the answer to the question) means that you’re a bad fit for the company. One more reason why hiring is a crapshoot when HR is involved.

        (I once interviewed for a job as Graphics Production Manager at a (once) well-known high-end department store chain. I read the job posting, did the phone screening, and then a half-hour on-site interview with HR. It wasn’t until the next interview, with a peer of the Production Manager, that I was able to get any idea of how many people I would be supervising. In such a business, the possibilities range from zero to several dozen. I didn’t get the job, and by the time the interviewing was over, I didn’t want it.)

        Branding! Aaargh! I’ve worked for major ad agencies and consultancies that did real branding–for corporations and products. The concept of branding is for products and services promoted on a sizable scale for a sizable market. It has nothing at all to do with an individual applying for one job to one employer (or a few prospects) at one point in time. For a job seeker, your only possible brand is your name and contact info, and the effectiveness of that brand depends entirely on what you’ve actually done, as shown first in your resume, then in any other material you send, and finally in your personal presentation (where your personality is also important). People who do the hiring have nothing else to go on, unless they’re the kind who make decisions based on the color of your shirt/blouse or other such criteria, or they’re just plain gullible, in which case there’s no anticipating what they may fall for and what they may reject.

        Even people who are themselves totally committed to vague jargon and vague thinking respond better to concrete facts effectively arranged. Nothing else can possibly get a real response unless the person is so totally delusive that they really see things only in terms of the vague jargon. Unfortunately such people are not rare, and they survive for a surprisingly long time in many organizations. But again, there’s no anticipating what will appeal to them and what won’t.

        And concrete facts effectively arranged are also the best thing to overcome prejudices, and CYA timidity, and nominal mismatches between your qualifications and job requirements. It’s likely to include something with a strong appeal to one or another reader, and it hands them ammo to make a case if that should be needed.

    • @Ken: I’ve met a lot of “professional” resume writers, but I’m impressed with your comments. You nail so many important issues, and it’s clear you spend a lot of time with a client. I tried my hand at writing resumes for pay long, long ago for a short time, and I charged a LOT. I still couldn’t justify the time it required — multiple in-depth interviews of the client.

      1. Clients who want you to merge job description “key words” into their resume. Scary, as you point out.
      2. Jobs defined by the employer in terms of in-house jargon. Scary. Counter-productive. Potentially great candidates have no idea what it means. Impressive jargon? Or stupid?
      3. Managers who define themselves by their exclusive jargon. So exclusive they spend their lives alone at work because no one on the outside will dare go near them.
      4. Jargon=Narrow. You point out that people whose jobs are tied up in company jargon can’t portray themselves to other companies without the jargon — and those new companies have no idea what it all means. REJECT. Sheesh. I once did a gig for AT&T, helping downsized managers move out. The jargon on their resumes was so unintelligible that I projected it up on the wall and asked them what the hell it all meant — and did they really expect that if I didn’t understand it, an employer would? It hit them like a ton of bricks. We tossed the resumes and started from scratch. That’s where I picked up the “12 year old” idea. One manager actually told us her 12-year-old niece came to visit and asked her, “Auntie, what do you do at your job?” The woman explained and the poor girl glazed over. The woman told me, “That’s when it hit me — I’m jargonized!”

      I admire your perspective. Writing resumes is not about writing. It’s about understanding business and value in very concrete terms. You must have some very happy clients. Thanks for posting!

      • Nick:

        Thank you for the kind words–coming from you, they mean a lot.

        I should mention, though, that the point about copying “keywords” from the job posting into one’s resume wasn’t mine–it was another commenter’s, possibly Ellen-Rachell. But it’s a point dear to my heart. My father was an old-school news reporter, and he taught me early on about the often wide and often far from obvious gaps between reality and what gets published.

        I think about writing in exactly the words you used: “writing is not about writing.” It’s about content, and about conveying your understanding of the content to someone who 1) doesn’t have in his mind your knowledge, ideas and connections regarding that content, and 2) probably needs to be convinced to spend time reading what you wrote. Take care of that, and much of the rest is editorial mechanics. Editorial mechanics is a body of knowledge that needs to be acquired, and a rare one today. But it’s not an arcane “art.” Beyond that, everything else you need to learn about language you learn from reading, and you won’t learn it unless you read lot of things that others before you–preferably over several generations at least–have found valuable.

        This applies to any kind of writing that others will read, from resumes to poetry. Poetry just has a wider range of structural and linguistic options.

        2200 years ago, Cato the Elder, one of the first Romans to apply conscious skill to speaking and writing, a rough-and-tumble politician who survived fierce assaults into his eighties, wrote, “Rem tene, verba sequentur”: “Grasp the matter, and the words will follow.” Everything else is secondary to that. As I said above, it works better than anything else even when you’re writing for people who are not consciously receptive to hard information–because nothing else conveys any usable meaning, and there’s no telling what a particular individual will respond to if he doesn’t respond to clear facts.

