Cliches can confuse candidates. So, should you use them in your JDs? A recent Canva study of 6.3 million job ads (The Jargon of Jobs) found that 38% contain confusing jargon and business cliches.
In this post we’ll review 8 of the most common, what they mean, and why you might not want to use them.
Why should you avoid using cliches in your job ads?
Using business cliches can confuse job-seekers just joining the job market, candidates who speak English as a second language, and people with a neurodiversity. They might read it too literally, not know what it means altogether, or feel they aren’t intelligent enough to apply.
The map below shows the phrase “make hay,” “peel the onion,” “drill down,” and others are at the top of the list of corporate cliches found in U.S.-based JDs:
Now let’s dig into each of these most-used cliches and what they really mean:
1. Make Hay
One of the most-used business cliches is “make hay.” It is short for “make hay while the sun shines” and simply means to be successful or productive during a short period of time.
Tip: Be specific. Tell job-seekers you want them to be productive or successful in the role. For example, “this is a high productivity sales role” instead of “this is a make hay when the sun shines type of job.”
2. Open the Kimono
“Open the kimono” was historically used for “open the books” and means to reveal the inner workings of a project or a company. Some corporate cliches, like this one, can even contain bias and are discouraged for racial bias towards Japanese people.
Tip: Instead of saying “you will open the kimono on all accounting records”, something like “you will examine the books for discrepancies” isn’t biased or cliche.
3. Peel the Onion
Cliches like “peel the onion” might confuse neurodivergent candidates who think literally (e.g., will they really be required to peel an onion in this role?).
Tip: Be literal. For example, you can say something like “a desire to to uncover opportunities for improvement” instead of “a desire to consistently “peel the onion” to uncover opportunities for improvement.”
4. Push the envelope
The phrase “push the envelope” started in the aeronautical industry and refers to performance limits that cannot be exceeded safely.
Tip: A simpler way to say “push the envelope” might be asking for a candidate who’s “willing to take risks” or “try new ideas.”
5. Low hanging fruit
“Low hanging fruit” means something that is easily obtained or won. Here’s an example from a job posting on Indeed that says:
“Carry out campaigns against warm leads that have been generated from our in-house marketing team – who doesn’t like low hanging fruit!”
Tip: A phrase to use that is less cliche would be, “Carry out campaigns against warm leads that have been generated from our in-house marketing team – who likes a challenge!”
6. Move the needle
Looking for employees who can “move the needle” is great. This means you want people who can generate a reaction or create some sort of growth in your biz.
Tip: Instead of being cliche, say you want a candidate who can use their skills to:
- “create success” instead of “move the needle of success”
- “increase brand awareness” instead of “move the needle for brand awareness”
7. Drill down
I searched Indeed and found “drill down” used in over 1,000 job postings. There are less-cliche replacements for this phrase that will make your JD easier to understand.
Tip: Use words like “inspect” or “examine.” Or you can remove it completely and still get your point across. E.g., removing “drill down” from the sentence below still makes sense:
“Ability to drill down, understand root cause and resolve complex issues.”
8. Go viral
If you are posting a job for a TikTok’er, Twitter’er, or other social media management role, it might make sense to ask them to create content that will “go viral.”
Tip: A less-cliche option is to ask for a candidate who can “create a big following on social media.”
Bonus! 4 other common cliches you might want to leave out of your job ads
Other examples of commonly used cliches that I found in job ads (but didn’t make Canva’s map) are listed below, with tips for replacing them:
- Step up to the plate — instead of “should be ready and willing to step up to the plate” try something like “should be ready and willing to take on any task.”
- Hit the ground running — instead of “we’ll provide you everything you need to hit the ground running” try something like “we’ll provide you everything you need to get started.”
- Take it to the next level — instead of “sales executives to expand our business and help take it to the next level” try something like “sales executives to grow and improve our business.”
- Think outside the box — instead of “this person will bring new ideas and think outside the box” try something like “This person will bring new and creative ideas.”
Note: For more on job description jargon, Canva’s report also highlights 10 HR Buzzwords That Might Hurt your Job Ads.
We use Canva for work!
This article on job ad cliches is inspired by the Canva app. It’s a personal and Ongig fave for creating graphics for just about anything (blogs, social media, presentations, & more)! The data from their study fueled this article and the featured blog image. Thanks, Canva!
WHY I WROTE THIS
Ongig’s mission is to eliminate boring and biased job descriptions. Part of that means flagging certain words or sentences to help make your JDs more readable and appealing. Our Text Analyzer flags many of these words for you, so you don’t have to search for them. Click on “request demo” to learn more.
- The Jargon of Jobs (by Canva)
- The Most Distinctive Business Jargon Used in Each State (by Ellen Gutoskey)
- 26 annoying business clichés you should stop using immediately (by Jaquelyn Smith)
- The Most Annoying, Pretentious And Useless Business Jargon (by My Say)
- The 50 most overused business cliches (by Teena Maddox)