get the words “core competencies” off your resume

If you have a section on your resume called “core competencies,” please call it something else. You do not need that horrible piece of jargon on your resume, and its presence there instantly makes hiring managers’ eyes glaze over.

Call it a profile, call it a summary or highlights, I don’t care — but no one says “core competencies” in everyday conversation. Use plain language that makes you sound like a normal person, rather than like someone who got trapped in a really boring HR conference and never escaped.

{ 238 comments… read them below }

  1. Jubilance*

    My section highlighting my important skills is called “Summary of Qualifications”. I agree – core competencies is corporate speak and I’ve never actually heard someone say that before.

      1. Kara*

        I’m an HR major – I say it too. However, when writing resumes for myself and as a favor to others I usually title that section “Qualifications” or “Professional Qualifications.”

      2. Lily in NYC*

        Mine too! I cringe every time someone asks if I have “bandwith” to help with something.

  2. Jamie*

    Interesting – core competencies is exactly what they are though…I don’t think of it as corporate speak. As a matter of fact you’ll find the phrase in my ISO documents…which I wrote… :)

    And that is the phrase we use in every conversation about hiring.

    Although I do think my threshold for corporate speak tolerance is higher than most…actually, it may be my first language so you can’t go by me.

  3. AdAgencyChick*

    Hear, hear!

    While we’re at it, can we please kill the use of the word “ask” as a noun? There’s already a word for that, and it is “request.” Drives me up a wall!

    1. Cat*

      Ugh, this one has somehow taken over in my office in the last couple of months. It is killing me.

        1. Kelly L.*

          Thus it makes people sound pushily “salesy” when they use it in other contexts too, which I think is a large part of why it’s annoying.

    2. CEMgr*

      It’s rampant at my place of work, I don’t have any clear path to killing it. Marketing people are the biggest (ab)users.

    3. Ellie H.*

      Oh man, if I could wipe that off the face of the planet. Also “gift”! The word is give!

        1. Windchime*

          What the heck does “onboarding” even mean? People use it in the context of new employees……could we just say “orientation” or “training” if that’s what it means?

          1. Oxford Comma*

            I asked this one of our HR person who is enamoured of the term and got back a kind of gobbledygook answer that made very little sense. I honestly think it’s just a management lite thing where they feel if they change the word we’ll all feel enthused.

            1. Bee*

              We use “onboarding” as a separate thing from “orientation” or “training” – orientation is the initial meeting with HR, wherein general policies are reviewed and paperwork is completed, where as onboarding is the entire process of getting a new employee ‘on-board’ with the company. Orientation, job training and/or shadowing, skills training, meetings with the higher-ups, etc., are all a part of onboarding.

            2. PJ*

              “…where they feel if they change the word we’ll all feel enthused.”

              I remember working for a company whose management thought we would all feel better if the company “right-sized” itself rather than laid people off.

              I imagined them saying in the executive meeting, “If we use that term, maybe they won’t notice they’re now unemployed.”

      1. Lalaith*

        And “guesstimate”, which has been running around my office lately. An estimate *is* a guess, people. An educated guess, sure (hopefully), but you are not adding any meaning with this particular portmanteau.

      2. Sunshine DC*

        GIFT is the norm in perhaps all non-USA English speaking British Commonwealth countries and former colonies—when something given is a GIFT.

        If you ask me to pass the salt at the dinner table, I GIVE it to you.

        If its your birthday and I buy you a new computer, I GIFT it to you.

        This is absolutely correct, original English – just not common in American English.

        1. fposte*

          No, it’s a recent development there as well for material goods–“give” goes back to Anglo-Saxon and turns up in all the usual places like Shakespeare. There is a smaller, more recent (mid-millennium) tradition of “gift” as a verb, but that’s more poetic/abstract (think “gifted child” kind of use).

        2. E*

          I grew up in one non-US Anglophone country, got a lot of my media from a second non-US Anglophone country, and emigrated to a third non-US Anglophone country.

