You’ve probably read through a lot of job listings throughout your career, so you are well aware of the meanings of words and phrases like “job responsibilities,” “must-haves,” and “nice-to-haves.” It is by no means where the list ends, though, because there are so many keywords and phrases in job listings that can serve as clues to company culture and the realities of the position if you know what you’re looking for.
In a typical job posting, you’ll probably see a few words pop out repeatedly that emphasize the types of specific skills they’re looking for in a candidate. These are the buzzwords that you’ll want to be sure to include in your resume and application because they are what the talent management system is going to search for.
While important in their way, these are not the buzzwords you should assess to get a feel for the company’s culture. For this, you’ll want to keep an eye on the descriptive words they use for both their ideal candidate and the job itself.
Think of Buzzwords as Clues
There are some job listings that you can glance over once and immediately know what kind of culture it is, like the ones that use a lot of “cool” language and exclamation points, probably one hoping to attract young talent looking for a “fun” work environment. Then there are those with very technical language that makes absolute sense if you know the industry but read like a foreign language to someone who doesn't. You don’t have to do much work here to figure out what you’d be getting yourself.
The bulk of job listings fall somewhere between these two, though. They are written with a more neutral tone and are easy to follow whether you have an understanding of the job or industry or not. It is where you want to pay close attention to the buzzwords they choose because they can be very telling.
Why is this important?
As parents with kids living at home, our priorities are significantly different from those whose children have moved out or people without kids and partners. These parents are better positioned to end up in a job with irregular hours and frequent mandatory social events than you probably are. So, if they miss the signs during the recruitment process, it’s easier for them to stick it out for a while until they find something new than it would be for you.
Many factors go into accepting a job offer for parents, like weighing benefits based on family needs and salary negotiations to ensure certain expenses are covered. There are only so many organizations that can check off all the must-have boxes, and you don’t want to miss out on one because you overlooked an important buzzword or phrase.
Common Buzzwords/Phrases & Possible Meanings
Results-Oriented: Likely cares more about performance and quality work than how you get it done.
Team Player: The culture is collaborative and the hiring manager expects their employees to have a “We before I” mentality when working.
Fast-Paced Environment: This may be a toxic culture where responsibilities are constantly changing and you’ll be expected to put out many fires regularly.
Detail Oriented: The job has a lot of important small parts to it and whoever fills the position needs to be able to do every part correctly and efficiently.
Passionate: Red flag. It could mean they’re looking for a workaholic who prioritizes their work over their personal life. A caveat to this is if it’s a mission-driven organization and they’re looking for a candidate who believes in the work they’re doing.
Works Independently / Self Starter: The job is autonomous and you should not expect any hand-holding. It could also mean inadequate training, so this is a topic to address in the interview.
Competitive Salary: The company knows the average salary range for this position and they expect you to as well; you will likely end up negotiating a bit if you’re offered the job.
Multi-Tasker: The job will require you to shift priorities frequently and suddenly; this could also be a clue that you’ll be overworked.
Strong Communication Skills: This role is either client-facing or has high visibility within the organization, so they need someone who is polished, well-spoken, and knows how to write a solid email.
Flexible: Code for “things are constantly changing” and possibly code for “you have to be flexible with your time and expect to work long hours.”
Free food/snacks/meals: Two possibilities here, this could be a true perk or it could be a sign that they expect you to work such long hours that you’ll need to eat there (coming in before you’ve had breakfast, working through lunch or staying late).
Rockstar / Ninja / Wizard (or something similar): The company has a “cool” culture, is probably a startup that has a ping-pong table to hopefully distract you from all of the long hours you’ll have to work.
High Growth Mode: Another startup term that means the company is still in the process of figuring things out. So, there will likely be restructurings, changes in job responsibilities, and priorities regularly.
A Sense Of Humor: It should be a red flag because it may be an open admission that the culture is toxic and you’ll just have to laugh it off.
Demanding: Whether this is describing the job or the organization, take this word for face value.
Dynamic: If the company describes their ideal candidate, they want someone who shows initiative and drives. If this is describing the company, they feel like their product is innovative or an industry game-changer.
Growth Opportunity: Possibly a job that is either low-paying or has a high turnover rate.
We Are Like A Family: You can probably expect regular (likely mandatory) after-hour events that your actual family is not invited to.
Family-Friendly: They understand that people have personal lives and will probably do their best to work with you based on those needs.
A few buzzwords are sticking out in the job description. Now what?
If the words/phrases aren’t making it glaringly obvious that the culture is toxic, but they still make you pause, don’t skip applying because they may not entirely reflect the company. For instance, maybe it’s a great company, but the recruiter used a general job listing template to create the post without putting much thought into the language. Apply to the job, make a note of what is standing out to you, and then use your interview(s) as an opportunity to ask probing questions. In the end, if the interviewer won’t give you a straight answer, then that’s not a great sign. But, if instead they provide an answer and put your mind at ease, then you can put less weight onto those buzzwords.
Of course, these buzzword meanings are not difficult and fast rules so, always remember to do your due diligence when applying to an organization. Look up employee and client reviews, poke around their website and, if possible, speak to someone who currently works there to get a clearer picture of the organization’s culture.
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