6 wordings that are red flags to potential candidates in new hire postings
Phrases like “fast-paced environment” and “like a family” can be a signal that you have a culture problem and could dissuade some applicants from applying.
Editor’s note: This article is a re-run as part of our countdown of top stories from the past year.
A recent Twitter thread reveals that the language of new job ads has its own lexicon with phrases that hold different meanings for job applicants and prospective employers.
when a job listing says the words "fast-paced environment" that means toxic
— Sophia Benoit (@1followernodad) March 9, 2021
Job postings can fail to acknowledge their need to sell potential applicants on why they would thrive in their new role, and what your job description might be hinting about your culture.
Many other Twitter users were ready to weigh in with the words that are a red flag when they are looking for a new role. Here’s a look at some of the offenders with ideas of how to rephrase what you are looking for in a potential candidate pool:
1. “Fast-paced environment”
Emblematic of the start-up world, where small teams are encouraged to “move fast” and “break things,” many potential employers might think describing themselves as a “fast-paced” environment shows they are an exciting place to work. Things change a lot and there are interesting problems to solve. “We all do a little bit of everything!”
Not so fast. This little phrase could also signal that you’re an understaffed organization that overworks employees.
if it's both a fast-paced environment AND requires attention to detail…. people are going to scream at you.
— Sophia Benoit (@1followernodad) March 9, 2021
Instead, you could describe your organization as one with a tenacious and agile culture, where employees are always curious. Be sure to focus on how you will help employees stretch themselves and support their growth, as well as expect high levels of performance. The best candidates will already be self-motivated.
2. “Like a family”
Is your organization really operated like a family? Because that’s the way the mafia was run, which isn’t exactly a model of good governance and company culture. Just ask Jimmy Hoffa.
“Like a family” can actually connote that your workplace lacks boundaries, and employees will be expected to show a loyalty and service that goes beyond their paycheck. It’s a big red flag for many new job seekers:
Also love “like a family” which frequently implies lack of boundaries around personal time & expectations that you’ll “pitch in” with free labor not stipulated in your contract
— Rachel Klein (@racheleklein) March 9, 2021
"we're a family" — everyone cries in the bathroom daily
— Mikala Jamison (@notjameson) March 9, 2021
Instead, describe how workers develop relationships with each other in the workplace. Does your organization have any special gatherings or traditions that build community?
3. “Sense of humor”
Workers who find this phrase in a job posting can hardly be criticized for asking “What do I need a sense of humor for?” This can suggest that employees need to be able to roll with a culture of off-color comedy that often crosses the line into harassment, sexual misconduct and more.
“Sense of humor” is like red flag city to me.
— Maggie Glass (@maggieglass) March 9, 2021
Just noted above. I’ve removed it from standard job descriptions at my organization. Not hiring comedy writers.
— MomelaFan (@MiriamIsserow) March 10, 2021
If you are hiring people for their ability to write a joke, be specific about why.
4. “Fun-loving” (see also “great vibe”)
The best employees aren’t looking for a paid vacation. They are looking for opportunities for growth and advancement in their careers, doing good work with respectful and friendly colleagues. Waxing poetically about the free-wheeling office parties will be a big no-no for workers looking for carefully drawn boundaries.
I’m so glad I’m an adult who can read these kinds of things and realise that “fun-loving office with a great vibe” means it’s a startup and the CEO definitely goes around giving women unwanted shoulder massages and talking loudly about his cars.
— Seb Jones (@big_cheddars) March 9, 2021
Yes, your team is made of “self-starters” and “doers.” You’ve collected a deep bench of people who give 110% and live for a challenge. There’s an entire segment of work culture that subscribes to the “hustle and grind” way of life—but it’s not for everyone. Is it really necessary to achieve your goals?
As the U.S. is in the midst of a mental health crisis due to lingering impacts from COVID-19 and ongoing remote work, employers should consider how the language of the “hustle” might fall flat for burnt-out workers looking to change roles.
Once I interviewed at an org that literally was about social emotional learning and mindful life balance for students and I asked how they'd describe their work culture and they said "HUSTLE."
— Micaela Blei (@mblei) March 9, 2021
I interviewed for an org and when I asked about work life balance, I was told everyone there was a zealot. There was uncomfortable silence after that.
