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Ask the Headhunter: Why employers need to lose the jargon in job postings

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979 and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community.

In this special Making Sen$e edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.


Question: 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 to 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 jargon attract new talent? Can you imagine how this company delivers training to its customers if it talks like this?

Job Posting

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 Corcodilos: I don’t think it 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.

Jargon drives away good candidates

When jargon is used in recruiting, potentially good candidates are lost and turned off, not because they don’t understand the jargon, but because they understand perfectly well that the employer can’t explain clearly what it wants. That’s a risky company to work for.

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 where 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 when 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 above is usually a signal to steer clear. It’s likely a company where confusion and double-talk prevail.

Jargon reveals 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 “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.

Now, what are they saying here?

  • “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 mean in this position and at this company?

  • “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.

That doesn’t mean employers have to be boring when they post a job. See “Now THIS is a job description” for more.

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 diverse candidates. For example: “We need an experienced teacher or trainer to show our customers how to do XYZ.”

Once XYZ is defined simply, any 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. 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 who can’t tell you what it wants is very likely going to waste your time if you apply for the job.

Thank you 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?”

Dear Readers: This is a lulu of a job description. Have you encountered worse? Tell us about it! What do you look for in a job description before you’ll apply?


Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps,” “How Can I Change Careers?” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

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