Job-speak: a user’s guide

Written by
George Smith
Added
June 02, 2013

When you’re seeking a new job, it’s not what you know it’s how you explain this to potential employers. But you will have to learn a new language to find out what will be expected of you.

So says George Smith in this article taken from his collection, Up Smith Creek.

George regularly waddled through the thickets of recruitment advertising from charities.

If I had to earn a living writing this column then, presumably, I would have to apply for the position of writing it. As it is, I can offer my monthly gibberish to an uncaring world without subjecting myself to the due processes of recruitment, assessment and interview. The status of the gentleman-amateur still has its virtues.

For it is clear that I would never survive these processes of personal selection. I have to waddle regularly through the thickets of recruitment advertising by charities; it keeps me up to speed with the state of the fundraising job market.

Everyone tells me how difficult it is to ‘find the right people’. Dare I point out that this is partly because of the verbal infelicities that now attach to the process?

‘Interpersonal skills’ is just a posh way to say getting on with people and going to pubs with them.

Charity ads have fallen into the hands of those human resources-wallahs. Within recent memory they were of course personnel officers, a grand enough title for most people but one clearly doomed by the fact that most of us understood what it meant. Power in today’s world stems from incomprehension and titular aggrandisement. All visualisers are now art directors and I understand that there are people called resource development managers. I speak as someone who used to be a writer but should clearly be re-designated as written language executive.

One look through charity recruitment ads demonstrates not just the ceremonial style of the new bullshit but the verbal poverty that stems from it. There are certain words in the English language that now only occur in such ads.

‘Commensurate’ is one, as in ‘your remuneration package will be commensurate with experience’. Which can only mean that they will pay you as little as they can get away with. There are a lot of little games played around this phenomenon – watch out for the ‘competitive remuneration package’.

I also like what I must describe as the ‘booming vocative’, the use of a disembodied second person verb to state certain personal necessities. Thus, ‘you will be highly motivated’, or ‘you will be a graduate’. This last one really gets up my nose, suggesting as it does that the privilege of poncing around a college for three years bestows a lifetime’s dedicated brainpower and restless intellectual energy.

Then, there’s the word ‘possess’, a comparatively new entrant in the field. It has usurped ‘have’ in job-speak and is usually gummed together with the booming vocative as in, ‘you will possess good interpersonal and motivational skills’, or ‘you will possess proven team-leadership skills’.

I like all these new skills. ‘Oral communication skills’ are what we used to call talking and ‘interpersonal skills’ are, I would think, getting on with people and going to pubs with them. And I have just spotted ‘the ability to handle multiple priorities’, which is presumably what most of us do every time the phone rings when we’re in the loo.

But if there is one thing that marks out the successful applicant from the also-rans, it must be the word ‘strategy’. Time and again a job ad will specify the need for a ‘strategic thinker’, or indeed demand, ‘You will think strategically’, or, at the top end of the market, ‘You will possess proven strategic thinking skills’. Tactical thinkers can go take a jump. They probably didn’t go to college anyway.

There is equal symmetry in the description of the workplaces that demand such strategy. They are always ‘hard-working’, the incumbents forever ‘working under pressure’, or in ‘a pressured environment’. Which is why you have to be ‘self-motivated’, or highly focused’, or – wait for it – ‘personally receptive to the demands of a high pressure working environment’.

Do the conveyors of ad-speak pursue the same verbiage into the interview? Do they boom at the applicant, ‘Do you possess sugar for your coffee?’

Do the conveyors of these ads pursue the same verbiage into the interview? Do they boom at the applicant and say, ‘Do you possess sugar for your coffee?’ Or, ‘I note that your feet are commensurate with your legs’. Are you asked to demonstrate your oral skills by reading a leaflet out loud, or your strategic skills by twisting the knob on one of those new office coffee mugs? I do hope so.

When asked during an interview if he was afraid of anything, George replied, gravely, ‘Falling over. I don’t like falling over.’ He didn’t get the job.

Only once, and donkey’s years ago, did I find myself in such a situation, sitting uncomfortably before a Knightsbridge management consultant in application of a very sexy job. ‘Is there anything in particular you are afraid of?’ said the bullshit pioneer. ‘Yes,’ I said gravely, ‘falling over. I don’t like falling over.’ The man made a very large note on his pad and I got shortlisted.

The job was running Apple for the Beatles.

Sadly for western civilisation, Paul put his oar in and Allen Klein got the job. I’ve still got the rejection letter somewhere. I guess my interpersonal skills just weren’t strategic enough.

About the author: George Smith

George Smith

The late George Smith (he/him) wrote his first fundraising ad for Oxfam in 1962. In his twenties he was appointed European coordinator for a major-league American advertising agency and, in contrast, was elected as a local councillor in an inner-London borough. He formed the Smith Bundy direct marketing agency in 1973 and served as chief executive for 20 years. During those two decades his copywriting skills were applied to many diverse commercial direct marketing clients, yet fundraising was always a specialism. In 1990 he was awarded the UK’s DMA Gold Award for work on Greenpeace.

Between 1987 and 1993 George was chief executive of the International Fund Raising Group, responsible for the celebrated Noordwijkerhout conference and a growing number of events around the world. He was also a director of Burnett Associates Limited. His monthly articles in Britain’s Direct Response magazine were published in 1987 as a collection called By George. He became chairman of the UK’s Institute of Direct Marketing (IDM) in 1997 and is an honorary fellow both of the IDM and the Chartered Institute of Fundraising.

George Smith also wrote Asking ProperlyTiny Essentials of Writing for Fundraising and Up Smith Creek.

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