How to Find the Hidden Truths Behind Job Ad Rhetoric

You’re on the hunt for a new job and have been trawling through job ads all day. Before long, your head is spinning with buzzwords like “Great communicator”, “Flexible work”, “Self-starter”, “Fast-paced” and “Dynamic”.

As you reach the end of your search, you realise that not only did most of the ads sound the same… but you actually have no idea what they were offering!

Navigating job ad rhetoric can be painful and is often more damaging to employers and candidates than people realise.

So why does it exist?

The problem with rhetoric

In a perfect world, every job ad should say what it means and mean what it says – leaving you in no doubt as to what is actually on the table.

While some rhetoric is useful to keep a job ad succinct, ads that overflow with persuasive yet empty words should raise a red flag. Put simply, it’s usually an indication that the recruiter or employer is not fully invested in the role. They’ve copied and pasted the job description and put little to no effort into fleshing the advert out with information that prospective applicants care about.

The problem with this is that the employer misses an opportunity to attract suitable candidates, and candidates end up applying for roles they aren’t suited to.

Here are a few common examples of job ad rhetoric that mean very little without context or evidence:

Great culture: Any employer can claim to have a great culture – but what does it actually mean? You may consider great culture to be a flat reporting structure and a sense of community, while the employer considers it to be treating people fairly. Without deeper explanation, it’s impossible to know if your values align.

Flexible work: This is possibly 2022’s most overused and meaningless term. Candidates have been so flooded with this concept, but everyone’s life is different and so too is their perception of “flexible”. For example, your idea of flexible work may be working from home almost entirely, while the employer considers it to be leaving early on a Friday. Getting this wrong could be a huge source of stress if you were successful in securing the role.

Self-starter: To be a self-starter conjures up images of being trusted to work autonomously in an organisation that values your expertise. However, this assumption may end up being very far from the truth. Without understanding the full scope of the role and what is meant by this term, it’s difficult to make an informed decision about whether to apply.

Acronym overload: A job ad full of acronyms can be off-putting if you don’t work in the sector; even if you are highly qualified for the role. Sector-specific language can also create a lot of confusion for applicants who may not understand the intricacies of a certain position. For example, a job ad for Secretariat Support may sound like an EA-level role but it’s certainly not. Without total clarity on what a job entails, it’s natural for you to wonder whether a role is right for you or not.

Competitive salary: Salary should never be hidden. If a job ad states “competitive salary” but doesn’t even provide a salary range, there could be cause for concern.

Unearthing the truth

A good recruiter should always learn as much as possible about a role in order to write a clear and informative job ad. Poor quality ads by a recruiter generally suggests that they haven’t taken the time to engage with their clients or to ask deeper questions about the role. However, it’s not always the recruiter’s fault.

Some organisations fail to provide key information because they may not understand the importance of those details. Similarly, employers advertising directly often write and publish frustratingly cryptic job advertisements.

No matter where the ad has come from, if it has failed to be clear, don’t be afraid to call the contact person listed. Even if it’s just to find out what an acronym means.

If the ad doesn’t have a contact number, search to see if other recruiters have posted about the same job and provided a more detailed explanation (this can happen during larger recruitment rounds where several agencies are tasked with finding candidates).

It’s also a good idea to visit the employer’s website, scroll through their social media and talk to people in your network. If the job ad has enough to pique your interest but you still have some concerns, resolve to ask a lot of questions if you land an interview.

There are so many job ads out there at the moment, and it can be overwhelming to try and decipher details from small amounts of information or read through cryptic or lazy rhetoric.

However, spending your efforts applying for roles that, when more details are clear, are not what you are looking for can be very frustrating.

Our advice is to do your research, ask questions and work with good recruiters who will invest in taking the time to understand you and match you with roles that are a good fit for your goals and motivations.


Liz Strachan`
Manager – Policy, Program & Procurement
02 6108 4878

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