competency model

Job Descriptors With Hidden Meanings—for the Better and Worse

Monday, March 5, 2018

The possibilities are endless when searching for a new job. The thrill is a lot like buying a new home: You know your absolute must-haves and compromising points, and you begin to envision yourself in new and exciting opportunities. However, just as in real estate, there are a few key words and phrases that may make you pause to consider their potential hidden meanings.

“Able to handle all personalities”
While being empathetic and having a certain level of “think-before-you-speak” maturity is key to any professional position, this term can indicate there are some fairly unsavory characters in the office. If one of those characters happens to be someone with whom you will be working directly, or is your supervisor, you may want to consider how thick your skin is and how easily you defuse dramatic confrontations.

“Start-up atmosphere”
The images of napping in a pod or free lunches and wearing your favorite ripped jeans to work might be concocted when thinking “start-up life.” However, this descriptor can be misleading. Many times, the start-up life is less appealing in reality than it appears on TV. Long hours, no job training, potentially low pay, and enduring co-workers with nerf guns shooting at your head while you are trying to work takes a certain set of inter- and intra-personal skills.

“Flexible and adaptive”
Smaller organizations may need an employee to take on more than one role. While you may be hired to do one job with a certain title, once you start your role may morph into a larger set of responsibilities. On occasion, your job may be completely transformed; you could find yourself in a role you never would have applied for and are not equipped to undertake successfully.

“Be ready to take on tough challenges”
Being in a leadership role requires you to take on challenges of all kinds—from employee development to running a budget to everything in between. Being ready to take on challenges is natural for leaders; but when it’s spelled out in a job description, that could be a red flag. “Tough challenges” could encompass financial instability or a negative workplace culture. It’s best to find out what specifically those challenges are before deciding whether to take them on.

“Hands-on supervisor”
It’s important for any manager to know what is happening within their team and be involved. Yet, “hands-on” can be code for micromanager. Not many employees thrive with a micromanaging supervisor or CEO, because it devalues the employee’s sense of worth and trust and builds communication barriers. If you choose to apply for a job with this kind of description, be sure to get specific examples of how the supervisor is “hands on,” and meet with the supervisor to gauge whether they are just involved, or overbearing.


We gave you some negatives to watch out for; now we want to turn the mood and give you a few positive descriptors to get you excited about those dream jobs that really do exist:

“Work–life balance”
Addressing the number one concern for working parents—and according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 80.4 percent of families in 2016 had at least one parent working—is a must for employers. While technology makes nearly everyone available 24/7, it’s noteworthy when an employer doesn’t expect you to give up the precious few hours you have outside work.

“Competitive salary”
One of the biggest factors in whether to apply for a job is the salary. Knowing the salary upfront is the best way to save you and the employer time (and ultimately money). If they do not list the salary or a range, the next-best thing is seeing “competitive salary” rather than “salary commensurate with experience.” If you want to benchmark an offer, you can go in with your ATD Salary Survey and show them what your competitors are making in comparison!

“Down-to-earth people”
While some people flourish in a buttoned-up culture and others in a flip-flop environment, we all enjoy our peers and supervisors to be sensible and down-to-earth. Being able to go home to let the plumber in when your pipes burst is a sensible move of down-to-earth bosses. Handing off a project to another team member because you’re up all night in the ER with your sick child is commonsense teamwork. Being around down-to-earth and empathetic co-workers can be nurturing and help you truly enjoy your work.

Having a workplace culture where integrity is emphasized is a great foundation for building and fostering a high-performing and productive work environment. When you find yourself in an organization that prides itself on integrity, you could find that communication between your supervisor and peers is honest and open and that you don’t have to worry about your ideas being stolen. You may find yourself more willing to admit your flaws and try new things as a result of this open culture. This kind of workplace could be a "golden egg."

ATD is proud to announce the March 6 launch of our redesigned Job Bank with a more customer-friendly jobseeker interface and an extra-robust engine to match you with the most rewarding talent development job openings. Post your resume and be matched with a great position today!

About the Author
Lisa Spinelli is the Content Manager for the Career Development and Finance communities as well as the ATD Job Bank administrator. Prior to joining ATD, Lisa worked as a content strategist, editor, and journalist for over 14 years. She has managed teams, websites, and social media accounts as well as reported and edited articles for places like America's Blood Centers,, Red Herring, the Boston Phoenix and Patch. Some of her works have been published with Fast Company, Huffington Post, Mental Floss, Northern Virginia Magazine, Houston Chronicle, St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Associated Press, to name a few. With her diverse and inside knowledge of content development and creation, along with content acquisition, management and marketing, Lisa brings a fresh unique perspective to the role. She resides in Northern Virginia with her three divas and Air Force veteran husband. Follow her on Twitter @atdcareerdev.
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