— Just the Bottle (@JusttheBottle) March 9, 2021
It’s fine to set a standard of hard work, but it’s also important to judge the moment you’re in. American workers kept the economy open for 12 months in the middle of a global pandemic. There are a lot of hard workers out there.
6. “Must have a thick skin”
Every workplace has tough personalities, eccentric and big egos. But an organization that bends to serve the few instead of protecting the whole workforce with thoughtful policies and guidelines is not a place that the top workers will want to go.
“Must have a thick skin” was always the biggest red flag when I was in entertainment assistant world
— jordan lill-uigi (@JLILLZ) March 9, 2021
Of course, there are those who say that descriptors like “fast-paced” are essential for warning about the expectations of a workplace. Where 15th century map makers wrote “here there be monsters” to warn sailors of the perils of sailing uncharted waters, today’s recruiters are offering their own warning: “Here there be no lunchbreaks.”
Not always. It means if you are looking for an easy gig where you can blend in and just float to the top with automatic promotions without actually having to work- keep looking. THIS AIN'T IT.
— marcy massura (@marcymassura) March 10, 2021
Yet, employers are being asked to handle a wide range of priorities these days. More and more organizations are being asked to meet diversity and inclusion goals as well as find the top talent that can drive organizational success. And unless you are a hotel chain, restaurant or commercial airline, the pandemic hasn’t been as bad for you as it has been been for others. Jeff Bezos is wealthier than he ever has been and there is overwhelming support among Americans to raise the minimum wage.
Despite historic unemployment, organizations that want to have the strongest and most-sustained bounce post-COVID should consider how they can sell themselves and their culture to workers. And that might require leaving terms like “fast-paced” in the metaphorical dust bin.
And now over to you: What language do you find irksome in job advertisements?
Nice article and helpful if seeking only ‘a job’ for one’s own good.
If, however, one wishes GROWTH beyond the mere paycheck– if a job is offered, ‘take the offer,’ ‘learn from it’ BEYOND the immediate job description. One has ‘free will’ to always leave should a place of employ be ‘so bad’ one is losing one’s steady footing on the path ‘upward.’ (losing one’s soul)
We can’t make others ‘see’ THE WAY to be. We can’t even tell a private business owner to set definitive policies that support good work. We can use our own free will and leave, with a smile. Then again, PERSEVERING in hardship does provide
grace that goes far beyond dollars and benefits.
It’s better to look up potential employers and coworkers before the interview, so it will work the other way too.
Perhaps if you are thin skinned, slow moving, humourless fun hater with no sense of camaraderie and no hustle this is not the career for you.
“Of course, there are those who say that descriptors like “fast-paced” are essential for warning about the expectations of a workplace. Where 15th century map makers wrote “here there be monsters” to warn sailors of the perils of sailing uncharted waters, today’s recruiters are offering their own warning: “Here there be no lunchbreaks.””
Any workplace like this doesn’t deserve to exist. Breaks are a bloody legal requirement, not to mention a BIOLOGICAL one.
I think this would be more helpful if it offered suggestions of how to convey what a workplace is truly like and what the work culture is — because there probably is one — instead of just a blanket “don’t say that because some people might not get it”. A lot of the above terms are problematic simply because they’re cliché. A PR job opening full of buzzwords is just cringeworthy on its own.
I would hate to have overlooked my current and very excellent job because it talked about a “great vibe,” for example. That is something the company is known for, especially to its customers, and IS a primary reason why people come to work here. Maintaining that is paramount to maintaining the brand. So, yes, true introverts and lone wolves would likely struggle in this environment. How should we convey that?
There’s also a significant onus on the person applying for a job to do their homework. Not everything can be built into a job description, and I’d be more concerned if the language didn’t indicate room for growth, collaboration with the team, support for continued learning, etc., or if the description is overly vague (perhaps indicating the hiring manager might not really have a clue what the organization needs).
Have any of you ever “really enjoyed” your jobs. No matter what the buzzword is, you know nothing until you have been there for at least one month. I won’t apply for a job that I don’t think I can contribute to it. As a Program and Project Manager, I learned that “negotiation” is the only buzzword and most adults understand that.