How to decipher a job posting

When job ads are carefully considered, they often reveal a lot more than might appear at first glance.

Somewhere between the buzzwords and the jargon lies the truth.

There was a time when a Saturday broadsheet would land on your doorstep with an almighty thud.

Much of the bulk was in the classifieds sections, a big part of which were the employment pages.

Advertising space was expensive, usually meaning that the bigger the ad, the more senior the position, the more money on offer, and the more skills required. Then there were the tiny lineage ads, often telling you little more than a job’s title and where to send an application.

In this respect, the migration of recruitment adverting to online sites such as Seek, has been a great leveller. Now an ad for an entry-level role or middle-management position will often contain about as much description as one for a CEO or CFO of a multinational corporate.

This should be a blessing for job seekers, because the more you know about a job in advance, the more informed you should be in deciding whether or not to apply.

Unfortunately, many employers simply aren’t sure of what they’re looking for, and as a result often resort to buzz words and jargon phrases to cover as many bases as they can.

Worse still, unwitting applicants can waste a huge amount of effort applying for positions that might not even exist.

For example, if the language in an ad seems overly bland or non-descriptive, it could be that a recruitment firm is just fishing for resumes in the hope it might be commissioned to find someone vaguely suitable somewhere down the track.

Crafting a great application usually takes time, so before you start, you really do need to know if it’s going to be worthwhile. This is where a bit of “literary forensics”, combined with some proactive investigation, can pay off.

When the words used in an ad are carefully considered, they can reveal a lot more about a job than might appear at first glance.

Fast-paced work environment

“Fast-paced” might sound exciting – especially if your current job has become dull and boring – but the employer is actually telling you about the type of person you’ll need to be: someone with a high energy level who can not only survive but thrive under pressure.

This frequently implies having to meet tight deadlines, extinguish constant spot fires and (another common buzz word) multitasking. The KPI will almost certainly be constant productivity which, in turn, is likely to mean long and frenetic work hours.

Fast-paced is synonymous with certain industries, such as the media, but if you’re accustomed to a “steady-as-she-goes” routine, it might be best to think long and hard before putting your hand up.


There is a school of thought that says it’s actually impossible for the human brain to successfully multitask. The majority of employers seem to disagree, given how often the requirement appears in job ads.

But what does it really mean?

The obvious interpretation is that you will be required to prioritise and then work on competing tasks in order of importance.

Perhaps, however, the word also has hidden meaning: “We’ll employ you in ‘X’ capacity, but retain the right to change it to ‘Y’ at any time.”

"Employers often resort to buzz words and jargon phrases to cover as many bases as they can."

This really does happen, and so after you come home fuming and have done kicking the cat, the next step is usually to thoroughly check your contract of employment (which, of course, is something you should have done at the outset).

And there it will be, buried away in Clause 999.9. You won’t be left with a leg to stand on.

Even when taken at face value – and nine times out of 10 the word is just meant to signal that the position entails diverse responsibilities you will be expected to simultaneously juggle – a key issue to consider is whether or not you really want to become involved in projects outside your immediate job description.

If not, think before applying.

Team player

An ability to multitask is also frequently thrown under the umbrella of being a “team player”.

Naturally, everyone wants to work well with others, but equally, do you want to have to take on their work when they’re on leave or ill, and then be held responsible for it? On an occasional basis, hand-off work is one thing, but when routine it can amount to quite another.

When an employer lists the qualities they’re looking for in a job ad, “team player” usually comes across as being one of the most innocuous. But don’t be surprised to find that it’s really code for a preparedness, like it or not, to take on whatever crosses your desk – “for the team”, of course.


It’s quite common to find that a company wants someone who is not only a team player but also “entrepreneurial”.

Strictly speaking, the two are mutually exclusive, and when they appear in the same job ad it’s usually a sign of one of two things.

First, either the employer has unrealistic expectations about the qualities a single individual can possess, or second, there is a real disconnect between what your future boss and the company’s human resources department thinks the position requires.

Either way, it doesn’t bode well.

At best, an “entrepreneurial position” implies you will need to be willing to do whatever is required to get the job done. So again, if you’re looking for an opportunity with clearly delineated responsibilities, it’s probably best to stay clear.

Between the lines

These are just a few of the frequently confusing, ambiguous and sometimes contradictory terms cited in recruitment advertising. The list goes on. As a candidate, you may need to be “detail-oriented”; possess “technology skills”; have a “high level of organisation” and a “can-do attitude”; as well as be an “independent self-starter”.

As you climb the corporate ladder, you will probably also have to go “deep-diving” – and then “swim in a deep pool”.

Mark Phillips is an Asia-based writer and former editor of both Marketing and Franchising magazines in Australia.

December 2021
December 2021

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