          The only instance where I have ever heard ‘gift’ used as a verb was in relation to tax law.

    4. J.B.*

      And “metric” as a verb! It is a noun, and “measure” is a perfectly good verb. In fact there are lots of verbs you could use there that are actually verbs!

      1. Emma*

        Can we stop using “spend” as a noun? We have a perfectly good noun for the concept and it’s called expenditure. Don’t get me started on the phrase “talk about this offline.” You should only be using that when you are chatting over IM or e-mail!

      2. Amy*

        Also, impact as a verb. As in, “I really hope that the new core competencies will impact our bottom line.” Impact is a noun, people!

        1. Emma*

          When I interned in the non-profit world, they looooooved using the term “impactful.” It drove me up the wall.

        1. Cathy*

          “Share” or “communicate” are the appropriate replacements for “socialize”.

          1. fposte*

            Shoot. I seriously thought it was a funny turn of phrase for making a crap PowerPoint into something that could actually be used with humans.

      1. RG*

        But, that’s when you teach it to interact with other Power Points, right? Because you’ll eventually need to breed more Power Points, right?

        1. Natalie*

          Hopefully you’ve had your Power Points spayed or neutered, but you still need to socialize them so they will behave well around others and not bite.

          1. FD*

            And remember to be a responsible Office owner, and clean up after your PowerPoint. No one wants to step in someone else’s slides!

      2. Chinook*

        How do you socialize a document? Do you take it to other presentations to introduce it to other documents so it will play nicely in the E: (like you do with dogs at a dog park)?

        And what does anti-social document behaviour look like?

        1. Nichole*

          Antisocial documents use text speak, un-words, and gratuitous, poorly placed semicolons. Example: “Will conversate w/you b4 the mtg; on Tuesday.”

            1. Emma*

              How about independency? I worked with someone who was a fan of that word. I’m no linguist, but is there a term for over-modifying a word (or for the tendency to over modify) like that? Independency, conversate, etc.?

              1. Emma*

                Shows me…I see now that independency IS a word…but only in specific situations (i.e., talking about a self-governing state). So unless you’re a sovereign entity, it’s technically incorrect to talk about your “independency.”

                Much like commentate, which is a word…but really should only apply to folks describing the play-by-play of a sports game. We have a shorter, nicer word for what you’re trying to do and that’s “comment.”

            2. Nichole*

              It always makes me cringe a little. It takes everything I have not to say “you mean converse.” Which is still overkill, but at least it’s technically correct. I try not to be that guy (in most situations my grammar Nazi tendencies are my hang up, not theirs), but that one drives me up the wall.

      3. kasey*

        “socialize a Power Point Document”
        no, waah? buy the ppt a drink, take it dancing?

    5. just laura*

      This thread of replies should start the next open thread– annoying non-words. Use in a sentence for extra points!

    6. twentymilehike*

      Since we are all venting our offices’ uses of annoying words, can someone please ask everyone I work with to stop saying “relook?” It’s not an actual word and it sounds so unprofessional. It makes me feel like I’m in junior high. I wish they’d just say, “I need to look at it again.” You can’t just add “re-” to the beginning of any random word, right?

    7. ThursdaysGeek*

      And I don’t dialog with you, I talk or speak with you. Quit verbing nouns, please?

      1. Kacie*

        One of my employees uses dialog as a verb on a regular basis. I think it must have been common in his last organization, he was there a long time. He’s an outstanding employee, so just have to suck that one up and not cringe when he says it.

    8. Windchime*

      We had a bunch of contractors last year, and this was big with them…..”My ask would be this: (blah blah blah)”. I was making a list of Contractor Jargon, and “ask” was high on my list.

    9. Anonymous*

      I’ve been dealing with “interpretator” quite a lot recently. As in, “We have a deaf customer. Should I schedule an interpretator?”

      It makes me die a little every time I hear it.

        1. RG*

          Ha – as a play on the element Bismuth, right? But it’s the business of meth….

          Chemists do love their puns.

