There is nothing worse than opening a web browser and typing in 'TargetJobs' 'Milkround' or 'Reed.com'. I found it induced a sinking feeling of knowing I was going to have to trawl through pages of adverts that didn't inspire me creatively, corporately, or politically.
But there is another reason why trawling through TargetJobs is a problem. It’s tedious as hell to read many of the job adverts, because of the language they use. This post is about when words are systematically used poorly in job advertisements. Take the example below. I made it up.
You'll be working within a team that develops client-focused solutions
This is what George Orwell described as bad writing, as it breaks one of his key rules:
(5) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
Orwell didn’t like these sorts of words because they tend towards abstraction. If you’re wondering what I mean by that, then I’ve demonstrated Orwell’s point correctly. It’s very hard to create an image of 'abstraction' in your head. Abstraction is not easy to draw because you can’t relate it to a concrete thing. For Orwell, ‘the whole tendency of modern prose is away from concreteness’. His example is Fascism. Very few people could describe what Fascism is, but know it means something is in some way, bad (this problem is exacerbated by the fact that it is actually, very hard to define fascism).
It isn’t that hard to work out how my advert breaks Orwell’s law. It uses jargon words. A lot. Sometimes, jargon words do useful things (these are called neologisms, as in to ‘google something or ‘crowdfund’ an idea). However, the client focus solutions yields more,rather than less interpretations. Business neologisms that serve no real purpose other than to confound you are littered across memos and minutes, swelling with pomposity like verbal hot air balloons. Think of ‘touching base’ or ‘front-end’ or ‘cross-functional’. ‘Providing a service’ can, quite uselessly, become ‘delivering seamless, client-centric solutions’. This excellent website will generate your own corporate bullshit phrases for you. The word Creovation, a symbiosis of ‘innovation and creation, but more blue-sky than either’ was, mercifully, a satirical creation by the Financial Times.
This might be part of the reason why graduates so often dislike the work they end up doing. There is a mismatch between what they were led to believe they would be doing and what they actually ended up doing. When I think of graduate jobs, after to speaking to lots of people in these roles, this is the honest job description I imagine.
“The successful for this job will be determined to be the most hardworking and most productive member of staff. They will take on tasks at the whim of uncaring managers without a moment’s protest, or any regard for their own sizeable workload or mental health. Indeed, they will stay an extra four hours late in the office until the cleaners force them to go home.
Even then, as they clamber onto the last train at London Bridge, they will occupy their time with emails, or the latest figures from finance, making last minute alterations to that spreadsheet. After wrestling with said spreadsheet for 2 hours, not to mention new emails from equally beleaguered collegues the candidate assiduously replies to, the candidate will forgo sleep. They will pounce on the next task as if the future of planet depends on it, as if the CEO and board of directors are breathing down their neck. Sleep, exercise and socialising will be willingly sacrificed, relationships cast aside. In the office, the higher-ups will marvel at this candidate’s gumption, holding them up as a shining beacon of the company’s hardworking ethos. In private, they will giggle with glee as they see what other tasks they can delegate to the diligent, yet doomed new team member.
There is also a time and a place for abstraction in job interviews. You will be doing lots of different things in the jobs and it’s hard to fit them all in a one page document. It can be helpful to give a generic description of a role. But is it too much to ask for a little colour and substance in a job advert. Candidate diligently agonize over job applications, so it is too much expect the same back from an employer?
It’s not the case that all job adverts succumb to this mind-numbing and insipid language lethargy. This will not be the first post I write about Escape The City, but they have excellent, honest and refreshing job adverts that give a much better indication of what the job actually will entail. Many of them are for candidates with a couple of years experience out of university, but there are entry level positions. I’ve attached one from a company called Martineau and Co who work on climate change and communication.
Friendly, effective communicator needed to help save the world from climate change, air pollution and much, much more...
The role will be both client facing and dealing with company administration. The client facing bit will involve drafting and editing news stories, posting content to clients websites and social media feeds, developing communications strategies, compiling stats reports and doing random bits of research. And having ideas. LOTS of ideas.
The company based stuff will be about marketing Martineau & Co to new clients, helping out with our finances (not rocket science) and generally being a sunbeam around the place.
A more detailed job description can be seen here:
The salary is £20,000-24,000 pro rate for six months depending on experience. Benefits include regular ice lollies, opportunities for flexible working and days working from home. Leave will be 25 days per annum pro rata. Although advertised as a six-month contract, the role might continue - budget allowing.
On the whole it’s a succinct and direct advert. Yes there is a link to a longer job advert, but here's the rub: In 159 words, I know as much as is required for me to make an informed decision as to whether or not I want to apply for this job. I like how tongue-in-cheek it is, it reminds me my potential employers are fellow humans with a sense of humor.
If the job application looks like it was written by a computer, devoid of any thoughtful human engagement, what is the job going to be like? One of the problems with graduate jobs is they encourage uniformity, ruthlessly stifling individuality in the name of efficiency. It’s easier to get through 6,000 job applications when the format is standardised, you can get a computer to do it for you.
In the context of SlowStreaming, we want people to be able to think carefully about what a job application is asking of you, but also what it tells you about the employers. In any job advert, beneath the unwieldy windbaggery about ‘corporate values’, ‘performance management portfolios’ and ‘front-facing vision delivery programs’, there is probably some actual work to be done, usually involving other people.
Don’t settle for less. There is nothing wrong with a call to the company in question. A well placed phone call is also a great way to ask questions the job application never tell you about. My first four questions would probably be: how long to people take for lunch? Is the IT department a fun place to work? Do they go for drinks of Friday night? How militant is their softball team training?
For too long, we have been frightened to upset our revered employers. Graduates are unquestioningly walking into soul sucking jobs that have deceived them with glossy language. It’s time to force employers to be forthright. After all, if you’re going to slave over their application procedure, and toil for these people five days a week, you want to make sure that the office you faithfully return to everyday is going to be a welcoming place that leaves you feeling fulfilled.