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Job spec jargon that scares candidates

Job spec jargon that scares candidates
Marie Ryan

Marie Ryan


As an in-house recruiter, it’s important to get the job spec right. It’s the first chance to reach your ideal candidates. You want to reel the right people in, and prevent unsuitable candidates from wasting your and their time. It’s easy to add in a line or two that they won’t like. We reached out to candidates and asked them what common job descriptions make alarm bells go off in their heads. The results were surprising.

Here are the top 11 job spec lines that scare candidates:

  1. “We are a family”
  2. “Looking for superstars, ninjas or gurus”
  3. “Work hard play hard”
  4. Overemphasis on pool table (or a similar item)
  5. No explanation or generic description
  6. Excessive use of jargon or buzzwords
  7. Job keeps reopening
  8. “Looking for high-energy go-getter”
  9. Entry level position, 5 years experience needed
  10. Work your own hours
  11. Unlimited PTO

1. “We are family”

This was the number one description that candidates said they find off-putting. Well-meaning recruiters and HR people describe good cultures as having a family feel. While it may be true sometimes, it makes candidates squirm. 

One candidate said “When I see we are family, it makes me think of toxic dynamics and a workplace where everyone is expected to work around the clock for the company.”

When people see this on job descriptions, it conjures up images of working all hours, evenings and weekends. Going the extra mile, for every project. 

It also suggests a toxic workplace with inappropriate management who expect employees to have loyalty to the company above all else, even their actual families. 

For most of us, there isn’t much we wouldn’t do for our families. Looking after them when they are ill, celebrating successes, supporting them when things go wrong. Even when we have arguments, we stay and work them out. 

Most people don’t want to have the same dynamic at work. They want to show up, work on interesting projects and go home to their families. 

Equally, home is the only place you can really be yourself. You can kick off your shoes and slump on the couch while watching Netflix, covered in dorito dust. We expect more in the workplace, so don’t put it on a job spec. 

If you want to tell people that your work culture is good, and people get along, say it, without claiming to be a family. Co-workers are not family. 

2. “Looking for Superstars, Ninjas or gurus”

When candidates see these terms, they often roll their eyes. Such vague terms can be used for any role. Using them suggests you want a one in a million employee, who’s going to transform your business.

Candidates prefer a more tangible job title that has realistic expectations and goals. You’re better off to use a well-known job title then explain what you need. 

While most companies have outstanding employees and leaders, very few have people you would describe as a superstar, guru, or a ninja.

Equally, if someone described themselves in those terms on their CV, there’s a strong chance you’d reject their CV. So leave it off the job description. 

3. “Work hard, play hard”

This term conjured up two images for candidates. The first is Wolf of Wall Street, where people work all day and party all night. If that describes your work culture, go for it. But if it’s not what you want to portray, then leave it out of the job description. 

The second is a situation where employees work hard while upper management plays. One candidate said “When I see this term, I think the job will involve working day and night, unpaid overtime and free pizza once in a while.”

4. Over emphasis on pool table

If the benefits in your company are sparse, hiring a sports table won’t fool anyone. Many candidates say that when they see this, it seems low effort. 

If you have a great culture and it includes a pool table, you can mention it in the interview but it should not be the shining star on your job description.  

5. No explanation or generic description

The job spec is your chance to describe the role and company. Candidates should learn about both when reading it. When the description is too generic, it’s off-putting for candidates. It doesn’t entice anyone and you might get many generic job applications. Many candidates are uninterested if the job/company is exactly like every other company. 

Make it specific and explain a bit about the role and company. 

6. Excessive buzzwords or jargon

This is the opposite of the previous item. Sometimes recruiters go overboard with their descriptions, which tells candidates nothing. 

“Unique job opportunity in an innovative, groundbreaking start-up” or “Marketing guru needed to transform global company” don’t tell the candidate about the role. 

7. Job keeps reopening

This isn’t related to the job spec itself, more so the frequency of seeing it. If the same company is hiring for the same role, repeatedly every few months, it’s a red flag for candidates.

They aren’t stupid and quickly recognise your name when job hunting. Unless you’re expanding your team or everyone who takes the role is promoted, it looks fishy to candidates. 

8. “Looking for high-energy go-getter”

Many candidates read this as a job where they will be expected to work around the clock just to keep on top of this. 

If you want someone who’s enthusiastic and hard-working, you can say it differently. 

9. “Entry level position, 5 years work experience needed”

This grinds the gears of most people. It’s hard for graduates and people with little experience to get their first role. Job specs like these make it impossible to even try. 

More experienced people read it as “We want a very experienced person, who’s willing to work for peanuts”. 

If you want to save money, hire an entry level person and train them. The candidate could grow into an outstanding employee. If you want an experienced person, pay them and watch them flourish.

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10. "Work your own hours”

This is common on job specs in the USA. It’s also very common with MLMs or commission-only roles. Of course, they choose their own hours if no-one has to pay them! If your company offers flexible hours, say it. 

11. Unlimited PTO

Unlimited PTO seemed like the perks dreams are made of. If Carlsberg managed holidays, they’d give unlimited PTO. 

Many companies who provide it have very competitive teams where people can’t really take PTO or they would miss a target. Instead of it being unlimited, it often means no PTO. 


These are the top 11 terms that candidates dislike on job-specs. You can use this guide when writing your next job ad to help you create winning job specs that attract the right people to your company. 

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