What the Buzzwords in a Job Posting Really Mean

Decode the Words and Phrases Commonly Seen in Job Descriptions

Buzzwords and job descriptions
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Look at enough job ads and resumes, and you'll grow familiar with a set of commonly used buzzwords. Are you a "self-starter"? A "ninja"? Are you "dynamic" and "detail-oriented," with "a good sense of humor" and an ability to "multitask"? The jargon can begin to melt into meaninglessness.

Buzzwords in Job Descriptions

These phrases are repeated so frequently because it's hard to encapsulate a job, company, and desired qualities of an employee in a short space.

But don't dismiss buzzy keywords just because of overuse—the words and phrases in job ads can provide much insight into the role, culture, expectations, and company.

Buzzwords in Your Resume

Don't dismiss buzzwords in your resume either. Recruiters and hiring managers see right through a resume crowded with meaningless words. For one thing, the hiring manager probably won’t read them. 

Studies show that recruiters and HR folks spend as little as seven seconds reviewing resumes before they move them to the “yes” pile—or toss them in the trash.

To make it to yes, you need to choose resume buzzwords that count. The best buzzwords describe your abilities, match them to the job qualifications, and show that you’re a better fit for the position than the other candidates.

Bad resume buzzwords waste everyone’s time and dramatically reduce your new job prospects.

The best approach is to focus on what you have to offer:

  • What can you do for the organization?
  • What can you do better than anyone else?
  • How does your previous experience reflect that?

Answer these questions in direct language, and then you can move on to finding the buzzwords and action verbs that help you sell what you offer.

Match Your Qualifications to the Job

Some of the best buzzwords aren’t trendy, and you don’t need to look far to find them. Since they are resume keywords, you can grab them right from the job listing.Choose the ones that match your qualifications to the activities and requirements that stand out in the ad.

Look for keywords related to the skills, qualities, and credentials sought by the hiring manager. Then, go beyond the job listing to search for related terms the employer may have inadvertently left out. (An easy way to do this is to look at other job listings for the same title.) Then, match that list with your skills.

Finally, review these lists of soft and hard skills that might apply to the job/industry. In the end, you’ll wind up with a fairly comprehensive list of keywords that relate to the job and your suitability for it. Including these words increases the chances that your resume will make it through the Applicant Tracking System and be read by a human being.

Be Prepared to Share a Story

Just remember that while buzzwords will help you get past the first review filter and show the hiring manager that you have what it takes, the way you tell the story of your career and your candidacy is what will make all the difference.

Focus your resume, abilities, and interview around how you can help solve the company’s problems, achieve its goals, and move to the next level, and you’ll have the best chance at landing the interview and the job. 

Buzzwords: A - Z List

Review this A to Z list of frequently mentioned job post jargon to help decode what the phrases mean, why they were included, and how to tailor your resume and interview answers to fit what the employer is looking for.

Communication Skills

Very often written as "strong communication skills," including this phrase means the job requires interpersonal skills, and the ability to speak and write clearly.

How to show you have the skills: You might want to emphasize responsibilities that involve working directly with clients or experience giving presentations.

Similar keywords: interpersonal skills, strong writing, and verbal skills

Detail-Oriented

From sending an email without typos to managing the details of a complicated event, detail-oriented people check, and then double-check to ensure error-free and flawless execution of any task.

How to show you have the skills: Highlight organizational responsibilities, such as planning an event, creating a schedule or calendar, or overseeing a project. Your application and behavior at the job interview can provide a firsthand demonstration of your ability to manage details.

Follow all application instructions carefully; have a flawless, typo-free resume and cover letter; and at your interview, show up on time, with adequate copies of your resume and a professional demeanor. 

Similar keywords: organized

Dynamic

Think of this as an updated version of "shows initiative"—dynamic employees take on responsibilities beyond their job description. They're confident, can think independently, and are comfortable acting as a leader on projects and in teams.

How to show you have the skills: Emphasize ways you've gone beyond your job description and give examples of leadership.