      1. Yup*

        Paradigm and hegemony make me fist-clenchingly, jaw-grindingly furious. I think it’s a Pavlovian response from a really annoying university professor.

        1. Natalie*

          “Hegemony” and “agency” were the buzzwords du jour at my college. I have used up my lifetime allotment of hearing or saying either of those words.

        2. FD*

          Paradigm has a useful meaning though, useful for several contexts and I’ve never come up with another word that means quite the same thing.

          It is overused and misused though.

          1. Natalie*

            My company was briefly fond of “bucketize”, which means put in buckets… otherwise known as categorize! Jags.

            1. Emma*

              I don’t know if I would have been able to control myself in that situation. I would have started saying “bouquet-ize,” a la “Keeping Up Appearances,” to highlight the absurdity of the word.

              1. Kelly O*

                I should have known there were other Keeping Up Appearances fans in the AAM comments.

                If you “bucketize” something, do you get a swimming pool, sauna, and room for a pony?

                1. Emma*

                  I think it might involve fine china, breaking out the fancy cookies, and using a framing square to ensure your stamp aligns perfectly with both edges of the envelope.

                  But I will bucketize all my company wants for a pool and a pony.

    1. Mike C.*

      Synergy is one I first encountered when dealing with genetic studies, so it’s perfectly acceptable.

    2. Chinook*

      Wait – I think Synergy is an actual company name in the oilfield business, so I can’t stop using it.

  4. Anonymous*

    But, by stating my core competencies, I can utilize my resume to give a demonstration of my out-of-the-box thinking vis-à-vis monetizing the paradigm.

    1. The Editor*

      And there’s my biggest pet peeve word…. “utilize.” “Use” is such a more useful word, and it’s only one syllable. Think of the efficiencies!

      And yes, I know your response was tongue-in-cheek. Very well done, by the way, but you forgot to mention how you would use your skills to dialog/interface while also cross-pollinating.


      1. Kelly O*

        As long as you’re keeping your seat at the table, at the end of the day – no harm, no foul.

      2. anon o*

        I hate utilize too! A former co-worker of mine used to joke with me about it – “Utilize the Force, Luke!”

      1. De Minimis*

        Yep…at my agency I think we have to specifically address our core competencies in our yearly evaluations.

  5. Victoria Nonprofit*

    I don’t use this, but my organization does. For each role we have defined core competencies; these are what we are measured against during performance reviews (+ results, of course).

    1. Kacie*

      Right, I’ve used them as a term to describe the skills I expect you to have in a specific role. And that you’ve received adequate training to perform them. It seems odd to me that an individual would have core competencies, though. Against whose measure?

  6. Marmite*

    Interesting, a lot of job descriptions have person specifications referring to “core competencies” or “required competencies”. I have that section simply titled “skills” on my CV, but given that job descriptions reference competencies so much I can see why people would refer to it that way on their CV too.

  7. TheSnarkyB*

    Aaand, she’s back! I’ve felt a noticeable lack of the Alison core, and the sass is back!! :)

  8. Samantha*

    I actually used “core competency” in a conversation today. I find it uniquely descriptive. Am I a giant d-bag?? haha

  9. Anonymous*

    I say ‘usual suspects’ on mine after industry tools and general marketing tools for MS Word, etc

  10. Sascha*

    I’ve been working in universities for the past 7 years, so “core competencies” makes me think of the set of general education class a student needs to graduate. So when I first saw this I thought, why is someone listing their general ed classes on their resume?

  11. RB*

    Can I add another?

    Out of pocket. Please, I hate this. Just say you are going to be unavailable.

    1. SarahJ*

      I have a friend how uses this phrase all the time and it makes no sense. Sometimes it means “available only by email”, others it’s just code for “I’ll get back to you whenever I feel like it”.

    2. Jamie*

      That must be regional. I’ve always heard that as slang for “out of line.” i.e. – “Did she get out of pocket with you?” means “was she rude to you?”

      1. fposte*

        And I’m from the same region as you and I’ve never heard that–I’ve only heard the “out of money” one.

