How to Decipher a Job listing

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The alchemy used by some HR managers and recruiters in today’s job listings can be both cryptic and confusing. Many are filled with "corporate speak" and inter-departmental bafflegab.  It’s enough to make you climb the walls.  


Some tips to help you decipher the obfuscation in job postings:


Fast paced, high energy.  If you’re over 45, you may want to rethink applying for this job. “Fast paced” and “high energy” are code words for young, under 45 or maybe even under 35. Even if you’ve got a stellar resume, these guys are looking for “Young Turks,” 30-something comers who still play video games and can play a full-court basketball game without running out of breath.

"Required skills" vs "preferred skills." If you don’t have the “required skills,” don’t apply. If you do, but don’t have the “preferred skills,” you’ve got an outside chance, but don’t hold your breath—especially in this highly competitive job market.  

Work “flexible hours.”  Lots of ways to interpret this one. On the upside, the job may entail working outside the 9 to 5 timeframe, giving you some flexibility. On the down side, it may mean working 10- to 12-hour days and weekends. Service industry and sales jobs often use this phrase to tell applicants they’ll have to work until the job gets done or until some performance benchmarks are met.

Entrepreneurial work ethic. This can be interpreted a number of ways as well. It could mean that the company values individual contributions and creative input, treating you like an entrepreneur. On the other hand, it could mean that they don’t want to be bothered with a lot of questions, leaving you to basically figure out what the job entails and having you “walk into the propeller” if something goes wrong.

People person. They want someone with the personality to lead and inspire others. Maybe the last person they hired for the job didn’t get along with his or her peers, or even their boss. This job will be heavy with politics. It will value Input (the appearance of getting the job done) rather then Output (results or what you actually accomplish). 

Active learner.  Another code word for young. Means they’re looking for someone under 45 who learns fast and is particularly adept at embracing new skills and technologies. No "dial phone" types wanted here.  You need be the master of mobile technology and be able to talk the talk. 

Self starter.  I’ve seen this one over and over. Most often it’s a red flag, suggesting that the company wants you to do it all. No team effort here. You sink or swim on your own. It often signals a lack of real leadership at the top, an absentee boss, or one too busy playing golf or going on overseas “business trips.”

Progressive executive experience. No lateral moves allowed on your resume. It’s got to be supervisor, manager,  VP and up. You’re responsible for ever-increasing budgets and staff. They want a player. 

Reading between the lines and interpreting these phrases can steer you toward the right job without wasting a lot ot time. 



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  • Alex Kecskes
    Alex Kecskes
    Thanks, Robert. Professional slang or acronyms often change as you go from job to job or state to state. So for a national audience, I like to keep titles more general.
  • Robert A
    Robert A
    Great article, perhaps one with today's professional slang or acronyms? Like Customer Service is now Customer Retention Reps.

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