Buzzwords are common in the American workplace, but a lot of people hate many of them. Some buzzwords are so bad that if people see them in a job ad, some won’t bother to apply. Those are some of the findings from a recent survey of 1,551 Americans office workers conducted by language tutoring site Preply.
We seem to have a love-hate relationship with buzzwords. More than three quarters of respondents said that buzzwords made people sound more professional–and 71 percent said they used buzzwords in the hopes of sounding more professional themselves. But that doesn’t mean they like them. Many of the commonest buzzwords are also the most hated.
What are these most hated buzzwords? You can find the full list here. These are some of the most annoying.
Buzzwords that stop people from applying for jobs.
If you’ve gone to the trouble of writing out a job ad and paid to post it on job sites or elsewhere, you probably want potential candidates to apply for the job. So it’s a bad idea to use words that turn them off, and yet all too many employers do just that. In the survey, 69 percent of responses said that buzzwords used in job ads had influenced their decision to apply for a job, and one in five said they’d actually decided not to apply for a job just because of one or more particularly hateful buzzwords.
Most of these words seem to really mean: “We plan to make you work as hard as humanly possible and maybe harder.” Have you ever used any of them?
We can argue over whether this is really one word or two, but either way, it tops the list of buzzwords that people see as a red flag. The implied meaning seems to be: “We expect you to wow us with everything you do.” Not that we want you to feel pressured.
2. “Wear many hats”
It’s easy to see why this phrase might put someone off. It sounds like code for: “We really need to hire several people, but we’re going to keep costs down by having you do multiple jobs instead.”
3. “Thick skin”
I truly can’t understand why any employer would put this phrase in a job ad. If people who work for you need to put up with harsh criticism, insults, or belittling, why would you brag about it? Also, rather than try to find job candidates with rhinoceros hides, wouldn’t it be better to address what sounds like a toxic workplace?
4. “Work hard, play hard”
Again, I have a hard time understanding why this phrase would ever belong in a job ad. If I was thinking of applying, my first reaction would be to wonder what my off hours activities have to do with my qualifications. If I like gardening, knitting, and quiet hikes in the woods, what business of that is yours?
I suspect this phrase is another way to say: “We’re looking for young people without kids.” Which, obviously, would be highly illegal in a job ad.
The actual meaning of this word is someone who is trained in ancient Japanese martial arts for the purposes of espionage or murder. There probably aren’t too many of these available for hire. Informally, of course, it means someone who’s extremely good at something. As with rockstar, that can sound like a lot of pressure to a potential candidate.
Buzzwords that people really hate
Even if they aren’t looking for a job, there are a lot buzzwords that make people cringe. Unfortunately, the list of the buzzwords respondents in the survey hated most overlapped quite a bit with the list of buzzwords they said heard most often.
Here are some of the most hated, and most common buzzwords. If you use them, be warned. Your co-workers may be grimacing behind your back.
6. “New normal”
There are two reasons you should stop using this phrase. The first is that people hate it. The second is that embedded within it is the idea that today’s way of working and living really isn’t normal. That’s bad because we can’t wish our way back to the way things used to be. The pandemic, the climate crisis, our broken political system–none of these things is really new anymore. They’re just plain normal. The sooner we deal with life as it is and not as we wish it could go back to being, the better.
7. “Circle back”
It’s easy to see why people dislike this phrase. What are you circling back on? Almost certainly, it’s something that people didn’t want to think about the first time it came up. Implicit in that word “circle” is a dispiriting message: “No matter how much you would prefer not to deal with this, I’m going to keep bringing it around and around again until you do.”
8. “Give 110 percent”
First of all, this is mathematically impossible. More to the point, it’s code for: “We’re going to make unreasonable demands of you.”
Don’t say it. Ask someone to give something their absolute best effort. Ask them to give it their all. Let them know that the stakes are really high. Don’t ask them for more than they have to give.
9. “Think outside the box”
Have you ever worked with anyone who was truly innovative? I bet you have; I have too. What inspired them? Whatever it was, I can guarantee it wasn’t an exhortation to “think outside the box,” one of the tiredest cliches there is.
This is a very un-creative way to try to get people to be creative. If you truly want new, fresh ideas, find a newer, fresher way to say so. You’ll be glad you did, and so will the people who work with you.