        1. Jamie*

          Come to think of it my husband is the only one I know to use it that way. He’s been known to use phrases in unconventional ways.

    3. MM*

      “Out of pocket” here means that you have to pay for it yourself (example: the company won’t pay for your meals – you’ll need to pay that out of pocket).

        1. tcookson*

          I’ve heard both . . . although I tend to think of “out of pocket expenses” before I think of “not at my desk”

      1. Elizabeth*

        That meaning makes sense. I can visualize someone actually reaching into their pocket for their wallet. It sounds like some people are confusing it with “out of office,” though, which instead makes me visualize someone who works in a pocket.

    4. Victoria Nonprofit*

      Heh. My org uses “offline” for the same situations. It seems to mean, roughly, “I’m not going to be as available as usual,” or maybe “I’m not going to be in touch at all.”

      1. Natalie*

        That actually seems logical to me, since IME people are usually talking about email availability when they say they will be “out of pocket” during their upcoming vacation or whatever.

    5. Loose Seal*

      I agree that must be regional. I’ve heard “out of pocket” to mean unreachable my entire life and I’m forty-something.

  12. Catherine*

    “Hopefully” makes me want to scream.

    On the other hand, after three years of trying, I’ve managed to get people around here to find another word for “ruggedized.” Oh, god, I feel nauseous just typing it.

    1. Grammar Police*

      You mean you feel nauseated (unless of course you meant to imply you make others sick). ;)

    2. Brton3*

      No offense but people who get worked up about “hopefully” make me want to scream.

      Nobody who hears you say “hopefully I’ll get the job” misunderstands your meaning to be “I’ll get the job, and I’ll do it while being hopeful” which is the supposed “correct” usage of the word. Indeed, the “wrong” usage of hopefully is so ubiquitous that it’s rare to hear it used as a normal adverb (as in, “she went into the store hopefully, expecting to see her favorite chocolate teapots on sale.” Or god forbid, if you want to be a real pedant, “she went hopefully into the store…”)

      Millions of people use this word the “wrong” way totally spontaneously, without ever being “taught” to do so, because it is useful and fills a vernacular need. It’s not until much later in life, after they have read some column by some language critic, that people suddenly decide the ubiquitous real-world usage is unacceptable. (This judgment never happens unprompted by some self-proclaimed grammar authority, because most people do not sit around contemplating the nuances of adverb usage. And in this context it isn’t an adverb anyway and might as well be considered to be a different word entirely.)


      1. twentymilehike*

        Oh hell … now I’m going to be tempted to use “hopefully” I a whole new way … I’ve been burdened by historical knowledge. How exciting!

      2. Julie K*

        I am a fanatic about words, grammar, punctuation, etc., but it is hard to get worked up over “hopefully” because it’s so widely used. Sometimes I will say “it is hoped” and, I feel like a dork (but I still say it). The one that really bugs the living ^&*#% out of me is “more importantly.” I have never seen it used by anyone who actually meant “more pompously.” Just say “more important” – please! Whenever I hear it used correctly on TV, I cheer. :)

      3. Jessa*

        Exactly. Language is a living evolving thing and it’s not usually long from “don’t use that word that way, or “ain’t,” ain’t in the dictionary,” to “ain’t IS in the dictionary and everyone uses if even if not in formal discourse and yes that word CAN be used that way.”

        Language is really what the majority of it’s speakers says it is.

      4. fposte*

        “Hopefully” is also a funny one because people know it, so they’ll alert on that one while letting others like “thankfully” slide right by.

      5. Windchime*

        I feel the same way about people who misuse “badly”, as in, “I feel badly for her.” You wouldn’t say, “I feel sadly for her.”.

      6. David Ayer*

        Any usage that gains this much currency will have already made the dictionary as a separate entry under ‘hopefully,’ so it’s not wrong. He stated confidently before looking it up. ‘Errors’ based on mishearings, wrong assumptions about how the plural would be formed, and countless other wire crosses have helped create our language. I like the one about how ‘cherry’ came into being. It was an act of creativity to render its spelling, which was based on the instantaneous assumption that “cherise” was plural.

