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What's in a word anyway?

By Beth Wingad

To misquote Shakespeare, 'what's in a word?' The answer is quite a lot, actually. 

I write a lot of words in my role, and it frequently gets me thinking about how powerful the language we use is. Whether it's a perfectly deployed swear word (which I'm a fan of), or just cutting the rubbish in your comms, the words we use are crucial to getting across what we're trying to say in the way we want to say it. 

'So what's all this got to do with recruitment?' I hear you ask. Again, the answer is quite a lot. You're wanting to advertise a job? You use words to write the ad. You're wanting to promote your job? You use words in the email campaign. So making sure you're using the right words in the right place is key to making sure you’re advertising your role in the best way possible. And there are a few things that are easy to get wrong…

Buzzword bingo

How many times do you see the word 'passion' in a job ad? Quite frankly you've probably not got enough fingers to keep count. I bet you've seen 'dynamic' or 'innovative' almost as many. 

These words might sound great on paper, but job seekers are bored of reading them. When people see the same words time and time again, they stop believing them. Finding a more interesting way of saying these things will engage prospective candidates far more than seeing an ad that's spouting the same claims they've seen thousands of times before.

Accidentally gendered language

Boring buzzwords aside, there's a darker side to the language we use in job ads too. You may be inadvertently using gendered language in your job ads and discouraging people from applying to your roles, reducing diversity in your applicants.  Maybe you're looking for someone competitive, driven, who's able to challenge existing thinking? Or maybe you're after someone who's collaborative, dependable, committed? 

All of these words might sound like innocent adjectives, but research has shown that they're actually subtly gender-coded and can send the wrong message. Women in particular won't apply for a role if they believe a job is framed in a 'masculine' way. 

There are great tools out there to help you get past this, including this gender decoder.

Accidentally ageist

Are words like 'energetic', 'hungry' and 'dynamic' discouraging the older generations from applying? Possibly so. 

All of these words can arguably be seen as euphemisms for 'young'. And older applicants certainly feel that way. Whilst it's great to nurture new talent and appeal to the younger generations, doing this at the expense of another demographic isn't the right way to go. 

Rather than falling back on these words, describe what you really mean. You say you want someone 'dynamic' - but do you really just mean someone who can think outside the box and come up with creative solutions? Anyone of any age can do that. So if that's what you really mean, say that.

Avoiding these traps

There's no one-size-fits-all when it comes to using the right words. But there are some things that can help:

  • Write how you’d speak - chances are the way you'd sell a job over the phone to a candidate is the way you should write it too. If you're writing an ad, read it aloud. Sounds clunky or unnatural? Try again.
  • Use tools and technology - software like the gender decoder can really help avoid gendered language creeping into job ads. Even beyond that, if you're stuck for inspiration asking an AI tool to rewrite a sentence in more casual or colloquial language can do the trick (but we wouldn't recommend doing this for an entire ad, people are getting much savvier about sniffing out AI-speak)
  • Get someone to proof read it - it's hard to see your own faults, right? Particularly when you've been working closely on something. Getting a second opinion is a great way to test how well something really reads.
  • Work with a recruitment company - when you work with a recruitment partner like FMC Talent, we really get to know you and your brand so we can develop a winning message to market that gets the candidates you need on the hook.