Similar keywords: leadership role, self-starter, agent of change, shows initiative

Fast-Paced

Do you do well with last-minute work, unexpected fire drill assignments, unplanned late hours, and multiple deadlines? Use of this word in a job description can imply long hours. It may also indicate a company in flux, or prone to unexpected changes in direction.

How to show you have the skills: To impress interviewers, be ready with examples of how you've managed multiple projects or responded to a last-minute change.

Similar keywords: agile, deadline-oriented, able to multitask, works well under pressure

Flexible

Or sometimes "no job too small" or "willing to pitch in"—these kinds of keyword indicate a company that may have a very flat organization. Don't expect to have someone printing out documents for you: in a flexible work environment, workers are often expected to solve their own problems.

This can indicate a need to switch gears quickly, work unexpected or atypical hours (such as nights and weekends) to get the job done, and to be able to do things outside of the job description.

At a lower level, this could also indicate that you'll be asked to do rather menial work (picking up coffee; dropping off dry cleaning).

Similar keywords: works well under pressure, thinks outside of the box, multitasking

Growth Opportunity

This could indicate a few things, from a low salary to high turnover in the job. A position with a "high potential for growth" is likely something you won't stay at long—which could mean that you'll be promoted to a better role, or that the job is so onerous that no one stays in the spot for very long.

In your interview, inquire about the people who previously held the role.

Ninja

Most commonly seen in start-up and tech job descriptions, ninjas—or gurus and wizards—are an updated version of "passionate" employees. Companies use this word to show that they're looking for a superstar—the best of the best—and also to convey that the environment in the office is young, fun, and energetic.

Don't use this word to describe yourself—it'll seem overly self-congratulatory. Be aware that use of these types of word in job postings can indicate that the writer isn't certain how to describe the role, and may also be a hint that the job will require long hours and burnout.

Similar keywords: Guru, wizard, rock star, Jedi, superhero, evangelist

Passionate

Use of this word in a job description indicates that employees are expected to do more than punch in and out: the company wants employees who are enthused about the work involved, the industry, and the company. No complainers or clock-watchers wanted!

This word is particularly common in nonprofit and technology job listings.

How to show you have the skills: Carefully research the company before writing your cover letter and interviewing: this will help you seem engaged with the business and role.

Similar keywords: enthusiastic, high energy, committed

Results-Oriented

Did you save your company money in your last position? Eliminate an inefficiency? Participate in an award-winning project?

How to show you have the skills: Use this keyword as an excuse to trot out some of your accomplishments in your cover letter (and interview, if you get one).Including this phrase means the company is interested in candidates who save money, staff time, increase sales, or whatever the desired outcome in the job's industry.

Self-Starter

Expect a position that won't involve a lot of handholding, weekly meetings with supervisors, or set check-ins.

How to show you have the skills: Highlight times you've worked independently. If you are someone who likes to ask a lot of questions or requires feedback and affirmation, this might not be a good role for you. And if the role requires a lot of work that's new to you, this might not be a good fit. You'll be setting yourself up for failure if you take on a position with unfamiliar responsibilities that doesn't provide training or supervision.

Similar keywords: proactive, works well under pressure, willing to work independently, entrepreneurial, independent, resourceful

Team Player

This common job advertisement phrase indicates that the company is more interested in results than in who did what.

How to show you have the skills: Emphasize your ability to work well with others, and your strengths at brainstorming and collaborating. You may want to speak from the "we" instead of the "I" while answering some questions during an interview.

Show Don't Tell (Your Skills)

As you can see, there is much valuable information hidden behind the hackneyed words and phrases dominating job ads.

As you plan your resume and cover letter and prep for an interview, keep this writer's adage in mind: Show, don’t tell.

Look for ways to demonstrate times you've embodied the qualities detailed in these phrases.

Rather than describing yourself as "a self-starter," for example, describe a time you handled a project independently.

Article Sources

  1. Ladders. "Eye-Tracking Study." Accessed June 11, 2020.