    3. Ellie H.*

      I am a pedant and actually say “nauseated.” Once you switch it’s easy for it to become a habit!

      I’m curious about what the problem with “hopefully” is though. That seems like a totally normal English word to me. “Ruggedized” I’ve never heard before – wondering if it has a very specific context?

      1. Brton3*

        People think you are only allowed to use it as an adverb modifying a verb. As in, “she lifted the rock hopefully, expecting to see a pot of gold.” In the context of “hopefully my resume will stand out” it is no longer an adverb but more of an interjection that expresses a desire or expectation. But it’s a favorite annoyance of people like William Safire who write endless columns about how they are the only people who REALLY understand the English language.

        1. Ellie H.*

          Oh, ok. To me, it seems like quite normal usage to say something like “Hopefully it will not take too long!” I don’t think I’ve even ever heard it used as a traditional adverb except when describing someone’s expression or demeanor (“she looked hopefully toward the door”).

          I am quite random in what I care about though. I don’t like the Oxford comma and I despise the singular “they,” but I like “I could care less” and other colloquial expressions that are set phrases.

      2. Jessa*

        Ruggedized came about in response to hardened tech. The kind that’s designed to survive em pulses and attacks. Also tech designed to take into wilderness or war zones and survive the trip. So one of those super high impact brief cases with foam inserts for your equipment would be a “ruggedized briefcase.” A phone designed to survive an em pulse and also being dropped from a tank would also be referred to that way.

  13. Brton3*

    Does it make a difference if the job posting uses the phrase? I see them all the time. Instead of “skills and qualifications” it will say “core competencies.”

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I still wouldn’t use it. That ad might have been placed by a jargony HR department, but the hiring manager looking at your resume is probably a more normal person.

      1. PuppyKat*

        Unless you work at a university—in which case *everyone* uses long-winded jargon that they think sounds “elevated.”

        Plus, in the last eighteen months, I’ve had to learn a new language that has nothing to do with my area of work. The pervasiveness of acronyms for every little thing, long complicated processes that must rival governmental departments or the military—I could go on.

        But I try to keep a sense of humor about it. Although not a Star Trek fan (just married to one), I picture myself as Seven of Nine. I’ve been assimilated into the Collective! (University-speak-wise.)

        1. just me*

          Yes. Military, government: acronyms for everything. I’ve been in my job 4 years and I still don’t’ know what people are talking about half the time. Emails that read: Send your AAR IAW DDA-1 NLT EOBD.

          Fortunately I found a website for military acronyms. Lifesaver. Who knew there is a whole dictionary of approved military acronyms?

  14. ChristineSW*

    Although I’d never use it on my resume, I actually don’t mind “core competencies” as a phrase as I’ve seen it in the context of what skills and knowledge are expected of students in professional graduate programs (e.g. Counseling, Social Work, etc).

    But oh yes, I do dislike jargon or other buzz words/phrases that make you sound all impressive. And it’s not just in job and career descriptions, but also in organizations’ marketing materials. Phrases like “human capital” and “social enterprise” make my head spin. I am so happy to know that using down-to-earth, everyday language is absolutely okay and even strongly preferred because the fluffier language is just not me.

  15. Mike C.*

    I had to practically learn a new language when I joined my current employer. Imagine the unholy lovechild you get when you combine the following – large corporate business speak, military jargon, engineering* naming conventions and serious government/regulatory rules.

    My favorite are the compound acronyms where one or more letters stands for another acronym. There’s a reason we have an online company dictionary.

    *The engineering actually makes a lot of sense once you find someone who can explain the conventions. Now when I comb through a database it feels like those guys in “The Matrix” who would just read the raw code rather than video.

  16. bob*

    While we’re at it out could we get people to stop using the MBA waving hack term “thought leader”? Please??!??!

