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