Skip to main content

Looking to grow your business and hire? Please, ditch the jargon

By July 4, 2021No Comments

(This article originally appeared in The Guardian)

Are you looking to hire a “team player”, a “self-starter”, or someone “proactive” to “take it to the next level”? Well, maybe you should stop.

The labor market is tight and small businesses across the country are desperately trying to fill open positions. To do this, most of us are placing job listings on various sites in the hopes of attracting a good, skilled worker. But unfortunately, the jargon we’re using is having the opposite impact.

According to a new study of more than 6.3m online job descriptions posted in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia by online design and publishing tool maker Canva, approximately 38% of job ads contained corporate gobble-de-gook offering a “window of opportunity” to “make hay” and “go viral”.


The worst offender of jargon over-use is the state of Washington, where 598 per 1,000 job listings contained “complicated words and phrases, the most common being “cloud-first”, a phase that leaves even me, a technology consultant, puzzled as to its meaning. But even though Washington state employers took the award for being most cringeworthy, other states used some very distinctive (and unintelligible) phrases in their job listings like “growth hacking,” “drill down” and “peel the onion”. Companies in the tech industry were, of course, the biggest perpetrators of this nonsense, but marketing, finance, human resources and media firms weren’t too far behind.

The crazy thing is that while the people writing these ads think they’re using language that will connect more with potential job applications, it’s actually having the opposite effect. According to Canva, there’s actually no benefit to using jargon in job ads.

“Multiple studies have shown that it puts applicants off of applying because they don’t understand it, particularly those in the 16-24 age group and those from disadvantaged backgrounds,” the study’s authors write. “As a result, many suitable candidates for a job won’t ever apply because of a badly worded advert.”

It’s also a put-off for non-native speakers, people with learning disabilities and potentially good applicants with lower education levels.

The takeaways? Avoid the silly jargon. Use plain language. Rely on short sentences. Be yourself. Pretend you’re soliciting for actual, real people and not someone from a TV show or movie. You shouldn’t be unprofessional. But you don’t have to use silly phrases to make yourself and your company look cooler than it is. People are smarter than that. They can spot insincerity and this can cost you potential employees.

“Are you instead simply filling up the space with vague buzzwords and clichés, like ‘open and collaborative culture’ or ‘a forward thinking company’?” writes Travis O’Rourke of the global recruiting firm Hays.

“Don’t leave candidates in any doubt about the purpose of this job and what part they would be playing within your organization if they took on the role.”

Skip to content