        1. Julie K*

          That’s been around for quite a while. I don’t think it’s going anywhere (unfortunately).

        2. bob*

          Wow I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never heard that one! That phrase is almost like Seinfeld: It’s a phrase about nothing.

          Who leads these opinions and why wasn’t I consulted?!??!

  17. binkle*

    I vote for getting rid of “wheelhouse.” As in, “That skill is not in my wheelhouse.” Aye aye Cap’n! No fear have ye of evil curses says you. Fairly warned ye be says I. Aaaaaaargghhhhh.

      1. Chinook*

        “PROPERLY warned ye be says I”

        I initally read that as “properly warned ye boy says I” and wondered who the Newfie was.

    1. twentymilehike*

      Hahhaha … someone just recently had to explain “wheelhouse” to me. I still don’t get it … I mean, I get their point, I just don’t get why that phrase is the best way of saying it.

      1. Jamie*

        I love this one and I’m not giving it up.

        Fr me it sounds less pretentious than ” my area of expertise” in casual conversation. I wouldn’t put it in a formal communication or anything, but I think it conveys the thought pretty well. And not my wheelhouse is a much nicer way of saying, “oh dear, thank you ever so much for thinking of me for this visible but horrific project …I’m honored and humbled by your faith in me but I don’t believe at this point I am the subject matter expert something so crucial requires.” :)

        1. FD*

          Yeah, one of my favorite online shows uses ‘wheelhouse’ regularly, to refer to the bulk of what they cover. Namely ‘naked crazy’–i.e. people doing strange things that get them arrested and also somehow ending up naked during the course of said acts.

    2. Anonymous*

      For some reason everyone suddenly started using “wheelhouse” incessantly at my company like six months ago. I don’t know if it was in some seminar I missed or what. I was like, what’s with everyone having a wheelhouse all of the sudden?

      1. Loose Seal*

        Perhaps they watch Glee? “Wheelhouse” is mentioned in practically every episode.

        Kurt: Finn, why don’t you sing “Having My Baby” to Quinn in front of her parents? That song is in your wheelhouse, right? Also, it wouldn’t put her on the spot at all.”

  18. Laura*

    And how about we banish the term “evangelize?” As in, we’ve come up with a new strategy/business process and we need to “evangelize” the message.

    I also detest the expression “bandwidth” when discussing how much time there is to get something done. I’m pretty pedestrian. I just say “I don’t have time to work on that right now,” instead of “I don’t have any additional bandwidth for that,” as if I were a ethernet cable instead of a person.

    1. Brton3*

      This could be a fun open thread. Name all the obnoxious business school and TED talk jargon normal people are bombarded with every day.

    2. Sarah*

      I work in commuication systems, and we are always talking about bandwidth (in terms of actual bandwidth of a system / cable, etc.). It seems like a natural extention to apply it to people, so perhaps my specific industry can be forgiven?

      The worst one I have heard is “horsey-ducky”, and it wasn’t an isolated incident. Example: “This presentation is for Mike, so you need to make it a bit more horsey-ducky,” where Mike is some executive level person, and we are two people with engineering backgrounds. The feedback is to make it less detailed, less technical information up front, and to make it more ‘marketing’-like.

    3. Chinook*

      If someone told me they wanted to evangelize a message, I would just point out that I already found religion and look at them blankly.

    1. FD*

      I’m not sure if this counts as jargon, but people using i.e. and e.g. interchangeably drives me wild!

      (If anyone doesn’t know, i.e. is short for ‘id est’, which means ‘that is’. It is used to clarify a statement.

      Correct Use: “Mandarin Chinese is a tonal language, i.e. a language where the pitch of the sounds spoken may affect the meaning.”

      E.g., on the other hand, is short for ‘exempli gratia’, which more or less means ‘for example.’ It is used to give examples to further elaborate on a statement.

      Correct Use: “Maddieson said that tonal languages (e.g. Mandarin Chinese or Thai) tend to be geographically concentrated, with the vast majority found in Africa or Southeast Asia.”)