  28. Two comments:

    1. I suspect that the jargon in this ad is an subtle attempt to exclude older candidates.

    2. No one person can successfully accomplish all that is required for this job unless he/she has no life outside of work. This is another form of excluding older workers who have family responsibilities and outside interests which preclude the kind of 24/7 devotion to work which is becoming the expected norm in many US companies.

  29. Others may have suggested this, and even Nick sort of suggested this in the article, but what I saw in the job posting was marketing-speak likely from the company’s web site describing their products/services. Most hiring managers and HR people I knew wanted some kind of intro paragraph describing the company; they would usually get that (and way too much more techno-babble) from the company’s web site (which I think was made to impress potential customers with the brilliance of the company (ha ha!)). The result was the crap listing we saw in the article. It is just laziness of hiring managers and HR people. And, this is one of the reasons why so many useless resume’s are sent in (because nobody knows what is really wanted for the job).

  30. A brilliant article!

    The real problem is the fact that unemployment rate is more than zero; therefore, no matter how wrong and fluffy job postings are. What does matter for candidates is no to follow such job posters but to create clear and concise resumes. No dual-meanings, no qualitives like “strong”, “solid” etc but always quantatives like “five years” or “200 reports per week” etc. In other words, instead of B.S. to put something concrete and tangible, something that eventual employer can easily understand, evaluate and decide, if it “strong” or not.

    So, candidates should value this article but instead of blaming poor HR work they know exactly what to do to create an efficient CV.

    Thank you!

    • No, HR really IS the problem. I never meant to imply otherwise. I’m in complete agreement with Nick and the other commenters on this.

      If companies with HR departments would simply fire them, productivity and morale would go up so fast the buildings would shake. A great increase in hiring efficiency would only be a part of the difference.

      As I said, there are a significant number of HR people (and, to a lesser extent, hiring managers, especially those with non-technical backgrounds) who are so delusive they take the job posting fluff and jargon seriously. An effective resume still works better with them than anything else, but with those people, it’s still a crapshoot. The job seeker has to coldly evaluate the likely honesty and rationality of the company’s hiring process, and not waste time on bad risks.

      Just one example among many: If you’ve been doing demanding work for a long time, then an effective resume describing your skills and experience will run to two or three pages–sometimes longer in certain fields, such as IT. Most of the resumes I write run to three pages. They work. But the myth about “keeping it on one page” is so widespread that there are inevitably HR people (and hiring managers) who automatically toss anything longer than one page. I’ve seen this even in IT hiring managers. You have to decide which group you want to please, and write off the other.

      Also, as other commenters have pointed out, the job posting may not even be meant seriously. Or the company, finding that no qualified applicants respond to a vague or off-target posting, will not fill the post and, in a few months, re-post the job with a different description in the hopes of doing better. HR wastes immense amounts of applicant (and employer) time with half-baked or bogus postings. They have succeeded in shuffling off virtually all the actual responsibilities of recruiting, making the applicants do all the work and take all the risks themselves–a vastly less efficient way of getting it done, but they think that only the applicants pay the cost. The companies that employ them don’t realize they’re being fooled–and that this is what causes the “talent shortage.”

      It’s true that the skills needed to write a good resume are presently much rarer than they should be. But that’s a fact that employers have to live with. There’s no alternative. The fault lies not with the applicants, but in two other factors: 1) our education system and the forces that mold it (and also with the education systems, such as they are, in many other countries), and 2) the employers themselves, who don’t know enough to realize that real-world communications skills are an extremely valuable basic asset in an employee (and an indicator of other key abilities), an asset more important than the inflated credentials, purely nominal distinctions, and other BS that drive so many hiring decisions. That delusion held by employers is actively and heavily promoted by HR. It’s also promoted by resume writers who think that “research” on their craft means seeing what HR people say and parroting it. And by innumerable counselors, advisors, and hack writers who parrot it too.

      Therefore it’s inevitable that people who write resumes–for themselves and for others–will think they have no alternative but to imitate the fluff in the job postings.

      Also, as I mentioned above, the level of communication skills among HR people is well below the average for genuinely skilled workers. An applicant who speaks clearly and to the point–and asks clear and to-the-point questions–is likely to be perceived as a threat by the HR person, and thus be rejected as a “bad fit.”

