The Jargon/Credibility Correlation

I’m not sure when exactly it happened, but somewhere along the line, the word “jargon” seemed to acquire a negative connotation — and became something that many career counselors warned against using on resumes, in interviews, and in other aspects of the job hunting process.  Personally, I’d argue the exact opposite.  In my experience, most job hunters don’t use NEARLY ENOUGH jargon to really establish their credibility as an expert or maximize their chances of landing opportunities in today’s market!

A case in point?  The other day I was chatting with a new client who is an expert in the IT data management field.  We were working on his resume and I informed him that one of the keys to modern resume methodology is to load the document up with a slate of juicy, relevant buzzwords that will appeal to both computer scanners and human resume screeners alike.  When pressed, however, he said he couldn’t really think of any additional language that needed to inserted beyond what he already had in his document — and that the phrase “data management” pretty much summed everything up.

Having gone through this ritual with clients a few thousand times to date, however, I knew that this was likely a failure of imagination on his part.  There had to be more to the story.  We just needed to put our brainstorming muscles to work.  So the first thing I did was jump on Indeed.com and run a search for any executive-level jobs with the phrase “data management” in the title.  After popping a few of the initial listings open, I asked my client if he had any clue what terms such as master data, metadata, data architecture, data governance, data warehousing, virtualization, and Hyper-V meant.  “Sure,” he said, “I know all of those terms — that’s all the stuff I specialize in!”

Needless to say, after I pointed out that his current resume failed to emphasize any of these specific words and concepts, I think he got my point — and we worked these new terms into the presentation immediately, right near the top!

Think this is an extreme example?  I assure you, it isn’t.  The average professional tends to be so close to their own industry and work environment that they often take many important phrases, terms, and competencies for granted and overlook them completely when assembling their job search materials.  This can be a fatal mistake from a lead generation standpoint.  Simply put, jargon establishes credibility.  There are few things that will convince an employer or recruiter that you “know your stuff” as quickly as using all the right language, in the proper context, when talking about your experience and capabilities.  If I was hiring an outplacement consultant, for example, I’d be wary of anybody who didn’t know what a functional resume was, versus a chronological one, or who didn’t talk freely and knowledgeably about things like exit interviews, personal branding, retained recruiters, and dependable strengths.  The mere fact that they weren’t using this language would lead me to suspect they really didn’t have the expertise I’d require.  And in my experience, every specialized occupational field has a similar set of terms that only true “insiders” understand and know how to use correctly.

So as you put together your own job hunting materials, and work on your interview responses, don’t be afraid to include a healthy dose of jargon related to your professional field.  If you water everything down to high-level language that everybody will understand, chances are you’ll sell yourself short and damage your credibility.  I’ve heard rumors, in fact, that the next generation of resume-screening software will be MUCH smarter (in a sense) than current programs and will actually be programmed to analyze jargon, in context, to help weed out superior candidates from pretenders.  Instead of just hunting for the words “supply chain” anywhere on a resume, for example, they’ll also look to make sure related words are listed, too, such as Lean, Six Sigma, and APICS.  They may even insist that these additional terms show up within a certain number of characters around the main phrase, just to make sure the person’s use of these skills is directly related to the core competency sought and that the person’s application of these skills took place within a similar time frame.  No question about it — the technology is going to get a lot more sophisticated on us in a hurry — so don’t wait to infuse your job search “packaging” with all the right terminology!

P.S.  This advice applies to LinkedIn profiles, as well.  The other day, I went hunting for a great example of a CFO profile on LinkedIn to share as part of a new webinar I was conducting, and sadly, after reviewing 20 profiles or so, I couldn’t find a single one that seemed to contain all of the right terminology.  And since LinkedIn is now the #1 place that companies go to proactively recruit talent, I fear that a lot of you out there might be getting passed over for some opportunities, simply due to “profile anemia” and a failure to pack your profile (especially the “Specialties” section) with all the right terminology!

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3 Responses to “The Jargon/Credibility Correlation”

  1. Howard: Thanks very much for your comment and for raising that additional question about whether (or not) to use jargon in one’s elevator pitch. While I thought about speaking to that issue in my posting, and mentioning some other “exceptions” to the general principle I was trying to get across, I was worried the article would get too long, so I didn’t elaborate. The elevator pitch issue is definitely one instance, though, where a person would want to avoid any complicated/unfamiliar jargon if the audience in question doesn’t share a similar background. I was working with a bunch of embedded software programmers, for example, who were trying to explain what they did to me, and I just wasn’t getting it. Finally one of them pulled out his cell phone and said “Ever wonder who tells the phone what to do when you press the various buttons? That’s the kind of thing guys like us work on.” It was a perfect way to get a layman like me to understand their expertise. But in most cases, when you’re applying to companies that actually DO have knowledge of your field, you definitely want to “talk the talk” and use all the right lingo. So thanks for pointing out perhaps the single biggest exception to the guideline I was espousing! 🙂

  2. Matt,

    You make some excellent points: while jargon can be used to hamper communication by excluding others, in the job search it definitely can indicate an expertise in a very concise manner.

    I have a question about using jargon in an elevator speech. In an elevator speech, it seems that you want to have as simple a message as possible, so that even people that are outside of your discipline can recognize what you do, and refer you to others that would understand the jargon.

    My background is in private equity, and my original elevator speech resonated well with finance/investment types. In general networking groups, however, I often received feedback that they did not understand what I did. As a result, I have tried to simplify/broaden my message.

    What is your feeling about having jargon in your elevator speech. My guess is that used in moderation, it can show credibility, and perhaps even be a hook for a more in depth conversation.

  3. A wake-up call for all of us, whether we are actively or passively seeking work!

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