As of 2021, a job posting (or listing) on an Internet Job Board was still the primary tool for hiring teams. In fact, job language was often the only piece of messaging that potential applicants saw from an organization, making job posts marketing documents as well as recruiting documents.
Our analysis of millions of job postings has revealed the importance of both content and language in these documents. Clear requirements as well as inclusive language and content are vital for attracting qualified, diverse applicant pools while deterring unqualified job seekers. Skillsets unrelated to the job (i.e., full tech stacks), soft skills (i.e., communication skills), or corporate cliches (i.e., value-added) are a detriment to this effort.
For this report, we collected hiring data directly from over 10,000 employers for the years 2019, 2020, and 2021. Looking solely at technology jobs, we analyzed the data for trends and uncovered three related to language in listings for tech jobs. The first related to job posts mentioning tech stacks. The second related to the prevalence of soft skills, or generic requirements. And the third related to the use of corporate cliches.
→ At Datapeople, we’re obsessed with how companies describe their jobs, cultures, and environments in outward-facing job descriptions. We’re delighted that, in recent years, companies have increasingly recognized that job posts are marketing documents that impact employer brand. Which has resulted in subtle shifts of language in their job posts.
→ This is most prevalent in the decline of soft skills and generic requirements (non-specific job requirements that are distinct from hard skills). Soft skills include language that emphasizes communication skills, attention to detail, work ethic, and other vague requirements. We have routinely seen this type of language confuse applicants, lengthen jobs, and deter qualified applicants from applying. We saw a significant decline in the proportion of job posts with this language between 2019 and 2021 ─ across all job types.
→ However, corporate cliches continued to make their way into tech job language. These included phrases like ‘drive business growth’ and acronyms such as KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) or OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) ─ with no explanation of what they mean. Corporate cliches were most prevalent in business-facing areas such as Product Management, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), and Data and Project Management. They were least prevalent in more technical areas like Hardware and Software Engineering (Frontend, Mobile, Backend, and Fullstack). Big Tech companies (the largest technology-focused U.S.-based companies) continued to use cliches in job posts even as newer tech companies were phasing it out.
→ Around 12% of job postings in tech jobs described the company tech stack. This was most prevalent in Fullstack Engineering jobs and least prevalent in Quality Assurance (QA) and User Interface/User Experience (UI/UX) Design jobs. We saw increasing instances of tech stack mentions in Infrastructure Engineering, Backend, and ERP. It’s worth noting that including full tech stacks can backfire by confusing potential applicants about the skills needed for the job. Inclusive job descriptions require clarity.
Technology stacks, commonly known as tech stacks, include all the apps, tools, platforms, and programming languages that an organization uses. While relevant to some positions (i.e., Fullstack Engineers), our analysis revealed references to them for jobs where the tech stack is not critical.
About 12% of postings for tech jobs mentioned the company’s tech stack. That number remained relatively steady from 2019 to 2021.
We saw widespread references to tech stacks for Fullstack jobs, which require familiarity with tech stacks. Our analysis revealed references to software stacks for jobs in Software Engineering (e.g., Mobile, Fronted, Backend, Infrastructure). We even saw references to software stacks (albeit at lower levels) in jobs where the tech stack isn’t critical (e.g., Product Management, Hardware, QA, Information Technology [IT] Support, UI/UX Design).
Our analysis revealed an increase in references to tech stacks in job postings for some engineering jobs (Infrastructure and Backend) as well as Information Security (InfoSec) and ERP jobs. It also revealed a decrease for jobs where tech stacks were not critical and where mentions were already low (e.g., IT Support, UI/UX Design, Sales Engineering).
Most of the increase in mentions of tech stacks in job postings came from smaller, Privately Held companies (not publicly listed). Although Startups (Privately Held, smaller but backed by funding and rapidly growing) and Unicorns (Privately Held with a $1 billion evaluation) had higher-than-average mentions, the numbers didn’t change significantly.