      That doesn’t mean that people can’t write effective resumes for themselves unless they have the skills and knowledge I described in my previous comments. After all, they know their own histories better than anyone else–or at least, the information is somewhere in their own heads, or their own files. Certain common-sense procedures will take you a long way. For one, there’s HR Hybrid’s point about writing down your skills and experience as you gain them, or as you realize they may be worth pointing out on a resume. But to start with, you’re going to have to write down a complete history of what you’ve gained in the past. And you have to accept that this will take time and serious effort–especially if you haven’t got seriously trained writing and research skills. It will take at least a couple of days–spread out over the much longer time that it will take for you to remember everything. So you can’t wait to do it until you need to find a job.

      And that’s just getting the basic facts down on paper. It will take more time to get them into effective language. And formatting them properly will take time too, unless you’ve got a rare level of MS Word skills. (Of course, it doesn’t take much time to achieve a rare level of MS Word skills, given the will and right guidance, and the willingness to ignore what everyone else tells you.)

      Once you’ve done it the first time, of course, keeping it updated will be a lot easier.

      Or you can call me or one of the few other resume writers who work as I do. Expect to pay between one and two percent of your annual compensation. In advance. Believe me, we earn those fees. As Nick said above, it takes a lot of time.

      Of course, the resume is only the first step. You have to be prepared to do the rest too. Ask Nick about that.

      The fundamental problem–and, I think, the reason that HR gets away with it–is that hiring isn’t the only reason that companies have HR departments. They also think that HR procedures will help them avoid discrimination lawsuits and the resulting bad publicity, and keep them in compliance with regulations, especially federal and state EO-type regulations. That’s true, to an extent, in the short term, for a small part of what HR does. But only in the short term–the wolf isn’t going to go away while it’s being fed, and other wolves will sniff the goodies and show up. But for many employers, this HR function seems to be more important than hiring.

      • I have see some very dysfunctional HR but fortunately also, some high functioning progressive & courageous HR. One issue here is that the REALLY good folks are so imbedded into the higher echelons of the organization that the average employee doesn’t get to interact with them and must push through several layers. What are the layers? Contractors brought in to use like a CC, people with their hands tied, recent college grads, hr services and occasionally someone like me who will take time to understand the issue at hand, consider what is right/fair/best interests of everyone and use every network, skill and resource I have to get it done.

        If you are solving problems above your salary grade or level, I will made sure it is noticed, highlighted and recognized . If development options are limited, I will hunt them down. If compensation transparency is needed, I will push for it and provide relevant information to you openly. If you are owed something as far as benefits, years of service, I will make sure it is investigated and corrected even if it goes back 20+ years when you worked for a company that we sold and now are back in the fold. I will coach an employee through any kind of conflict or transition. I will negotiate, shape and influence on your behalf when it is warranted. Your new hires will not be forgotten but followed up with. Everything in this process will be fine tuned to accelerate and assimilate, even if it means getting people outside of HR involved. Frustrating processes will be streamlined or flat out changed– I can’t work that way and I don’t want it for you. I will train your managers and teach them how to be better leaders on the front lines. I will show you how to make performance management less of a chore and more a development tool that actually benefits you. I will meet you for lunch and aim to know as much as I can about your projects, team, life and relocation. I will support and create innovative ways for people to work together. i will research everything under the sun and make sure the BEST ideas are employed. If I need more training myself, I will get it on my own time if needed. If there is a person who is a serious risk who can’t be fired as per the CEO, I will relocate them to China and avoid future lawsuits.

        There is a whole other level of activities supporting leaders and larger organizational development, less relevant to clients but what we are really supposed to focus on most. HR also has to basically practice law without the degree, keeping up with every change in various states and countries, mitigating risk of any kind.

        I wish that “recruiters” we’re not umbrellaed with “HR” as most of them are not trained or effective. Many do more damage to the “brand” than companies realize. Many work unaware of the law and do not have proper means to assess skill level. More are on short term contracts and not invested. Others are basically pimps out in the ether pitching roles for which they have no agreement with the company hoping to make 15k off of a random placement.

        The best HR manager had a Ph.D in physics. Perhaps this is why working with scientists has been good for me. I get to interact daily with super intelligent people who don’t like Jargon (the NIH actually specifically says NO JARGON in terms of grant writing and scientist and trained to stay away from it). My Asian colleagues value authenticity and trust. The European ones appreciate that I can speak some of their language, have traveled and know their culture and history.

        Sadly, it is the contract recruiter that often can’t see the forest from the trees. They may fixate on a small perceived deficiency or the fact that not all my years were in HR.
        Here I am forced to use Jargon because it is the only thing they understand. That, and key words. My strategy for these types is to chose my jargon carefully and be able to back it up with concrete examples. This is what usually works but it is a time waster. I could be talking about what you need and what I could DO for you:!)! Instead I am backing up jargon to prove I understand it.

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