Speaking Your Career Language

This is the last post in a series about improving your career future by analyzing the waterfall of choices that run from the initial desire to have a career through marking up what your goals are in your life, while valuing your skills for their worth and finding out how you can maintain a steady level of energy while doing so.

At this point, you should know what it is you want out of your job, what minimum requirements you have for your personal life, and how you would value the skills you offer. You also have an idea of what kind of things you need in your job in order to keep up your energy, maintain your daily job momentum, and be able to perform without burning out.

All of those pieces of information are separate, they are lists and words and wishes. Now comes the difficult part of putting this all together in a way that makes sense to you first, and then translating this into words that are understood by managers and recruiters.

Any social circle has its own language, and the recruitment and career business has a language of its own where lingo from HR, management and the specific industry involved all flow together. So even if you know exactly what you want and can offer, this does not mean that it is meaningful input for a job sollicitation, recruitment message or job negotiation. If the people you are talking with don’t have tools to handle what you give them, they are likely to ignore it, or worse, consider it a liability.

Speak Your Own Language First

Thanks to your goals- and skills exercises you should now have a good grasp of what you want to achieve and what the requirements for you would be in your future career moves. Note that these are not binary; it’s fine to define things by what you don’t want to have happen, or what is a disqualifier when you find it in your job. I think a lot of people are rightfully suspicious when a junior job requires you to be a “spider in the web” and a “full-stack programmer” or be “assigned assorted duties”, and if you have encountered similar warning signals it’s a great thing to include them.

These form your roadmap for your career; entry requirements for your next job, development opportunities, hobbies that support your job life or allow you to detox from it, composite goals that require several stages to complete.

At this point though, if you’d have a conversation with a recruiter or your manager, they might not quite understand what it is that you’re looking for. The wording you choose will still be centered on yourself and likely is drenched with the emotions you experience regarding those things. They are in your language, but not yet in “career language”.

Finding Comparisons Online

There are three great resources when it comes to finding a vocabulary expressing your career wants and needs.

First, there is Linkedin. People’s profiles in similar roles to what you have, or what you’d like to have, will become a treasure trove of descriptive text. You might want to be able to take time off to take off for your child, but it makes quite a difference to describe it as such, or “proud parent”, “seeking flexible hours”, “parental-positive” or “focus on results, not time spent”. Each of these can be found in profiles, likely means something quite similar, but represents a different language, ranging from personal to impersonal, from people-oriented to management approved.

Joining groups related to your job or industry will get you a lot of articles and profiles to work with. Those articles often deal with opportunities and challenges directly related to what you (will) experience, so the wording used there is also immediately appropriate. Likewise, Influencers on Linkedin have a paricular style of wording things, and they can be good to remember. Worst comes to worst, you could quote them to explain what you mean, and it is likely to be picked up.

Second off, find job openings and recruitment posts for the job you’re looking for. They will not only list the requirements and what you’d be working with, but the description often also includes the vocabulary used in that role for that business. Finding out how that language compares to your own can be a good way of putting together a dictionary of terms to use in conversation.

Make a table in word/excel or on paper, and list in one column all the words the describe the role, its workings, requirements and rewards. Then in the second row, put down your own words for those things. Color code them for how well they connect to your own words; green words feel like they could be used 1:1, yellow and orange means words are an ok fit, or barely fit. Red means you cannot find an equivalent for that word in your own terms. Those are the words you need to be wary of, and research what they mean and how they will affect you.

The third and final resource are colleagues and mentors. People can tell you how things really work and the difference between the words on paper and how they are experienced at a real job. Recruitment posts often overqualify for people, groups are full of people playing fairweather, and influencers can make inspirational quotes without any basis in reality if they so choose. But when you cross-check what you found with people actually working with it, they can help you learn the language as it is spoken “in the business”.

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This does mean getting to know people and networking, which is altogether a good thing. Since actually getting a shot at a job opening is much easier when you’ve access to the network it resides in, you should already be making connections with people who might be able to explain things. If they post on Linkedin, for example, feel free to ask them what they meant, or to ask them to explain further about a detail in their posts. It might even give them ideas for a follow-up.

Translating Your Words

With your impromptu dictionary, it’s time to reverse things. Free some time up and make yourself comfortable. Take all those words you’ve been looking for, and put them all out in front of you. Now comes the time to prepare your “elevator pitch” and translate who you are and what you want from your career into words that recruiters and hiring managers want to hear.

An elevator pitch is a short, persuasive answer to a small number of vital, but tough questions. In business, that’s usually “what does your company do?” and “why should I care?”, but for you in your career, it means answering the following questions (with their translations of what is really asked from you):

  • Who are you? (what are you about?)
  • Why should we hire you? (what are your unique traits we benefit from?)
  • Where do you see yourself in five years? (have you thought about your career?)

You will notice that the questions and answers are not related. This is one of the ways in which language shifts. The hiring person wants to know something about you, but they want to couch the question and infer the details from how you answer. In other words, they want you to not have an inkling if you “did well” on the answer. It’s a bit of cloak and dagger stuff that is both considered a value in recruiters and regarded as a flaw of the branche.

So for each of these questions, find an answer that you can give in under 30 seconds which would sound good to a person hearing it. I will give some examples based on an HR specialist seeking to be hired:

“I love working with people and see them succeed. Because of that, as an HR specialist I go beyond the numbers and the algorithms to find the additional value of new hires.”

“You should hire me because I know how to think like an entrepreneur – what value would a hire hold right now? – as well as a strategist – what value can this person bring in the future? – and advice accordingly.”

“Rather than thinking in five years, give me the chance and I will explain what I can achieve in two…”

What you see here is someone who shows the reason why they work in HR, and that they believe in a personal touch yet understand that their work is highly regulated with algorithms. Here you show that you have a sense of profit and loss, but that you are willing to think about (and invest) in the future. You deflect the five years question (because let’s face it, that answer can be nothing more than a people-pleaser anyway) and up the ante by reversing it and talking about results instead, showing that you are an active participant.

See how much information you can give between the lines that way? Don’t worry if this seems a bit daunting, there are people making good money on writing elevator pitches for a good reason. Simply make a few versions, and get some trusted people to comment on them, and in no time you will know which one’s right for you.

Preparing For The Conversation

Now that you are ready to have a conversation regarding your career, it’s time to prepare. It usually helps a lot to practice these kinds of conversations a few times with a loved one or family member, using various degrees of skepticism and enthusiasm. Because this falls under both a practice session, and involves someone you know and trust, you will be able to wear down the old defensive and insecure responses you might’ve built up from previous times when these talks didn’t quite go as planned.

After all, people respond to any threatening situation and remember it, real or imagined, life-threatening or socially impacting. Keeping those responses in check will allow you to go into this situation with a calm head and a positive outlook.


It may seem daunting at first, but it’s fully possible to translate all of your goals and needs into words that a recruiter, manager or HR understands and can relate to how your career would develop. These steps are (combining all my other posts together):

  1. Decide you want a career
  2. Summarize what you want from your job and your life
  3. Describe these as goals to achieve or things to avoid
  4. Categorize and honestly embrace every skill, talent and unique viewpoint you have
  5. Find out if you want “big wins” or “steady encouragement” to stay empowered
  6. Find jobs that qualify for all of this, and follow companies and people that are related to this
  7. Translate your goals and needs into the language used in your business
  8. Prepare answers to common questions in your business
  9. Write your “elevator pitch”
  10. Book an HR appointment, career review or job interview!

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