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December 17, 2017

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Are You Spreading Jargonaise?

Jargon. We see it all the time and all over the place. Some of us have probably even used it. The simple truth is that these business idioms are rampant in today’s scalable enterprises seeking to leverage their competitive advantage in global markets. Whoops.

Jargon. We see it all the time and all over the place. Some of us have probably even used it. The simple truth is that these business idioms are rampant in today’s scalable enterprises seeking to leverage their competitive advantage in global markets. Whoops.

But is jargon a problem? Well, if the purpose of communications is to express ideas clearly and with impact, then it probably is. Indeed, such terms as “value-driven” and “mission critical” may convey important ideas to those who use them, but all too often, they are practically meaningless to others. To the recipients of jargon, annual reports, project memoranda, e-mail messages, consultants’ findings and other business documents that contain them might as well be written in ancient Icelandic.

Why is that? Jargon should not be confused with professional language or terminology that is unique to, but well understood by, all members of a distinct group (e.g., a specific occupational field). No, jargon is something else altogether. It is composed of words and phrases that fall into one of two categories:

  • Buzzwords—These terms are used so frequently, they have no impact. They may well have put some zip into an idea or concept before they became faddish, but once they pass into hyper popularity, they lose their ability to resonate with an audience. (e.g., employer of choice, family friendly)

  • Bustwords—These terms are used so broadly, they have no specific meaning. They are used by so many people in so many different circumstances, that they are eventually unable to convey any precise meaning to anyone. (e.g., value proposition, preferred customer)

In other words, jargon can sap the power and the definition out of our communications and leave us with something that is about as distinctive as a bland sandwich spread. That’s why I describe documents that are rife with jargon as “jargonaise,” a term that actually denotes “jargon malaise.”

Now, however, there’s help, at least for the more generic forms of business-speak. Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu has developed a free software program called Bullfighter. Found at www.deloitte.com/bullfighter, it translates business jargon into regular, old English. Imagine that.

You can download the Bullfighter software for free, but beware, based on the sample program that’s provided on the site, the code may still be a bit unsettled. Nevertheless, the idea is definitely on target, and that got me to thinking. Do job ads posted online suffer from the same level of jargonaise as other business documents? I decided to take a look at some recent ads posted on a major commercial recruitment site to find out.

What I discovered probably won’t surprise you. Job ad jargon is booming. It appeared in almost every posting that I read. Although the applications varied, it was used most frequently to describe prospective candidates and employers. Here are some examples.

Individuals proactive, highly motivated, self-motivator, self starter, results-driven, results oriented, high energy, hands-on experience, hands-on leadership style, strategic, attention to detail, proven track record

Employers customer-focused, employee-centered, dynamic work environment, fast-paced team environment, team-based environment, team oriented working culture, core values, competitive salary

Every organization must continuously reach out to and attract those individuals with the skills and motivation necessary to accomplish its business objectives. That requirement, in turn, means that each organization is competing with every other organization for the highest performing individuals in the workforce. The front lines in this War for the Best Talent are written communications—on your corporate career site and in your job postings. Win there, and you’re well on your way to connecting with even the most passive of prospects. Lose there, and your organization will be all but indistinguishable from every other organization looking for candidates.

How do you win the communications battle? That’s right; by avoiding jargonaise. Unfortunately, I do not have a nifty, automated Jargonaise Fighter to help you do that. I do, however, have an alternative to suggest that will get the job done. It’s a two-step process that goes like this:

  • Step 1: Give every piece of copy—your job postings and your career site content—to an employee (not a hiring manager) to read. For example, if a job ad is targeted at a certain occupational field, ask someone in that field to read it. If the copy is directed at the workforce in general, pick an employee at random and ask them to take a look.

  • Step 2: Give the reader a garish-colored marker and ask them to highlight the jargon they find. The power of this exercise is that it identifies whatever is jargonaise to your target reader population. The more you can eliminate the words and phrases that they view as hackneyed, meaningless, watered down or unclear, the better you will communicate with them.

Now, I know that such a review takes time and adds work. It is an effort worth making, however, as it will differentiate the message you convey to employment candidates. And communicating a message that stands out is the best way to set your employer apart in the War for the Best Talent.

Peter Weddle, CEO, WEDDLE’s

www.Weddles.com