I was talking about careers with a friend of mine and we ended up talking about certain key words and phrases that might pop up during the process.

Me: “First impressions are important.”

Her: “Yeah, that’s true. You have to listen carefully for keywords like ‘entrepreneurial’ or ‘culture issues.’ I worry when I hear entrepreneurial because too often that actually means a sweat shop.”

We discussed the hidden meaning behind other terms and when I asked around, I got a wealth of coded meanings behind work-related buzz words and phrases. What was interesting was that most of the actual meanings were largely negative for what used to be positive terms.

Human Resources expert Michele Perryman says, “These expressions are taken out of context and are not necessarily negative. Good governance means being efficient, well managed, and being in harmony with values and culture.”

So what are some of these terms? Take a look below:

“We work hard and play hard”

What it’s supposed to mean:

Perryman says, “To work with intensity and with passion, work hard but also takes time to enjoy life. A company can encourage and offer a cool down space within the working environment: pool table, bistro, sofa or TV.”

What it has become:

“We work 80 hours a week and then for one day a year we get really drunk” or “We’re high-functioning alcoholics.”

“It’s a start up mentality”

What it’s supposed to mean:

Working with less to produce more, live with ambiguity, the stability is adapting to change, being creative in every step of the way. You’re a startup when you don’t have rules. The reason you don’t have rules is you are too busy trying to “start” the company. Everyone in the company, from the owner to the receptionist will do whatever it takes to make the company successful without having to be told.

What it has become:

“Frat boys” or “You won’t get any benefits.”

“We’re a highly competitive company”

What it’s supposed to mean:

Being innovative on our product, gain market share, research and development is a must, pricing is based on competitive market. Companies turn ideas into products and services. In today’s globally competitive landscape companies are inventors, innovators, global supply chain managers and service providers. What was once seen just as production is now production, research, design, and service provision.

What it has become:

“You will be asked to do illegal things.”

“We admire dedication”

Perryman says about this phrase, “My understanding for answering to a 2:00 a.m. email from my boss means suffering from insomnia!  But seriously, simply be direct, if the job requires 60 hours a week, let the people know. No surprises.”

What it has become:

“I will email you at 2:00 a.m. and I expect to receive an answer.”

“We like self-starters” / “Ability to work independently” / “Fast-paced environment”

What it’s supposed to mean:

A person who has initiative, is autonomous, a problem solver orientated and does not need instant and daily recognition.

What it has become:

“No training provided.”

“Don’t expect any direction from your boss.”

“Flexible hours and schedules”

What it’s supposed to mean:

Perryman says, “This means being able to adapt our life or family schedule around our work schedule such as earlier hours to avoid traffic. It encourages responsible employees.”

What it has become:

“You will be asked to work evenings, weekends and statutory holidays”

“Stakeholder interaction”

What it’s supposed to mean:

Good and healthy governance with healthy management. The client reaction means company survival.

What it has become:

“The client doesn’t know what they want and it’s up to you to figure it out.”

“Changing priorities”

What it’s supposed to mean:

Reacting to the market, adaptability to circumstances, risk management, problem solving. The sense that change is good.

What it has become:

“Things change all the time.”

“We don’t know what we’re doing.”

“Flexible and adaptable”

What it’s supposed to mean:

Good stress management and setting up priorities. Leadership and good governance.

What it has become:

“Your team won’t work with each other.”

“You’ll be working with raving sociopaths.”

So why have these terms become fraught with negativity? Perryman says, “In this day and age with the speed of communications and the globalization of information, without any appropriate communications, these terms can be perceived negatively. The new generation is skeptical. They have seen employers laying off their faithful parents and employees and don’t feel as committed to the job market/ employer.”

What buzz words or phrases put you on the alert?

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