21 Definitions

Every industry and profession carries with it its own distinct jargon. In fact, it is the measure of recruiters’ worth to be able to pick up on the unique lexicon of the positions for which they recruit.

Being able to spout off the verbal equivalent of Google Adwords also preempts most candidates’ assumptions that as recruiters, we’re slightly above amoeba but slightly beneath bonobo monkeys on the evolutionary ladder. (The monkeys do admittedly win by default, though like recruiters, they have been known to eat their young, although most of us do this figuratively through the invention of the concept of “entry-level” employment.)

There’s been a lot of attention paid to the banalities of “corporate speak,” those words such as synergy, deliverables, scalable, and, my personal favorite, paradigm shift, which sounds suspiciously like a Led Zeppelin cover band or a Tom Clancy novel.

Additionally, there is a preponderance of words that have absolutely no meaning whatsoever to anyone outside of a specialized functional area.

As an accounting and finance recruiter, I am able to speak quite convincingly about Tier One ERPs, f(x) hedging, and econometrics. In fact, I can come across sounding a bit like a wonk, which I will consider a professional asset, given my inability to do simple arithmetic.

I feel a little bit like an expatriate; I’m able to speak the language with some proficiency, but throw in an idiom or colloquialism, and I’m rooting around for my dictionary.

Meaningless Catch-Phrases Take Off

Slowly but surely, these buzzwords have trickled into the public consciousness because most of these words are reserved for candidates specifically. The overwhelming majority of our etymology, in fact, was specifically created for less-than-desirable candidates.

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As recruiters, it is vocational anathema to create a negative impression on a candidate, or to in any way create a negative reflection on the organization we represent. A successful recruiter strives to make each candidate feel like his or her interaction with the company was a successful one, even if it was, in fact, the worst disaster since the Hindenburg.

To prevent further confusion, I’ve provided a quick guide for candidates to decipher recruiter-speak with the hope that it eases the search process by providing the subtext of the terminology recruiters use the most.

While corporate recruiters are honest, we are never brutally honest. Our errors are of omission, and we tend to accentuate the positive, whether in presenting an opportunity, rejecting a candidate, or even closing an offer.

A Growing List

This list is by no means definitive, but it is a start. Any suggestions or additions are greatly encouraged.

  • Sourcing (v) Usage: “I sourced your resume and thought that you might be a great fit?” Definition: The entry of keywords onto a job board.
  • Exciting (adj.): Usage: “We’ve got an exciting opportunity currently available?” Definition: An open headcount that needs to be filled as quickly as possible.
  • Prescreen (n) Usage: “I’d like to set up a brief, exploratory prescreen.” Definition: The conversation by which recruiters ascertain if they can afford the talent in question.
  • Visibility (adj.): Usage: “This role has high visibility to all levels of management throughout the organization.” Definition: The phrase most often used to describe a position with the smallest margin for error and highest turnover rate in the company.
  • Growth (n): Usage: “This position is really a great growth opportunity.” Definition: The naturally occurring phenomenon by which workers find fulfillment doing exactly the same job in a different company.
  • Ad-hoc (adj.) Usage: “There will also be some ad-hoc projects required.” Definition: A catch-all phrase used by corporations to describe the countless hours of manpower invested in activities unrelated to one’s job function, generally evoked at the whim of departmental heads.
  • Expectations (n) Usage: “What are your expectations for your next position?” Definition: The test commonly used during the screening process to see whether the candidate is capable of reading a job description and changing tense from third- to first-person.
  • Stable (adj.) Usage: “It’s a very stable business unit.” Definition: When the collective tenure of a department’s employees preempt any consideration of change or improvement upon the status quo.
  • Reinventing (v) Usage: “We’ve had challenges in the past, but we’re reinventing ourselves and our processes.” Definition: A commonly used tactic employed by recruiters to explain recent or forthcoming layoffs (see: derecruit, reorganization, shared services, offshoring, outsourcing, et al).
  • Competition (n) Usage: “You’ve got some pretty stiff competition for this position.” Definition: A word used by recruiters to preempt disappointment for the candidate by establishing expectations upfront. Alternative definition: A tactic employed to make an extremely undesirable position appear more enticing.
  • Team (n) Usage: “We’re looking for a team player.” Definition: The intangible qualities associated with a candidate who will not make waves and demonstrates the willingness to accept abuse by supervisors and fellow staff.
  • DOE (acr.) see also depending on experience.Usage: “I am unable to provide a salary range for the position as it is DOE.” Definition: Whereby a company unable to pay market rate for a position compensates by placing the blame on candidate deficiencies.
  • Best practices (n): Usage: “We’re a best practices organization.” Phrase has not yet been defined. See meaning of life, UFOs.
  • Work-life balance (phrase): Usage: “We put a real premium on work-life balance.” Definition: The ratio of one’s time at home to one’s time at work. The smaller the ratio, the more likely the employee is paid on an hourly basis.
  • Overtime (n) Usage: “There may be some slight overtime involved.” Definition: An institution imposed by corporations to increase shareholder value without increasing headcount by maximizing working hours of employee population, up to and including Saturdays, holidays, and seminal life events.
  • Feedback (n) Usage: “I’ll provide feedback from my hiring manager as soon as I get it.” Definition: Generally construed as a one- or two-word answer by which hiring managers summarily reject top candidates.
  • Next steps (phrase) Usage: “We’ll be in touch regarding next steps.” Definition: A phrase used to put off rejecting marginal candidates for as long as possible until an offer is accepted by a more qualified party.
  • References (n) Usage: “We’re going to begin checking your references.” Definition: The process by which a recruiter contacts previous coworkers of a potential hire from a list provided by the candidate in an attempt to bring objectivity to the hiring process.
  • Background check (n) Usage: “You’re our final candidate, but I can’t extend an offer until your background check clears.” Definition: A control imposed by corporations in order to slow recruiters’ ability to extend an offer for a period of time that perfectly coincides with a candidate’s extension and acceptance of other offers. Alternate definition: An industry whose practitioners continue to thrive despite the Internet’s abilities to perform the same functionality at a fraction of the cost.
  • Benefits (n) Usage: “We are proud to offer a comprehensive, competitive benefits package to all employees.” Definition: A tactic used by corporations to attract full-time employees and entice temporary ones into menial labor.
  • Offer letter (n) Usage: “Congratulations on joining our team. I’m sending over an offer letter that contains all the information you’re going to need.” Definition: A document or set of documents that contains all information relevant to one’s employment with a company, denoting the last communication between recruiter and candidate until the candidate becomes eligible for transfer consideration.

