Show me a job description that doesn't contain an overused cliché or buzzword and I'll show you an organization worth pursuing as a job seeker.
Unfortunately, job descriptions are like resumes. They aren't so much about original thinking as they are keeping-up-with-the-Googles. That's why in almost every job description (and resume) you see phrases like "detail-oriented", "team player" and "results-oriented."
So how do you know what the employer is looking for? How do you match your resume, cover letter and LinkedIn profile to that specific employer? Let's take a look at five of the most common job description buzzwords and discuss what they really mean.
"Results-oriented" - although the king of the hill when it comes to job description buzzwords - actually has a real meaning. For most companies, it means "We aren't the kind of organization that talks about how many hours we put in. We care about performance and expect results."
To demonstrate you are results-oriented, without adding those words to your resume, demonstrate performance through quantified impact statements like, "Exceeded quota by 132 percent in 2014 and 2015."
"Team player" is a throwaway term from the 1970s. And yet, in today's global economy the phrase has many meanings depending the culture of the company. In smaller firms and startups, it could mean "We want an all-hands-on-deck" mindset versus "Sorry, that's not my job." In more established organizations, it typically means "We will not hire trolls."
To show you are a team player, in one of your bullets tell a brief story about how your team banded together to rise to a challenge. Even better, show how your work and leadership contributed to a positive outcome.
In the Industrial Age, "detail-oriented" became code for "do your job the same way every time ... exactly as I showed you how." Now that we're in the Social Age, that phrase - in many organizations - often means something much different. Perhaps the employer is looking for someone who can cite an important data point everyone might have missed. Or it could mean we want that rare active listener; someone who might catch a nuance that could change how we handle a customer issue or approach a campaign.
To emphasize your ability to pay attention to details, no matter how insignificant they might seem, point to a time when your laser focus gave your team and company a competitive advantage.
Good Communication Skills
When a company throws this cliché at you, it's best to skip to the "responsibilities" section of the job description. True: every employer wants someone who can read and write well. But warehouse worker is going to need a much different set of communication skills than a customer-facing account manager.
For most companies today, "good communication skills" means something much more relevant in the business world. Specifically, in our next meeting are you going to talk for seven minutes straight without taking a breath? Or, will you write a 1,000-word essay when three sentences would do? In the corporate world, speaking and writing concisely is king.
One more note on this tired old cliché: the recruiter or hiring manager, from the first email they open from you and the first conversation they have with you, will know if you have good communication skills or not. Make a great first impression - in your resume, cover letter and online presence - by communicating clearly and concisely (and without using buzzwords and clichés).
This phrase used to mean, "We will not hold your hand ... here's the technical manual ... good luck!" In our post-recession workplace, however, organizations try to do more with less. Fewer managers. Fewer rules. Less process. Besides the cost-cutting benefits of this approach, there are other positives such as more autonomy, fewer layers of approval required to move an idea forward, and being recognized for coming up with that next great idea.
To show you work independently (AKA "a self-starter"), demonstrate you work well without supervision, micromanagers and control freaks (okay, maybe you shouldn't mention those last two management types). Show you have a history of taking initiative. Most important, show how your ideas directly benefited your company, its employees or customers.
As you can see, these job descriptions and clichés really do have meaning, and it's up to you to know enough about the role and the culture of the company to do a bit of decoding.
Get this right, and you'll quickly be seen as a results-driven team player with an eye for detail who can communicate with all levels of management without the need for constant supervision.
Mark Babbitt is the CEO and Founder of YouTern, a blogger, a "Top 100 Leadership Speaker" (Inc.) and co-author of A World Gone Social: How Companies Must Adapt to Survive.