Your company says it has innovative, optimized, efficient strategies! Your resume says you are a results-driven people person who is bottom-line-oriented. Your boss says you need to be a team player or come up with verified solutions to the big data phenomenon. Let’s leverage these statistics.
And really, don’t we all want that? Wait, what?
I’m an SEO (search engine optimization) specialist, which has a title that falls into this category of “buzzwords” too, but that’s a topic for another day. In my industry, buzzwords run amuck. An “optimized” website. Something written “for SEO.” The list goes on. To use another meaningless phrase to describe how I feel about it, “I literally can’t even.”
I think we can probably all relate to our own industry buzzwords that have become so common and misused that they effectively mean nothing. When I started my contractor job at a major corporation during college, I was working on my first big assignment with another contractor. She was older than I and had been doing temporary work while looking for a full-time job.
I prepared my documentation for the completed project and gave it to her to review before we turned it in. It might not be the best habit, but I usually write concise, to-the-point reports. I think it’s a smart move because, first, you want it to be understood by anyone who might read it. And second, time is money. People are busy and want to understand things quickly.
This other contractor had great intentions, but her advice to me was “use bigger words” essentially so we would seem smarter and they would want us to keep working on other things. Use bigger words.
But isn’t that counterproductive? Why not instead choose words that say exactly what you mean to say instead of beating around the bush or coating your meaning in fluff? Charles Caleb Colton said, “That writer does the most who gives his reader the most knowledge and takes from him the least time.” And as one of my favorite authors, Patrick Rothfuss, writes in The Name of the Wind, “Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts.”
I have to say, I don’t think the words “leverage” or “goal-oriented” are lighting any fires anytime soon.
No, you’re probably not writing the latest best-seller novel, but you’re communicating and telling a story. And, hopefully, what you have to say is important and useful. May I encourage you to read what you write out loud and decide if it sounds compelling? Or read it to someone to find out if it even makes sense to anyone besides you.
When it comes to telling people what your business is, who you are, why you’re right for a job, what a job will entail, or frankly anything of importance, take time to pick the words that will really mean something.
Here are some overused words and phrases and my suggestions for replacing them:
Leverage: “Use” often works just fine. “Take advantage of” is also a decent substitute. And don’t just say “leverage ___.” What are you going to do with it?
Innovative: Maybe “imaginative” or “resourceful.” Once you determine how you believe you’re “innovative,” you can probably decide which more-specific word works for you.
Team player/people person: What you mean is that you get along fairly well with other people and can collaborate with other people on projects. It’s probably best to leave this out of your resume or job description entirely. If you’re sending a cover letter, just describe how you’ve worked on teams before and how you contributed. If it’s a job description, you could mention the job requires working on a team and collaborating with coworkers.
Circle up/triage/reach out: I think you mean “meet” in some form or another. You could “set up a meeting with” someone or “email” that person. You could “find out what caused that problem” or “ask your coworker for help” but you probably don’t need to “triage.”
Optimized/SEO-friendly: I’m guilty of these. What we MEAN to say is that a website or some new content has been checked over to be sure it’s in line with SEO best practices. The trouble here is that not everyone knows what that means. It’s important when you’re talking to someone whose life isn’t all about SEO to use specific questions instead of asking if something is “optimized.” Is this website written in code that search engines can crawl and index? Do all the links work? Does the title tag include the main keywords?
Ok now it’s your turn. What’s your favorite, or perhaps I should say LEAST favorite office buzzword that has lost its meaning? And while you’re at it, if you figure out what “monetize our assets” means, please let me know. ¯_(ツ)_/¯
Laura Lee – Account Manager