As a veteran of the HR and recruiting industries, Matt Charney has served in marketing leadership roles for companies such as Monster, Cornerstone OnDemand, and Talemetry, overseeing online, social media, content marketing, and press/analyst relations. He developed expertise in recruitment advertising and strategy, online employer branding, social recruiting, and direct sourcing while an in-house recruiter for companies including the Walt Disney Company, Warner Bros. Entertainment Group, and Amgen. A highly sought after writer and speaker on recruiting, marketing and technology, you can follow him on Twitter @MattCharney or connect on LinkedIn.


11 Comments on “21 Definitions

  1. Great Article Matthew. You’ve injected some much needed humour into my daily routine. It’s funny because it’s true.

  2. Matthew, I’m printing this article and putting it in a frame. You forgot my current favorite, though: ‘level-set’.

  3. This article was a funny as Zoolander (my apologies to any Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson fans).

    For the remaining folks they are scratching their heads, thinking ?Who would hire recruiters who exercise this lexicon?? Does a recruiter’s personal brand, their organization’s or their firm’s brand really mean so little?

    To those who do use such words, they would be better served by offering better terms/questions. This could even be a multi-part article. Help stop the treatment of candidates as dolts. The truth is that the stellar, smart candidates wouldn’t fall for such words, terms.

    I?m just a corporate recruiter and, to use the author’s phrase, just being ‘brutally honest’.

  4. I’m still smiling after laughing out loud at your article. If we’re honest, most of us would admit to using many of these words in our daily Recruiter-speak.

  5. You forgot: Ground floor opportunity (phrase) Usage: ‘Ground floor opportunity with tremendous income potential.’ Definition: Smoke & mirrors used to lure you into working long hours for low pay and assuming some of the company’s risk while fishing for more VC money. Similar to ‘Growth’ only with lower pay and no benefits.

    Sylvia Dahlby

    >> SmartSearch >> Recruit the Right Way. Right away.
    Staffing Management & Talent Acquisition Software from APS, Inc.

  6. I was surprised how many of those words I used throughout my day. I’m a corporate recruiter as well and I constantly find myself ‘sugarcoating’ almost every detail of the position(s) offered at my company. Thanks for the chuckles.

  7. I have to admit. This was pretty funny. However, it doesn’t necessarily reflect very well on the industry at large if these phrases are part of the general lexicon of the average recruiter. Assuming this was just a whimsical piece, I’ll get on to my real concern which is related to the tidbit on background checks. It’s certainly okay to have a sense of humor, but the assertion that a thorough and accurate background check is only a mouse click away is either ill-informed or irresponsible. There are two many examples of others who are lulled into that same false sense of security and one need only follow the news to find regular instances of companies who said they performed background checks only to have a major incident in the workplace. Many times, these incidents could have been avoided by performing a proper background check.

    There will always be a sense of concern among recruiters that they will lose good candidates when a background check takes too long. However, if you have the right screening partner they are doing a good job of explaining what is going on when delays occur. Check out a recent article I wrote on this very topic:

  8. Referral (n) Usage: ‘This opportunity doesn’t seem to be a fit for you at this time, do you happen to know anyone like you, that you would refer to me?’ Definition: Please do my job for me so I can make a lot of money and you can feel great about yourself.

  9. Matt,

    I got a good laugh out of some of these, but I think that you seem to lump all the recruiters into one category. Yes, this verbiage is somewhat true in terms of what we use each day, but the onus is on the recruiter to explain exactly what each of these things truly means for your organization.

    I know that when I talk about growth with someone, I let them know what those possible patterns are, even going so far as to talk about people who transferred internally to roles better suited to them. Another was Feedback. I’m sure I’m not the perfect model for recruiting, but I believe in telling candidates honestly where they were weak, and making the manager give me this information, because somewhere down the line, we may have the perfect spot for someone who was rejected. You can be sure that they won’t call you back later if you gave them some BS line the first time.

    I have to say, again it was a pretty funny article, but I think you are off the point. Though I bet we could come up with a list of jargon that recruiters hear from ‘highly qualified candidates’ 🙂

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