Have you ever been reading a job description, come across a sentence, a term or even a word and thought to yourself “What does that really mean?” If you haven’t, you’re either a brilliant decipherer of HR language or just really lucky.
Yes, some job ads are little works of written art, but many are full of the vague or ambiguous clichés of the medium. They’re harder to interpret than they should be, which is bad for everyone (research involving 2000 job applicants completed a couple of years ago found that well over half of people ignored ads that included jargon, impenetrable language or bad spelling).
Our guide below aims to demystify some of the most common and least clear job description clichés:
“Stakeholder” is just a businessy way of summarising anyone who has a share, investment or interest in an organisation. Therefore, stakeholder management really refers to how well you deal with any of the many and varied people you’ll encounter in your role. Take note of the word varied. In some roles you may be asked to deal directly with clients from outside the business, “internal clients” (from departments separate from yours within the business), your direct managers, their managers, shareholders, media, as well as people you yourself manage.
“Management” also covers a multitude of sins. It could range from anything from tactfully keeping out of someone’s way to working closely with a team member every day for half the day. It may include complex, technical and serious negotiation or casual discussion – and everything in between.
This is just a faddish way of saying that you work well with others – you’re motivated by the success of the group, not just your individual progress or reputation.
But it’s not just about being nice and getting on with colleagues. Being a “team player” is about taking responsibility for your role and understanding that your cooperation and participation is essential to the team achieving objectives. When you see “team player”, think about your reliability, your attitude to groups, your communication when speaking with more than one person and your ability to contribute to the greater organisational good.
Some terms are just lazy or formulaic ways of saying something perfectly reasonable. Others, you need to be more careful with, however.
Now, we’re definitely not saying every employer who says they’re looking for a “motivated self-starter” is hiding something unpleasant – many are just looking for someone who has experience and prefers not to have their hand held. But for others it’s a sneaky euphemism. Read between the lines and you’ll get something like “We can’t promise you any training, so you’ll need to get going all by yourself.” See also: “fast-paced environment” and “hit the ground running”.
“Ability to think outside the box”
This one is ironic or fitting, depending on how you look at it.
On the one hand you could say that it’s contradictory for an advertiser to be asking for candidates who can transcend the bounds of conventional wisdom but to use one of the most overused terms in all of HR to do it. On the other, you could say that the organisation is simply cognisant of where its weaknesses lie and, once they get an outside-the-box thinker on board, they won’t be writing hackneyed job ads anymore.
Whatever the case, this one is all about you and your imagination and creativity. Are you constrained by habits and orthodoxies, or do you like to look beyond what’s been done before?
This is a tough one because it’s a word that has gained such popularity and been used with such excess, that it’s now been drained of much of its meaning. Some use it very specifically, some use it completely irresponsibly (and with no thought at all) and most use it imprecisely.
Mostly (but certainly not always) it refers to the following:
Every business has two main groups of people: the planners and the doers. (Sometimes the planners are also the doers, especially in smaller companies.) The planners are responsible for the organisation’s strategy – what it stands for and where it’s going. The doers are responsible for putting that into practice.
So, when you see “strategic” think… well, thinking… and planning, and forecasting and preparing, but not drawing or making or talking or selling.
The only absolutely foolproof way of being absolutely sure what a prospective employer means in ad is to ask them directly. Either by giving the hiring manager a call or during your interview. But in the meantime, we hope our cheat sheet goes some way to helping you make sense of the next job ad you come across.
What other rogue terms out there bother, bewilder and baffle you?