Unconscious bias isn’t the only kind of job posting language that can diminish your applicant pools. Corporate jargon, soft skills, corporate cliches, and generally vague or impersonal language can confuse qualified and unqualified job seekers alike.
A job listing is a window, and it’s often the only view of your job and your organization that potential candidates see. (External job ads that you use for recruiting, not internal job descriptions that you use for human resources purposes.) Including things like corporate jargon, soft skills, and corporate cliches in job posting language is like smearing mud across the window.
How companies describe their jobs and represent themselves in public-facing job listings is important to us. In recent years, we’ve watched happily as companies have increasingly used job posts as marketing tools that impact employer brand and candidate sourcing.
In fact, Datapeople’s science team recently analyzed job listing data from over 10,000 U.S.-based employers and found a number of recruiting trends. Among them, we noticed some long-running trends continuing (e.g., use of corporate cliches) but also some subtle shifts in job posting language (e.g., diminished use of soft skills). The subtle shifts are important, because not only do job posts describe jobs, they also set applicant expectations.
Clarity is key. If your job post is the only piece of messaging from your organization that a potential candidate reads, it has to be clear. Corporate jargon, which not all job seekers understand, can get in the way of that clarity. Hiring teams may inadvertently deter qualified job seekers while attracting unqualified applicants.
Corporate cliches in job posting language
Corporate cliches take different forms in job posting language. They include corporate jargon, trending buzzwords, tired expressions, and other phrases. The problem with corporate cliches is that they don’t tell job seekers anything of value.
If the main purpose of a job posting is to inform job seekers about a position, phrases like ‘drive business growth’ and ‘think outside the box’ don’t clarify things. Neither do references to key performance indicators (KPIs) or objectives and key results (OKRs) without explanations of what they mean.
Our data shows that use of corporate cliches hasn’t diminished. Over the last few years, about 18% of tech job posts have included a high level of cliches, corporate jargon, and the like. They appear most frequently in listings for less technical jobs and less frequently for more technical jobs. They also appear most frequently at traditional big tech companies (the largest technology-focused U.S.-based companies).
Our data also shows that the use of corporate cliches has risen at some of the newer big tech companies like Apple and Netflix.
Soft skills in job posting language
Soft skills, on the other hand, are showing up less in job posting language these days, which is a good thing.
Requirements like excellent communication skills, work ethic, organizational skills, attention to detail, and loyalty are all great attributes for an employee. In fact, many hiring professionals believe these are crucial in hiring.
Yet we routinely see soft skills lengthen job posts, confuse applicants, and deter qualified job seekers from applying. All that when hiring teams could simply wait until the interview and assessment processes to evaluate soft skills.
It’s a good thing that our data shows soft skills declining generally across all seniority levels. In 2019, about 25% of tech job posts included a high level of soft skills. That percentage was 14% lower in 2020 and 2021. Among new big tech companies, the percentage fell 43%, although it varied by individual company in some instances.
Why it matters
Hiring teams have historically viewed the job post as a mechanism by which they attract candidates. But that’s not all it is. One of the job post’s most basic functions is to describe your organization and your open job. It’s also the way job seekers gauge whether they qualify for a position and, crucially, whether they want to work for your company.
Candidates are looking at your job post from the outside in. And they’re typically reading it on a third-party job search site. That means they aren’t gathering how multifaceted your company culture may be from your careers page. In that way, how you write about your company and your role is the main way you’re communicating your company culture.
But think about a job post’s other function: setting expectations. For you, these expectations include the minimum job requirements a candidate should have to apply and what you’ll expect of them as an employee.
For the job seeker, expectations include the compensation and benefits they’ll receive and what they can expect regarding workplace culture. Setting expectations is no small thing, and it requires clarity, not corporate jargon or meaningless soft skills.
Delete corporate jargon, which gets in the way
How do ninja, Jedi, guru, or wizard really describe someone’s skills or experience? (Especially when one person’s Jedi may be another person’s Padawan.) And how many jobs out there don’t require someone to be a self-starter, team player, or multi-tasker?
Rather than saying a candidate needs to be a ninja or some other vague thing, describe what the job requires more specifically. Saying exactly what tasks someone will need to do in the job paints a clearer picture of the skills and experience necessary.
Meanwhile, corporate cliches, soft skills, and vague or impersonal language make it hard to set accurate expectations. A job seeker may think they know what you’re saying when they don’t. (Which can mean more applications from unqualified candidates and fewer applications from qualified candidates.) Or they may not know what you’re saying and decide to pass on your job altogether. (Which means smaller candidate pools.)
For example, saying a role is “responsible for effectively articulating the value of products or services to customers” is needlessly wordy and filled with corporate-speak. A statement like that may not be clear to candidates, especially to those for whom English is a second language. It’s clearer just to say something like the role “will promote the value of products to customers.”
Lastly, impersonal language dilutes your message. The ‘ideal candidate’ isn’t the same as ‘you’ to someone reading your job post. Speaking to them directly helps them internalize your messaging.
Remove soft skills from job posting language, but not your hiring efforts
Soft skills don’t help job seekers determine whether they qualify and should apply. Highly qualified job seekers, in fact, are less likely to apply to a job full of vague requirements than one full of concrete requirements and responsibilities.
The reason so much job posting language includes soft skills is because…so much job posting language includes soft skills. When hiring teams write job posts, they often scour other companies’ published job posts for possible content. Most job posts include soft skills, so job post writers continue to include them.
Again, some hiring teams believe that certain soft skills are the key to great employees that stay for a long time at the company. Regardless, job description language isn’t the place to address them. You can do that better in the interview and assessment processes.
Skip the corporate jargon in job posting language
At the end of the day, corporate cliches can confuse and deter qualified job seekers, so leave them out of your job posting language. Also, soft skills don’t add anything except potential confusion. Feel free to leave them out too and address them in the interview and assessment processes instead.
Job listings are often the only window job seekers get into your job and your company. Including corporate jargon or soft skills can cloud their view. Instead of encouraging qualified job seekers to apply, your hiring team may inadvertently deter qualified job seekers and encourage unqualified applicants. It’s best to leave them out of your job posting language.