Describing our personal strengths in a post-truth world

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LinkedIn's just released a list of the top ten buzzwords used by HR professionals when looking to move jobs

Use of  'buzzwords' in the headline made me expect metaphor-ridden, multi-word combos strung together with hyphens like a chain of fairylights.

Except that wasn't the case. Here's the list:

  • Specialised
  • Leadership
  • Focused
  • Strategic
  • Experienced
  • Expert
  • Passionate
  • Responsible
  • Multinational
  • Track-record

They're just... words. I know what they mean.

Which begs the question: why are they buzzwords?

Is this just language being cheapened?

Maybe these aren't buzzwords, but normal words rendered meaningless by overuse.

There's a good blog post from the Macmillan Dictionary on semantic inflation - or how the need to stand out means we increasingly use words that are, essentially, overengineered.

We describe everyone as a legend. We say everything is amazing. Superyachts have been dethroned by megayachts. Ideas are hyper-relevant, not just relevant.

So in the desire to stand out against the trillions and trillions of other people on LinkedIn (see what I did there?), we all describe ourselves as experts. As consultants. As having a track record.

It's ironic then, that using these words actually makes us sound like everyone else.

Is it just a Catch 22 with the recruitment industry?

Maybe our use of these words is reflective of expectations among recruiters and hiring managers.

Recruitment companies are judged on getting the best people, so they want to set the standard high. They want 'proven track records,' 'portfolios that wow' and 'strategic experience of a range of focused leadership situations.'

And because they want these, we give it to them, because we know we'll get judged against job descriptions.

Is it driven by social sourcing?

The words in the list above are universally accepted as positive; maybe people use them to attract as much attention as they can from hiring organisations hunting for candidates online.

HR will often do the initial sift of candidates online which means they won't have the domain expertise of the hiring manager. Without domain expertise, we regress to looking for words that are universally positive, easily parseable and understandable.

Perhaps the use of these words is a proverbial attempt to get your foot in the door of as many different opportunities as possible.

And this isn't just applicable to recruitment. If you're looking for a speaker for an employee engagement event, you'll probably look for 'engagement experts' in the first instance.

Are these qualities just more common now?

As learning opportunities and access to information improve, maybe we can all become better leaders quicker.

Experience is obviously key, but with so much out there on common mistakes leaders make along with evidence-based information on actions leaders should take to have positive effects, it's easier to be proficient than before.

If you've put in the hard work through self-development, are you entitled to call yourself an expert?

Or are we actually in the post-truth hiring world?

Maybe we use these words because people are not really interested in our true self and our career successes to date - maybe expertise gets drowned out by noise, and our evidence of expertise is just too mired in detail for people to actually read.

Post-truth is defined by Oxford Dictionaries as a time when "objective facts are less influential... than appeals to emotion and personal belief."

Maybe there's only one profession nowadays and that's getting yourself at the forefront of the right person's mind.

Or maybe I'm just being cynical and the best person always gets the job...

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments below and we'll see if we can all have a strategic, focused online peer-to-peer collaborative catch-up. And by that I mean a conversation.

About Jamie Lawrence

Jamie Lawrence, HRZone

Jamie Lawrence is editor of global online HR publication and community HRZone.com. He is committed to driving forward the HR agenda and making sure that HR directors have the knowledge and insight necessary to make HR felt across the whole organisation. He regularly speaks to audiences of 250+ and has interviewed key HR industry names, including Daniel H. Pink. He has worked previously as a small business journalist and a copywriter and has published non-fiction that reached #2 on the NYT Children's Bestseller List. In his spare time Jamie likes writing fiction, films, fitness and eating out.

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