Job Search Tips

Deciphering 7 Job Ad Phrases and What They Really Mean

Written by Joanna Hughes

Sometimes reading a job description is a bit like trying to decipher The Matrix. While some phrases are literal, others are more cryptic, leaving you to wonder, “Is this really the right job for me?” This handy crib sheet can help you understand what employers really mean when they write job descriptions.

1. “Multitasking”

“Multitasking” sounds like a great skill, right? Being recognized for your ability to do many things at once is, on the surface, a positive one. However, while the job description may simply mean that you will be expected to balance, prioritize, and complete work in order of importance, it can also have an underlying meaning: that your employer will expect you to do anything and everything — whether or not it actually falls under the roles and responsibilities of your job.

If you like to have understanding of what your job will entail, and prefer to stay within those guidelines, then the “multitasking” keyword may set off alarm bells for you.

2. “Team Player”

In our increasing era of collaboration, the need for team players goes without saying. So what does it mean when a job description highlights this fact? Along the same lines as “multitasking,” this may cloak what employers are really looking for: someone to do the dirty work in the form of the department’s most untenable work. Or, you may be asked to put aside your own work to help a teammate who dropped the ball. Over time, this can become a major frustration.

3. “Entrepreneurial”

Entrepreneurial skills are highly prized in today’s business world. While some companies may be looking for movers and shakers, others may be cloaking an unclear or irregular job description.

Rather than being given a firm set of responsibilities, you may be expected to intuit where you need to be and when, which can be a recipe for disaster in uncertain situations.

4. “A Fast-Paced Job Environment”

This one may sound like a thrilling opportunity. After all, who wants a job that’s slow and boring? But this description may be a hidden warning that you’ll be working in a pressure-packed environment. While this may work for you if tight deadlines and frenetic work hours help keep you motivated, if you prefer a more stable environment, think twice.

5. “Must have a good sense of humor”

A sense of humor is an addition to any office, but that goes without saying. However, if a good sense of humor is requisite for the job — and the job doesn’t involve working in comedy club — then more likely than not this may indicate that the company culture leans toward the off, unusual, inappropriate, or even alienating.

It may also mean that they are looking for an employee who will laugh in the face of adversity…and thereby that adversity exists.

6. “Perfect for stay-at-home moms and students.”

Stay-at-home moms and students may be looking for flexible hours, so job descriptions which put these words front and center may be particularly appealing to them. However, this may also be a way of suggesting that both experience requirements and pay are minimal.

Many people in need of part-time work are also willing to work for less so the competition may be surprisingly steep.

7. “Passionate”

It’s good to be committed to your job, but not if “passionate” means “willing to work for much less to do what you love.” It may also mean that an employer expects candidates to be willing to put their jobs above all other commitments.

As the competition for the best candidates becomes fiercer, employers are getting savvy about crafting job descriptions that catch the attention of potential applicants. Savvy applicants, meanwhile, can be prepared to decode job description lingo and find a job description that matches their expectations when it comes to a real-world job.

About the author

Joanna Hughes

Joanna Hughes is a freelance writer who specializes in business, human resources and the job market. She lives with her family in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire.