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Is Jargon Sabotaging Your Job Search?

Most professionals use insider jargon without thinking twice about it. It’s a daily part of corporate and academic culture; however, when on the job-hunt, individuals need to be attuned to their language, and jargon is no exception. Use of jargon can have a wide range of unintended consequences, from making your cover letter opaque to causing you to sound pompous in an interview. How do you make keywords and jargon work for you without drowning in them? We have three questions you should ask yourself before deploying an acronym or technical term.

• Do I need it? It’s in your best interest to avoid the jargon if possible. Your goal is to speak clearly and vividly in your cover letter and résumé. Jargon doesn’t help with either of those aims. Companies are emphasizing soft skills more than ever. By speaking straightforwardly without jargon (and contextualizing any jargon you use) you signal that you are a savvy communicator.

• Is it universal? Many technical terms are organization-specific. Will someone outside your company understand your meaning? Complicating things further, many acronyms have multiple definitions. Is it clear to the reader that you mean Vice Chancellor or could they assume you are referring to Venture Capital? Ask someone outside your industry to proof your résumé and flag anything confusing.

• Is this the place for it? There are times that career language is a helpful shortcut and can even signal your depth of knowledge in the field. The key is knowing when it’s appropriate and when it’s unhelpful. Avoid it in headers on your résumé, but it may be acceptable in bullet points (as long as it’s a universal term or you are defining it). It’s not appropriate in your cover letter, but may be a natural part of discussing case examples with an interviewer in your field. Context matters.