      1. FD*

        ARGH! Why do my responses not post to the bottom of the main comment section, instead of in response? Am I doing something wrong? I pick “Add One…” to post the comment, instead of hitting “Reply.”

  19. rw*

    I call it “Additional Information” at the bottom of my resume. In my mind, I have already conveyed my “core competencies” in my accomplishments, and any additional information is for clarity’s sake (hence the name).

    Let’s be honest, if I haven’t won the hiring manager over with my accomplishments, then I’m likely not going to win her over just because I’ve used X program for Y years.

  20. Cube Ninja*

    I think what we need to do here is interface with the Chocolate Teapot product managers so we can achieve synergy and leverage our core competencies for globalized impact while maintaining sustainable organic growth in alignment with our cloud strategy.

    1. Sabrina*

      Don’t forget, we also need to go after low hanging fruit for some quick wins. I’ll parking lot that so we can take it offline.

          1. The IT Manager*

            It’s a “technical” term used in Agile software development meaning a story or other task that is sitting off to the side waiting for someone to get to it.

            The Agile methodology also use scrum as a “technical” term to mean daily, time-limited meeting so I think they had some fun when developing the methodology.

            1. Cube Ninja*

              I’ve seen “huddle” used in this same context. My SO’s former employer had “huddle rooms” instead of conference or meeting rooms.


  21. De Minimis*

    I’d be fine if people threw around all kinds of buzzwords at my job, if they would only stop saying “physical year” for “fiscal year.” I don’t correct them or anything, but I do make a point of saying “fiscal year,” but it isn’t catching on.

    1. Laura*

      Oh dear. I worked with a woman once who would say “condensending.” I wanted to tell her that it was “condescending” but that would have been, you know, condensending.

      1. Mrs Addams*

        I have a co-worker who says “ethnicity” as “ethenticity”, and “certificates” as “cerstificates”. Incredibly frustrating and somewhat embarrassing in front of clients, especially as she’s paid to teach said clients core literacy skills.

        1. ChristineSW*

          I agree, although I’m not one to talk….instead of “infrastructure”, I say “infantstructure”. My husband never lets me live that down.

        2. Natalie*

          I work with multiple people who say masonAry instead of masonry. Not a big deal, you’d think, except we work in property management and have to talk about masonry a lot.

          1. Anonymous*

            If we’re going to start talking about mispronunciations, nothing is worse than “suposably”! Unless that’s one of those words that has been misused so often that it’s now considered acceptable… ugh!

            1. Laura*

              Words that just flat-out do not exist bug me more than mispronunciations, although “supposably” irks me to no-end.

              Sometimes I want to stand up on my desk and shout, “OK people, for the last time, THERE IS NO SUCH WORD AS ‘IRREGARDLESS!'”

  22. Anonymous*

    This is more of a cover letter question I suppose, but what do you think of including some jargony language if the job description is full of it? Like, if they talk about core competencies, should you? I recently applied for a job where the job description was insanely jargony. I tried to use some of the same style & language in my cover letter (somewhat – I also wanted it to sound like a human wrote it) and my sister/proofreader commented that it was very business-speaky. I didn’t get past the application stage. I’ve always tried to match the tone/voice of the company to which I’m applying but something didn’t work here.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’d always write cover letters in a normal voice and not be swayed by a jargony ad. Sometimes one person writes the ad (HR) and a different person reads the cover letter (hiring manager).

  23. Julie K*

    I have a list that I keep (and add to) in my Outlook Notes. Here’s the list so far:
    – Invite, as a noun
    – Slide deck
    – High level (means a non-detailed, bird’s eye view, but to me, it sounds like it means something very complicated)
    – Heat map
    – Swim lanes
    – Can you speak to that?
    – I don’t have visibility into that
    – At the end of the day
    – Strategic alliance
    – Leverage
    – One-off
    – Let’s take that offline
    – Pushback
    – Bandwidth
    – Pain points

    I have been able to add to my list, thanks to today’s comments!

