How To Speak The Language Of Hiring

Job seekers and hiring managers might be looking for the same things, but research proves they aren’t speaking the same language. We asked professional resume writers for a little lesson in cross-cultural communication.

How To Speak The Language Of Hiring
[Image: Flickr user Thomas Leuthard]

Take two people: the hiring manager and the job applicant. While these two should be interacting with the kind of simpatico of best friends, the hiring process can be so convoluted that they end up speaking different languages.


Online recruitment platform Bright looked at 1 million job descriptions and 1 million resumes. They teased out the most frequent terminology used by both hiring managers and job seekers and compared the two.

In addition to a phenomenal number of commonly misspelled words, the results indicated that the two were indeed at odds on several points. According to Bright’s analysis:

Hiring managers are interested in the quality of experience, but applicants highlight mostly actions.

The presence in job descriptions of adjectives such as “exceptional,” “excellent,” “essential,” “competitive,” “comprehensive,” “positive,” and “dedicated,” not to mention “quality” itself, show that hiring managers are very interested in the quality of a candidate’s experience, but many fewer such terms appear on resumes. Instead, people tend to highlight the action that they have taken in their positions, by including verbs such as “managed,” “performed,” “created,” “worked,” and “assisted.”

Managers want to know how candidates will work if hired but candidates focus on their education.

In the job description list, words like “teamwork,” “responsible,” and “environment” point out that hiring managers also consider how candidates will work with others if hired. Job seekers place much more emphasis on education in their resumes than hiring managers do in job descriptions.


What’s a worthy candidate to do?


Donna Svei, a professional resume and LinkedIn profile writer, says for starters, there’s one important thing to remember. “Hiring managers don’t read very many resumes, the applicant tracking system (ATS) reads them.”

Software doesn’t care how splendid your template is or how liberally it’s sprinkled with keywords. The electronic sweep can be too sensitive to digest any fancy tables or fonts, and too sophisticated to fall for a barrage of the same search term. Graphic geeks take heart though, fonts do matter when the resume is scanned by human eyes. There’s a whole psychology behind those serifs.

If your resume is up to software snuff, the recruiter (either within the company or externally) will get it and do a further parsing of potential candidates before passing a selected bunch to the hiring manager. Svei says while it’s great to be able to deliver a resume directly to a human, the truth is that even candidates recommended by colleagues, friends or family tend to be handed over to someone else for screening. “Write for the computer, then the recruiter, then the hiring manager,” Svei advises.


The best way to do this is to be specific. Erin Kennedy, one of only a few professionals worldwide to achieve “Certified Master Resume Writer” distinction, says that she’s noticed applicants trying to massage their resumes to fit four or five very different positions. “Hiring managers are looking for specialized skills,” she asserts. It’s best to narrow it down to two things and pop that into the summary area up top to add the most punch, Kennedy suggests.


Certainly it’s most appropriate to toot your own horn when a new job is on the line. Bright’s analysis discovered that superlatives actually pepper job descriptions, but that doesn’t mean it’s always appropriate to use them. Kennedy says that, while you could get away with using “excellent,” “That’s your opinion. It is much more important to stay focused on what you’ve done.”


And make sure that if you’re doing something in your current position, your language reflects that. Bright’s survey found that many candidates used past tense, which is fine for previous jobs, but makes your current work sound passé.


Make your middle school English teacher proud. Svei says adjectives and adverbs should be swapped out with anecdotal examples such as how you used Excel to build a model that went on to bring in XY and Z for your department.

To cater to an ATS and a human hiring manager looking for a good collaborator, she suggests adding details such as a role you played on a team that resulted in the development of a product or process. “If they never talk about ‘we’ they probably won’t progress,” through the search process Svei says.


Bright found that job seekers put an emphasis on their education, something Kennedy says is best relegated to the second page. If you’ve earned some special credentials or certifications that pertain to your industry, go ahead and list them. But Svei notes, “They are more interested in what you’ve done with that education, than the fact that you have it.”

You aren’t really a Ninja

Svei doesn’t subscribe to what she calls “words of violence” that have creeped into working parlance. Crushed it, hammered it, and their ilk would be best reserved for an appropriate audience. “It’s important to know the culture of the company you are applying to,” she says.

Likewise, candidates would do well to put a traditional title next to “retail ninja” (think: sales associate) or even “brand evangelist” (brand manager) to make that easily digestible for that ATS software.


About the author

Lydia Dishman is a reporter writing about the intersection of tech, leadership, and innovation. She is a regular contributor to Fast Company and has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.