Honest Language

I’ve written in various places before about how there’s an arms race between recruiters and job seekers, and it hurts the market as a whole.

One of the weapons in that war is something I call “resume language,” which I’m absolutely sure you’ve encountered, or perhaps even used. In fact, you’ve probably gotten a lot of advice that you should use it, which is a symptom of the aforementioned arms race.

What is “resume language?” It’s words and phrases you’d never use in any other writing, professional or otherwise, made to inflate the appearance of your accomplishments and responsibilities.

I’m a career coach. I could say “I leverage cross-industry actionables, utilizing best practices and focused metrics to spearhead personal career development initiatives.” Here’s my real deal: I’ve been around the block a bunch, and I was a recruiter for a long time, so I know this game well and can help you beat it. That’s “resume language.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. You should absolutely describe your duties in detail, and focus on what actual skills you learned and what things you accomplished. If you’re putting your job as a cashier on a resume, you shouldn’t put “I was just a cashier.” You weren’t “just” anything. You should put that you learned the importance of combining accuracy, speed and friendliness. You should put that having to account for your own cash drawer made you focus on personal responsibility. And it’s fine to describe how those skills and traits will translate well into the job you want. But what you shouldn’t do is say you “pro-activated end-client fiscal transaction process.” Stuff like that sounds absurd and everyone sees through it immediately.

Now, anyone who has listened to me give career advice for more than 30 seconds has probably heard me say just how… freakin’… POORLY almost all job ads are written. They’re terrible. That’s because they have their own version of the “resume language” problem, where they’re trying to make the job sound much more complex or interesting than it really is. Some jobs are just simple and not exciting, and that’s okay. But recruiters, as part of the continuing arms race, are trying to both filter out lots and lots of candidates, while simultaneously trying to attract specific high-end candidates. As a result, they doctor their job ads with endless repetition, additional absurd requirements for skills, experience and credentials, and even their own version of “resume language.” For instance, check out this little snippet of a recent job ad I found:

Yes, you read that correctly. “Outreach telephonically.”

The primary responsibility is to call people. It’s a telemarketing role.

Why don’t they just put that? Well, because telemarketing has a bad rap (mostly deserved) and they won’t get as many applicants if they just say it’s a telemarketing job. But this ruse only works until… about the first 5 minutes of the interview. I guarantee you their conversion rate is horrible, not to mention their turnover rate for people they do manage to hire. If you think your job is so bad that you have to fake people out to even apply, you should probably look at why. Figure out why people don’t want to be telemarketers, then make it different at your place of employment, and then say so!

“This is a telemarketing role! ‘Oh no, no way,’ you’re saying. But we’re not like that soul-numbing job you had selling vacation packages to mid-West senior citizens on the Do Not Call list. First, 100% of our outbound calls are in response to a request made on our website within the last 24 hours, so it’s all people that have specifically requested a call for more info. Second, we’re not a scripted boiler room – we train you to be a subject matter expert, and then you interact with our customers like a human, answering their questions in normal conversation. We’re here to help people! If that’s the kind of team you would do great work with, we want you to outreach telephonically… I mean call us!”

That’s the sort of job ad I’ve written for companies when I do the hiring. Spoiler: It works really well. Skipping the arms race always does, regardless of which side of the hiring desk you’re on.

I’ll close out this post by telling you what I think the biggest, most central problem with the current state of the job market is. The arms race is horrible, but I think it’s a symptom. I think the central cause is this: Job seekers are expected to reach out to employers, instead of the other way around.

Before the era of the internet, there wasn’t really a better way to do it. If a person wanted a job, they had no choice but to “hit the pavement” and bring their resume to every employer in town, or start dialing down the phone book. An employer that wanted to hire someone had no good way of reaching out to specific candidates, so they had to just advertise that they were hiring, cast a wide net, and hope the best fish leaped into it.

Then the internet took over a lot of industries, including the old function of the “classifieds.” The replacement technology appeared, but out of habit we simply used it the same way as we’d used the old methods, instead of realizing the potential it had to change the game entirely.

I think job boards should work in the reverse of the way they do now. I think a board like Indeed should be all posts from job-seekers, to which employers respond. If I was a recruiter looking to fill an opening for a marketing specialist, I’d start filling in my keyword searches based on the expertise I wanted, and start looking through the postings from potential employees. Then I’d send out requests to interview to them.

Why do I think this would be a better method? Because a very small number of smart employers already do this, and it’s wildly successful. It takes a bit of effort, but it saves a lot of time and money in your search costs. As a recruiter, when I had to fill a particular vacancy, the first thing I did – way before posting job ads – was just search for people with the skills I wanted. You know… I recruited. Those people aren’t invisible anymore. They have blogs, websites, LinkedIn accounts, Twitter accounts. They’re active on Quora or StackExchange or any number of other places, and they’re already showing their work in an honest way, devoid of confusing “resume language.”

They’re ready to have an honest conversation about work. If you are as well, you’ll get them.

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