Decoding "Recruiter Speak:" 21 Handy Definitions for Candidates

Every industry and profession carries with it its own distinct jargon. In fact, it is the measure of recruiters’ worth to be able to pick up on the unique lexicon of the positions for which they recruit. Being able to spout off the verbal equivalent of Google Adwords also preempts most candidates’ assumptions that as recruiters, we’re slightly above amoeba but slightly beneath bonobo monkeys on the evolutionary ladder. (The monkeys do admittedly win by default, though like recruiters, they have been known to eat their young, although most of us do this figuratively through the invention of the concept of “entry-level” employment). There’s been a lot of attention paid to the banalities of “corporate speak,” those words such as synergy, deliverables, scalable, and, my personal favorite, paradigm shift, which sounds suspiciously like a Led Zeppelin cover band or a Tom Clancy novel.

Meaningless Catch-Phrases Take Off

Slowly but surely, these buzzwords have trickled into the public consciousness because most of these words are reserved for candidates specifically. The overwhelming majority of our etymology, in fact, was created for less-than-desirable candidates.


As recruiters, it is vocational anathema to create a negative impression on a candidate, or to in any way create a negative reflection on the organization we represent. A successful recruiter strives to make each candidate feel like his or her interaction with the company was a successful one, even if it was, in fact, the worst disaster since the Hindenburg.



To prevent further confusion, I’ve provided a quick guide for candidates to decipher recruiter-speak with the hope that it eases the search process by providing the subtext of the terminology recruiters use the most. While corporate recruiters are honest, we are never brutally honest. Our errors are of omission, and we tend to accentuate the positive, whether in presenting an opportunity, rejecting a candidate, or even closing an offer.

A Growing List

This list is by no means definitive, but it is a start?any suggestions or additions are greatly encouraged.

  • Sourcing (v) Usage: “I sourced your resume and thought that you might be a great fit?” Definition: The
    entry of keywords onto a job board.
  • Exciting (adj.): Usage: “We’ve got an exciting opportunity currently available?” Definition: An open
    headcount that needs to be filled as quickly as possible.
  • Prescreen (n) Usage: “I’d like to set up a brief, exploratory prescreen.” Definition: The conversation by
    which recruiters ascertain if they can afford the talent in question.
  • Visibility (adj.): Usage: “This role has high visibility to all levels of management throughout the
    organization.” Definition: The phrase most often used to describe a position with the smallest margin for error and highest turnover rate in the company.
  • Growth (n): Usage: “This position is really a great growth opportunity.” Definition: The naturally
    occurring phenomenon by which workers find fulfillment doing exactly the same job in a different company.
  • Ad-hoc (adj.) Usage: “There will also be some ad-hoc projects required.” Definition: A catch-all phrase
    used by corporations to describe the countless hours of manpower invested in activities unrelated to one’s job function, generally evoked at the whim of departmental heads.
  • Expectations (n) Usage: “What are your expectations for your next position?” Definition: The test
    commonly used during the screening process to see whether the candidate
    is capable of reading a job description and changing tense from third- to first-person.
  • Stable (adj.) Usage: “It’s a very stable business unit.” Definition: When the collective tenure of a
    department’s employees preempt any consideration of change or improvement upon the status quo.
  • Reinventing (v) Usage: “We’ve had challenges in the past, but we’re reinventing ourselves and our
    processes.” Definition: A commonly used tactic employed by recruiters to explain recent or forthcoming layoffs (see: derecruit, reorganization, shared services, offshoring, outsourcing, et al).
  • Competition (n) Usage: “You’ve got some pretty stiff competition for this position.” Definition: A word
    used by recruiters to preempt disappointment for the candidate by establishing expectations upfront. Alternative definition: A tactic employed to make an extremely undesirable position appear more
    enticing.
  • Team (n) Usage: “We’re looking for a team player.” Definition: The intangible qualities associated with a
    candidate who will not make waves and demonstrates the willingness to accept abuse by supervisors and fellow staff.
  • DOE (acr.) see also depending on experience.Usage: “I am unable to provide a salary
    range for the position as it is DOE.” Definition: Whereby a company unable to pay market rate for a position compensates by placing the blame on candidate deficiencies.
  • Best practices (n): Usage: “We’re a best practices organization.” Phrase has not yet been defined. See meaning of life, UFOs.
  • Work-life balance (phrase): Usage: “We put a real premium on work-life balance.” Definition: The ratio ofone’s time at home to one’s time at work. The smaller the ratio, the more likely the employee is paid on an hourly basis.
  • Overtime (n) Usage: “There may be some slight overtime involved.” Definition: An institution imposed
    by corporations to increase shareholder value without increasing headcount by maximizing working hours of employee population, up to and including Saturdays, holidays, and seminal life events.
  • Feedback (n) Usage: “I’ll provide feedback from my hiring manager as soon as I get it.” Definition:
    Generally construed as a one- or two-word answer by which hiring managers summarily reject top candidates.
  • Next steps (phrase) Usage: “We’ll be in touch regarding next steps.” Definition: A phrase used to put
    off rejecting marginal candidates for as long as possible until an offer is accepted by a more qualified party.
  • References (n) Usage: “We’re going to begin checking your references.” Definition: The process by
    which a recruiter contacts previous coworkers of a potential hire from a list provided by the candidate in an attempt to bring objectivity to the hiring process.
  • Background check (n) Usage: “You’re our final candidate, but I can’t extend an offer until your background check clears.” Definition: A control imposed by corporations in order to slow recruiters’ ability to extend an offer for a period of time that perfectly coincides with a candidate’s extension and
    acceptance of other offers.
  • Benefits (n) Usage: “We are proud to offer a comprehensive, competitive benefits package to all employees.” Definition:A tactic used by corporations to attract full-time employees and entice
    temporary ones into menial labor.
  • Offer letter (n) Usage: “Congratulations on joining our team. I’m sending over an offer letter that contains all the information you’re going to need.” Definition: A document or set of documents that contains all information relevant to one’s employment with a company, denoting the last communication between
    recruiter and candidate until the candidate becomes eligible for transfer consideration.

Views: 463

Tags: recruiting

Comment by Sandra McCartt on May 24, 2010 at 5:13pm
Well written and very enjoyable post and hilariously true.
Comment by JR Fent on June 1, 2010 at 5:39pm
Wow. A little too sarcastic for me. But I'm glad that I keep away from most of the terms that you defined (or at least would not use them with the sarcastic meanings you've associated to them).
Comment by Sandra McCartt on June 1, 2010 at 5:52pm
Laugh son, it was a joke.
Comment by Matt Charney on June 1, 2010 at 5:56pm
JR. Wow. That comment on it being overly sarcastic really got to me. Just kidding. Thanks for the comment and the read; I appreciate the feedback and the fact that you avoid these terms like the (hiring) plague they are. Of course, you're right about many of them having legitimate definitions; it's never too late to take back the language according to Webster's.
Comment by Matt Charney on June 1, 2010 at 5:57pm
Definition 22: Sandra McCartt: Recruiter who rocks.
Comment by Sandra McCartt on June 1, 2010 at 6:51pm
Satire is a humorus form of sarcasm many times used to provoke change. the point here is bring awareness to some of the ridiculous things that are not what they are appear to be on the face of things in order to make people think before they flop them out there or perhaps be more honest with themselves.

Rock on Matt!!
Comment by Elouise MacFarlane on June 1, 2010 at 9:05pm
This is fantastic. Thanks

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