What I Want Is What Everybody Else Wants!

A major cause of unsatisfactory job performance is a failure that occurs right at the outset of the hiring campaign to fill the job. It is a failure to clarify and articulate specific behaviors and performance expectations to all involved in the hiring and subsequent management processes. Unfortunately, too many people involved in hiring cannot express job behavioral requirements in specific, job-relevant terms. Rather than focus in on the job activities and link them to competencies and in turn to behaviors, they abstract and generalize about what they are seeking. All too often these lazy notions parrot the top-ten list of HR buzzwords and turn out to be valueless in recruitment and actual blocks to hiring the people who may actually be needed.

No one, in my estimation, has described this confusion better than Peter Weddle, an expert in on-line recruiting. Quoted below is a segment of an article he wrote for a recent newsletter:

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:


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)


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.”

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.


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

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 line of this “War for the Best Talent” is 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.

Thank you, Peter. But I need to add a post script. Before you can win on the career site or in the job postings, you need to win in the preparation stage. Do a complete job analysis (that’s why we invented JAX – you should be using it!) and ensure that everyone who is part of the hiring process knows what is needed, how you want to appeal to it, and how it will be measured.

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