Left Jargon Tags

We’ve analyzed millions of job posts across multiple countries and industries to explore the problem of jargon in jobs.

Right Jargon Tags
Person Emotion Illustration

Introduction

Jargon is all around us, but why can it be a problem?

At some point, we’ve all come across words and phrases we didn’t understand – whether it was code-like acronyms, technical babble, or business buzzwords. Jargon can be found everywhere, but multiple studies also shine a light on the problems it can cause.

Jargon has been found to be off-putting in areas such as science and politics – with one 2020 study published in the Journal of Language and Social Psychology showing that jargon can make people feel less intelligent and excluded from an important topic that’s riddled with needlessly technical terms. A 2010 study in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin showed that using lots of jargon and technical terms can make people think you’re lying, too – not ideal if you work in an industry such as advertising, where language is depended on to persuade and sell products and businesses.

On the job market, confusing jargon-filled ads can turn off potential applicants, especially those aged 16-24 – the typical entry- and graduate-level range. Research carried out by Business in the Community revealed that 66% of young applicants didn’t understand job ads full of jargon and didn’t feel they should apply as a result.

But just how prevalent is the issue on the US job market? To find out, we’ve analyzed thousands of job ads for some of the most popular and most confusing ‘business terms’ and ‘candidate descriptions’. Here’s what we discovered...

Jargon

How common is jargon in job adverts?

Our analysis of US job adverts revealed that 38% contained confusing jargon words and phrases. We searched 6.3 million job ads for 40 commonly used jargon terms like ‘dynamic’, ‘team player’, and ‘blue-sky thinking’.

Radiant Star

38%

Jobs ads which contain jargon

Calculated from an analysis of 6.3 million online job descriptions posted in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia in April 2021.

The most common jargon terms that appeared in job adverts

Our study reveals that ‘team player’ is the most common jargon term in US job ads, appearing in 77 job ads per 1,000 ads. That’s more than any other jargon word or phrase.

Top 10 ranking

Jargon terms that appeared the most per 1,000 job ads analyzed

#

Jargon

Per 1,000 job ads

1

Team player

“The ability to work with other people in a team”

77

2

Dynamic

“Being ambitious and energetic”

69

3

Self starter

“Being able to motivate yourself and manage your own time and workload”

38

4

Empower

“To give someone the means to achieve something”

37

5

Proactive

“The ability to plan ahead and anticipate future problems and solutions”

30

6

Leverage

“Using something, for example a skill you have”

26

7

Window of opportunity

“An availability for something, for example the time period in which you can apply for a job”

25

8

Proven track record

“A demonstrable history of something, for example a skill”

23

9

Core competency

“Knowledge and skills that a job candidate needs to have”

15

10

Take it to the next level

“Improving on something, for example a skill or a project”

10

Calculated from an analysis of 6.3 million online job descriptions posted in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia in April 2021.

Which US state is most guilty of using jargon?

We discovered that Washington uses jargon in job ads more than any other US state. Per 1,000 job ads, we found 598 that contained complicated words and phrases – the most common there being ‘cloud-first’.

Map

Calculated from an analysis of 6.3 million online job descriptions posted in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia in April 2021.

Which is the most distinctive jargon term in each US state?

From ‘peel the onion’ to ‘blue-sky thinking’, take a look at the map below to discover which jargon term sees the highest above-average usage in each US state.

Map

Data represents the unique jargon terms that over-indexed the most in online job adverts posted in each US state. Job advert data was sourced and analysed in April 2021.

Industries

Which industries are most guilty of using jargon in their job ads?

We discovered that ads for jobs in IT contained more jargon than any other industry, with 604 ads per every 1,000 containing at least one of our selected jargon words or phrases.

Top 10 ranking

Industries with the most job ads containing jargon per 1,000 ads

#

Industry

Per 1,000 job ads

1

Information technology

604

2

Marketing

575

3

Finance and business

406

4

Human resources

299

5

Media

240

6

Politics

238

7

Real estate

216

8

Leisure, travel, tourism

116

9

Charity

113

10

Education

100

Calculated from an analysis of 6.3 million online job descriptions posted in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia in April 2021.

Graduates

How prevalent is jargon in graduate job adverts?

