how to cut through ‘recruitment speak’ when looking for a job

We’ve all been in a situation where we find a job that we think is perfect for us. The job seems great on paper – excellent opportunities for career progression, killer office space, top-of-the-heap compensation. But then as you get deeper into the recruitment process, you begin to wonder if things are too good to be true. We’re taught from a young age that things that are too good to be true, probably are. This little tidbit of wisdom applies to jobs, too. Here’s how to determine if that once-in-a-lifetime job opportunity will keep up its end of the bargain once you’re on the top.

Translating recruitment jargon when looking for a job

when reality doesn’t align with what you’ve been told

From the moment you step foot in the building, something seems ‘off’ - this wasn't the job you thought it was. The culture is cold, the people aren’t as friendly as you were assured, and suddenly there isn't even that free coffee you were promised!

Sometimes it seems impossible to fully comprehend what a job will be like from the outside looking in. HR and hiring managers might use sweeping statements like "approachable staff" so excessively that they begin to lose meaning. Even management tends to hype up their employer during interviews, a practice that can shield you – the candidate – from learning the truth. So how can you cut through recruitment-speak?

first, why do companies use ‘spin’?

It’s actually quite straightforward: because it sells. And make no mistake, it’s up to companies to ‘sell’ you the role – the competition for great talent is fierce, and that means that once in a while you’ll run into companies that know that reality won’t cut it, so they stretch the truth about how great the job will be, meanwhile hiding dirty coffee mugs and leaky buildings from view until you sit down in your chair on day one.

Once you understand what these companies are trying to accomplish when they're writing the job description or advertisement, it's easier to catch the glitches. And don't be fooled, a job description is as much a sales tool as a glossy magazine ad. It is designed to attract you, the job seeker, in the hope that you bring your talents to them. So how do you cut through these tactics and truly understand if the reality will match what you’re being sold? Here are some things to look out for:

unnecessary vagueness and buzzwords 

Let’s face it, we all use buzzy phrases – we’re used to hearing them in our day-to-day lives so it’s only natural we repeat them once in a while. A buzzword here or there shouldn’t be cause for distress. It’s when those buzzwords are used to cover up another meaning that you should be concerned and start asking questions.

Whether it's a description of the role you’ll be performing or use to describe the company itself, using buzzwords can lead to vagueness and indicate something is being pushed under the rug. The job description should have clear requirements and defined responsibilities. Anything less and you might wonder what you're signing yourself up for.

At the end of the day, the details do matter – so make sure you ask about them. If there are vague claims being made, ask questions! If the job is worthwhile, the recruiter or hiring manager should have no problem providing more information. If they circumvent answering your questions directly, it’s a red flag.

here are a few buzzwords to keep an eye out for:

competitive salary

This can be used to mean a couple of things. One: your potential employer hasn’t decided what the salary will be yet. Maybe they’ll try and negotiate this during or after your interview. Or two: they may not want to advertise what salary they’re offering for that particular role. If you’re unsure where your potential employer stands on salary, ask. Worthwhile employers should, at the very least, be able to offer a rough range once you’ve made it to the interview stage, so you know whether you’re on the same page.

strategic, organized, hardworking, etc.

We see job descriptions that list these kinds of skills as ‘must-haves’ all the time. Yes, soft skills are great to have in most roles. The problem arises when these types of vague skills make up the majority of the job qualifications. These are all great traits to have, but they don’t really get to the heart of the job and what knowledge you’ll need to be successful in the role. Beware of job descriptions that ask solely for vague qualifications that aren’t closely tied to the job at hand.

duties may vary

Like ‘competitive salary’ this might mean that the company hasn’t fully fleshed out the role, and what exactly your responsibilities will be. That could mean that you’re walking into a situation where you (and perhaps even your superiors) aren’t quite sure what the purpose of your role is. It might also mean that your day-to-day responsibilities will be at the mercy of your boss and what they need from you that day. When in doubt – ask for clarification to ensure you’re walking into the role with your eyes wide open.

great company culture

It’s easy to claim a ‘great’ company culture because that really doesn’t mean anything at all. What exactly makes a culture great? That’s a pretty subjective thing depending on who you ask. Don’t hesitate to ask about the perks and atmosphere that make up a great culture. If the culture is as amazing as it’s made out to be, the recruiter should be more than happy to discuss specifics and why this organization is the perfect fit for you.

awesome opportunity

Like ‘great company culture’ this phrase is both buzzy and vague. If the opportunity is excellent as promised, the recruiter or hiring manager will be able to explain why. Is there a higher-than-industry-average salary? Room to advance quickly? A killer office space? Free Friday lunches? Whatever the case, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification.

dynamic

This is a fairly new term as far as recruitment speak goes, and often it has connotations of youth attached to it. One of the reasons we see this term thrown about so much is that using terms like ‘young’ have banished following age discrimination legislation. Dynamism is a process characterized by constant change, innovation, and progression. It’s always good to ask for your interviewer to expand on what this means to them in the context of their workplace. As always, when in doubt, ask for clarification!

traditional vs forward-thinking

We often see these two phrases used to hint at two different types of work cultures. Traditional may be a polite way of saying stuffy, rigid or set-in-their-ways. On the other side of the spectrum, forward-thinking might be a synonym for youth-obsessed or tech-savvy. While there’s nothing wrong with either of these types of cultures, be aware of the intention behind them. If you’re unsure what these phrases mean to the employer in question, always ask.

age of role on the market 

If a role has been on the market for a long time, this can be a warning sign. Is it because there's been no interest? Or perhaps because candidates have rejected their offers, either way, find out why. The average job advertisement tends to be up for a few weeks. However, keep in mind that every role is different and that some roles are harder to fill than others. This might mean that stay up longer. In any case, if you suspect that the job has been posted for an unusual length of time, ask questions to clarify and eliminate any doubts you might have.

taking matters into your own hands

We live in an age where you – as a job seeker – are in a stronger position than ever before within the job market. Yes, this is creating a cacophony of noise that at times can make it difficult to cut through, but it can also be used to your advantage. Job seekers are empowered by the likes of LinkedIn and Glassdoor - so when trying to cut through the noise, make the most of these platforms. If you’re struggling to make a decision about an employer based on their job description, or maybe the interview has left you feeling ambiguous about whom they claim to be – take matters into your own hands and do a little research.

No doubt your personal and social network is bigger than ever – tap into this and do some digging. Find out what image the company conveys on LinkedIn and check Glassdoor to see what current and previous employees have to say. Employee advocacy is one of the most effective ways of validating a company employer brand these days. This is something to look out for should you decide to take on some social research of your own. LinkedIn can be a good place to start, but then extend this to other social platforms too.

Remember, as the job seeker, you’re in a position of power. If you’re not sure if the job is right for you, ask questions and seek out the answers you need to feel great about accepting a position. Any recruiter worth their salt will help you overcome questions and doubts about the company you’re considering working for.

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