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Translating vacancy announcement jargon


After completing graduate school, I read thousands of job vacancies as each day I would sit behind my laptop pouring over the information returned to me by job listing aggregators like Indeed.com. For better or worse, the Internet is an ever-expansive information landscape, whose beginning and end are never in reach, and always out of sight. In short, my queries returned all of the information I could possibly handle. While this less-than-systematic approach to searching for a job didn’t supply me with any solid leads, after a month of searching I began to recognize patterns—similar logic—underlying seemingly divergent position descriptions. Beyond evident structural similarities, contained within many of those vacancies was the same tired, vapid, unspecific language. In the same way that we might form “schools” out of writers whose prose have similar, identifiable stylistic or thematic touches, job vacancies, full of vague unhelpful language and jargon, might be understood as representing a specific, thoroughly unentertaining, uninviting species of literature, its name both entirely apropos—reflective of its function—and ironic: Vacant.

However “unremarkable” this form of literature may appear, says CNN Money contributor Katherine Reynolds Lewis, “these buzz are signaling,” latent with hidden meaning, and begging job seekers to “read between the lines.” Lewis recently compiled a catalogue, with the help of career professionals, which decodes many of those words that pervade job vacancies. Beware: her translations bear an evident cynical quality (though, perhaps it is simply the case that the light in which we view vacancy announcements is overly rose colored).  Here are my favorite three translations:

  • “Team player.” While an employee’s ability to effectively assimilate into a collective, and work effectively as part of a team, may be a trait highly sought after by many hiring managers, beware, says Lewis: “be wary that this innocuous phrase really means that you’ll take whatever the bosses dish out.”
  • “Creativity for ‘out of the box’ solutions.” This oft-used bit of job vacancy jargon is code for one thing, says Lews: a job in which you will be forced to “chart your own course.”
  • “Self-starter.” Think about a professional context in which you might be required to be ‘entrepreneurial’—it’s likely to be a context in which there may not only be a leadership vacuum, but in which the scope of your duties are not clearly defined. Or, as one of Lewis’ sources asks rhetorically, “’Can you make ambivalence and lack of direction work?’”