Big Tech companies had generally higher rates of references to tech stacks in their job postings, compared to non-Big Tech companies. We didn’t see any difference between older Big Tech companies (e.g., Microsoft, Intel, Dell) or newer Big Tech companies (e.g., Facebook, Amazon, Netflix). However, the recent increase overall in tech stack mentions in postings came from Non-big Tech companies.
References to tech stacks for jobs in the San Francisco Bay Area and Seattle were higher than in other areas. However, mentions increased in postings for jobs based in other cities.
For our analysis, we defined non-specific job requirements that were distinct from hard skills as soft skills and generic requirements. Particularly in tech jobs, these are secondary to the core skills and requirements of the role.
Soft skills included requirements such as communication skills, attention to detail, loyalty, work ethic, organizational skills, and other non-specific attributes. While these skills enhance an applicant’s profile, they don’t overcome any deficiencies in key areas. For example, communication skills are secondary for an Electrical Engineering applicant. And an applicant lacking experience in building and testing hardware may not qualify for a job specializing in Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) integrated circuits, whatever their communication skills.
For our analysis, we also defined a class of job posts that have high levels of soft skills or generic requirements. In 2019, about a quarter of tech jobs included a high level of soft skills, although that percentage was 14% lower in 2020 and 2021.
We also found a decrease in jobs with high levels of generic requirements across all seniority levels. Interestingly, we found that the percentage of jobs that included soft skills was proportional to the seniority level of those jobs. Fewer Entry-level job listings included soft skills than those for Senior jobs (typically requiring 10+ years of experience). Although we also found a decrease in jobs with high levels of generic requirements across all seniority levels.
Our analysis revealed that the percentage of tech jobs including soft skills overall decreased from 2019 to 2021. (The biggest decreases came from New Big Tech – newer large companies – particularly Google, Facebook, and NVIDIA.) However, this wasn’t the case for all company types.
Among New Big Tech companies, Netflix, Apple, and Twitter showed higher rates and even increases in generic requirements. And while Unicorns tended to have lower percentages of soft skills in 2019 and 2020, that changed in 2021. The percentages for those companies rose to similar levels as Public companies (publicly listed but not large enough to be in the Fortune 500) and Fortune 500 companies (the largest U.S.-based companies). (Startups showed a similar trend, although the increase didn’t meet the threshold to signal growth.)
New Big Tech companies showed a significant decrease in mentions of soft skills in job listings.
Mentions of general requirements in job postings varied by company among New Big Tech companies such as Google, Facebook, and Netflix.
Corporate cliches are jargon, buzzwords, or other overused expressions. Rather than convey original ideas (or ideas that were once original), they have gradually lost meaning over time. They include expressions like ‘drive business growth’ and ‘think outside the box.’ They also include references to KPIs or OKRs that don’t also include definitions of those KPIs or OKRs.
In our analysis, we uncovered a few notable trends in the use of corporate cliches in job listings for tech jobs. We saw significant growth in corporate-cliche use for particular job types, especially for jobs at the interface of business and engineering logic (e.g., Sales Engineering, Product Management, Data). The only place we saw a decrease was in postings for Infrastructure Engineering jobs.
About 18% of tech job postings had a high level of corporate cliches between 2019 and 2021.
Among tech jobs, corporate cliche use was highest in postings for business-interfacing jobs such as Product Management, ERP, Data, and Project Management. It was lowest among more technical job types such as Hardware and Software Engineering (Frontend, Mobile, Backend, Fullstack).
Additionally, we found that the use of corporate cliches in postings for business-interfacing jobs increased.
Our analysis also revealed a correlation between corporate cliche use and company type. Job listings for New Big Tech companies had higher rates of corporate cliche use in 2019, but the rates fell. In contrast, postings at Traditional Big Tech companies saw a significant increase in corporate cliche use.
Additionally, Apple, Netflix, and NVIDIA were the primary drivers of increased cliche use, with Google and Facebook bucking the new trend of decreasing the use of cliches.
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