Studies have shown that buzzwords and jargon in job adverts have an alienating effect on graduates and other young applicants with little to no experience of a workplace and work-exclusive language. We searched graduate and junior-level job ads in the US and discovered that over a quarter (28%) contained jargon and were potentially off-putting to targeted candidates.

Radiant Star

28%

Graduate jobs ads which contain jargon

Calculated from an analysis of 6.3 million online job descriptions posted in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia in April 2021.

Which US states are most guilty of using jargon in graduate job ads?

Washington tops our ranking of the US states most guilty of using complicated jargon in job ads aimed at graduates. Per 1,000 job ads based in Washington, 343 contained a jargon word or phrase.

Top 10 ranking

States with the most graduate-level job ads containing jargon per 1,000 ads

#

Location

Per 1,000 job ads

1

Washington

343

2

California

339

3

Colorado

321

4

Utah

316

5

Idaho

302

6

Oregon

301

6

Massachusetts

301

6

Delaware

301

9

Florida

297

10

Texas

294

10

Connecticut

294

10

New York

294

10

Louisiana

294

Calculated from an analysis of 6.3 million online job descriptions posted in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia in April 2021.

Which industries are most guilty of using jargon in graduate job ads?

In the US, we found that job ads in finance and business aimed at graduates proportionally contained more jargon than any other industry. 331 ads per 1,000 contained a jargon word or phrase.

Top 10 ranking

Industries with the most graduate-level job ads containing jargon per 1,000 ads

#

Industry

Per 1,000 job ads

1

Finance and business

331

2

Marketing

267

3

Information technology

246

4

Real estate

164

5

Politics

156

6

Human resources

154

7

Media

121

8

Charity

93

9

Leisure, travel, tourism

92

10

Health

78

Calculated from an analysis of 6.3 million online job descriptions posted in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia in April 2021.

The problem with jargon

Why should you avoid using jargon?

There’s no real benefit to using jargon in job ads. Multiple studies have shown that it puts applicants off of applying because they don’t understand it, particularly those in the 16-24 age group and those from disadvantaged backgrounds. As a result, many suitable candidates for a job won’t ever apply because of a badly worded advert.

Outside of the job market, one 2020 study published in the Journal of Language and Social Psychology showed that even with definitions for technical jargon provided, a jargon-heavy piece of text is off-putting to many readers. Lots of confusing language can make people feel excluded and less intelligent, which is detrimental to helping others learn and understand a topic.

Jargon and difficult language can also change the way we see the world. Professor Michael Handford of Cardiff University told us: “Language not only reflects reality but can also construct it. Business jargon can help construct a particular way of seeing the world. If you use language (especially jargon and metaphors) that is very focused on marketing, profit, and growth, then this will prioritize certain practices and devalue others.”

Jargon can also be a challenge for non-native speakers who would benefit from plain English. A person with a learning disability might benefit from plain language as well. Plain language is so important that many governments around the world have embraced it for their official websites and legal documents. In the US, where the average person reads at a 7th- to 8th-grade level (ages 12 to 14), the Plain Language Action and Information Network (PLAIN) exists to ensure official government writing is as clear as possible.

How to avoid using jargon

Depending on what you’re writing, some language that could be called ‘jargon’ (for example an acronym for something) is impossible to avoid, but there are plenty of ways you can simplify your writing and make it more accessible to readers.

In general, avoid using a piece of popular jargon (like ‘action-oriented’) that could be explained in simpler language (‘good at taking quick action’). If you use an acronym, consider writing what it stands for in brackets as well to make sure everyone reading it is on the same page.

Short sentences are easier to read and digest for most readers. The UK government website even has a rule that sentences should be written in 25 words or less, as comprehension drops beyond that.

Some people may worry that plain language can come across too casual and unprofessional for use in the workplace. Professor Michael Handford of Cardiff University explains:

“All types of highly idiomatic language, including jargon, can be difficult to understand because they are used by some communities and not others. Being aware of idiomatic language, abbreviations, department-specific jargon and so on can definitely help.

Explaining yourself in clear language need not risk sounding unprofessional if you consider the following key things: ‘What audience am I talking to?’, ‘What is their background knowledge?’, ‘Are they specialists in this area or not?’, ‘What do they want from this communication?’."