NEW YORK (MainStreet) — If you spend enough time searching for jobs, all the postings start to blur together thanks in part to the common phrases that seem to pop up in every listing.
The precise qualifications and responsibilities may change from one posting to the next, but the wording tends to be similar. Every recruiter seems to be looking for a “self-starter” or a “team player,” someone with “good communication skills” who is “results oriented.” There’s just one problem: What does any of that actually mean? And how much do you need to address it in your application?
“Sometimes the things listed on the posting are just stream of consciousness,” says Anita Attridge, a former human resources manager at companies including Xerox and Merck who now works as a career coach with the Five O’Clock Club. For some postings, “being organized” may be a throwaway term, for others it may be the key requirement to landing the job. “What you want to do is look at the job itself – the job description – and based upon that think about what would be most important in that particular job.”
According to Attridge, there’s a good chance you will end up addressing many of these generic phrases in other ways on your application and in the course of the interview. For example, if “punctuality” were one of the words, just responding promptly to emails from the hiring manager and showing up on time for the interview would be enough to prove that you are a punctual person. But some buzzwords and phrases may need to be addressed more explicitly.
MainStreet picked out a list of common buzzwords based on suggestions from recruiting experts and data from LinkedIn on the most common terms that appear in job postings. Here’s a breakdown of what those terms mean and how to address them in your application.
“Results oriented” is a stiff phrase that simply means the candidate should have a history of accomplishments and innovations in their career, even if these accomplishments are as simple as finding a way to do a task that shaves off an hour of work time each week. Rather than explicitly state in your resume or cover letter that you are results oriented, Attridge recommends sprinkling examples throughout your resume.
“The biggest mistake that people make on their resumes is that they stick to writing about their responsibilities and not the results,” she says. Rather than use up space on your resume defining your job duties, she urges candidates to talk about how they helped the business.
“Team player” is the recruiter’s polite way of saying they want someone who knows how to play well with others and “check their ego at the door,” according to Bruce Hurwitz, a career counselor and president of Hurwitz Strategic Staffing.
If it’s clearly a position where teamwork would be a key part of the job, Hurwitz suggests referencing some of the teams you’ve been a part of and what you accomplished in those teams on your resume and in the course of the interview. It’s generally a good idea to show that you have experience as a participant on a team and as the leader or go-to person for a team.
Good Communication Skills
At its most basic level, the phrase “communication skills” just means the company wants someone who can read and write well – a point that you’ll likely demonstrate with the quality of writing in your cover letter and the way you handle yourself in the course of the job interview. Beyond that, Attridge says the phrase is also a way for recruiters to make sure the candidate has experience communicating with co-workers to facilitate various projects. To address this latter point, she recommends adding a line to your resume or cover letter saying you have a “proven ability to deal with people at all levels of the organization.”
“Well organized” means exactly what you think it does – the company wants someone who is organized – but that doesn’t mean you need to devote a paragraph on your cover letter to bragging about your filing system. Instead, Hurwitz says this point will mostly be addressed by your attention to detail in the application process.
“If your resume is disorganized, then you’re disorganized. I’ve gotten resumes where things have been repeated, or the applicant has a period in some places and not in others,” he says. Likewise, if you show up to the interview and can’t find your business card or cellphone, it will be a red flag. “If your bag is disorganized, then you’re disorganized.”
When an employer says they want a “self-starter,” what they are really looking for is someone who can work with minimal supervision and has a history of taking initiative. Or as Hurwitz puts it, “It means we don’t need to hold your hand.”
Don’t bother saying you are a self-starter, though. Instead, Hurwitz suggests you use your resume and cover letter to highlight projects and ideas that you initiated in previous jobs. In the course of the interview, you can also go into greater detail about your work-flow and the amount of supervision you had.
Virtually every company requires employees to juggle multiple tasks, which might make this buzzword seem unnecessary. But if the job posting does ask for someone who is able to multitask, Attridge says you should address it by adding a line to your summary or skills section at the top of your resume alluding to the fact that you managed multiple projects on deadline.
Minimum Five Years’ Experience
Most job postings include some mention of the minimum amount of experience required to be considered for the position, whether it’s two years, five years or seven years. But it’s not really the number of years you’ve worked that matters so much as what stage you’re at in your career.
“If they are looking for someone with five years’ experience, they are looking for someone who was at the entry-level and has now moved along a little bit, so they have a strong grounding in that particular area at this point. Typically, if you have five years’ experience, you are at a more sophisticated, more complex level than if you had two or three,” Attridge says. As a general rule, two years’ experience might be an indication that have work experience but are still entry-level, whereas five years’ experience might mean you’ve moved up in the ranks.
If you have worked for roughly that amount of time, then Attridge says you should make sure to note it in your resume and cover letter. However, if you’ve worked in the industry for significantly less time (or significantly more, for that matter), she says you should leave out a hard number and instead emphasize the level of responsibilities you’ve had.
Unlike the other buzzwords on our list, “competitive salary” is more useful for predicting what you should expect from the company rather than the other way around.
As a general rule, this phrase means the employer doesn’t have a fixed amount that they are planning to pay for the position. Instead, the amount is based on the expectations of the candidates and the standards for the industry as a whole.
“They’re being less straightforward so they can get a better handle on where they really need to come down,” Attridge says. If you see this on the resume, you can expect the interviewer to be a little more pushy in asking for your salary range and you may just have a little more negotiating power as well, though not always. After all, they’re not just competing for you, you’re competing for them. So if you quote a salary that’s much higher than the demands of other candidates, Attridge says you “could price yourself out of the job.”
Seth Fiegerman is a staff reporter for MainStreet. You can reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @sfiegerman.