    1. Jamie*

      Yikes, I’m guilty of six of those on a very regular basis.

      You all would totally hate me!

    2. Jazzy Red*

      Pain Points.

      My chiropractor knows all about those.

      I don’t want to know any other definition for that phrase.

    3. Emma*

      Thank you! I was on a “high level” conference call this week to discuss my new job, which had me very worried about its complexity, what had I gotten myself into, etc. I too learned it just meant a broad overview.

      1. Vicki*

        Also “drill down” and it’s buddy “double click” (used to discuss bullet points, no computer involved.)

  24. FD*

    Some of these are simply misused words (nouns being used improperly as verbs, in most cases), but some of the jargon it seems to me does have value; it’s simply overused.

    For example, leverage (apart from the physics definition) is a very useful word to use where you think you need to expend some political capital to get something done. For example: “We helped Chris’s team when their chocolate teapot machine broke down last June; let’s see if we can leverage that to get him to stand with us when we push for a major renovation of the midwestern district chocolate teapot factories.” There aren’t any words I know besides leverage that would give quite the same idea in only one word. But any word gets trite once it’s over used (for example, saying someone is “nice” tells me next to nothing about them).

    1. Vicki*


      The worst use of this, for me, was from the IT Support team at LastJob. “I wanted to reach out to you about your request.”

      No. You want to help resolve it or escalate it up the chain.

  25. Anonymous*

    I just moved to Seattle and my own small rebellion against unnecessary made up words is that I refuse to use the special Starbucks words for drink sizes instead ordering a “large” or if I am feeling really daring, an “extra large”. The cashiers gently try to correct me, but I stare back blankly, like a tourist from a world without Starbucks (which is basically what I was before I moved here.)

    1. MovingRightAlong*

      I feel your pain, especially because I h ave to stare at the menu to figure out how to translate “small coffee” into Starbucks sizes. In the end, though, you’re only making your point to an hourly employee- not to Starbucks. And that hourly employee is probably just trying to confirm what size you want instead of preparing what size she thinks you want. Clarifying what a customer wants is just good service and there’s no use getting mad about it. If you really want to avoid the coffee jargon, order using the number of ounces. It’s clear and you don’t have to learn their stupid size names.

      1. Jessa*

        But there is a difference between for instance pointing to different sized cups and saying which one do you want, and pretentiously repeating the size names that Starbucks uses without explaining what they stood for. Or when you know for sure what the customer wants when they say “small or medium,” for instance and still keep repeating your size names until the customer says one in some Pavlovian attempt to force them to use your sizes or make them feel stupid. I have found far too many Starbucks employees who do this the wrong way. This is true of other places too. If the customer’s language makes it understandable what they want, trying to force them to use your corporate jargon before being willing to take an order strikes me as rude and nasty. And honestly small should mean the smallest thing you have, medium the next up, large etc. If there’s really a question, if people asking for small are constantly complaining that small is “too small,” then hold up a cup and say this is our smallest is this what you want?

        1. Dulcinea*

          I have had this experience as well, and I think that it must be a starbucks policy. I also refuse to order using their silly names. I like MovingRightAlong’s suggestion to order by ounces.

        2. Christina*

          Some Starbucks actually have a smaller size than is listed on the menu, a “short,” which is 8 ounces. So as a customer, ordering a “small” and assuming it’s the smallest size on the menu, and as a worker, assuming they want the smallest size available, could end up with the customer not getting what they thought they ordered.

          That said, I hate the venti/grande thing too and usually just ask for the smallest size they have.

        3. AnAmy*

          As a former Starbucks employee, I assure you that the barista doesn’t care what you call it. When you say you want a large decaf latte with soy milk, they’ll confirm that you want a “decaf Venti soy latte,” because that’s how they’ve been trained to say it – a consistent order is used so that everyone can easily remember, make, ring up or mark every drink that gets ordered. It’s not personal, it just makes the job easier.

          I was always amazed at how worked up people got over coffee.

      2. Anonymous*

        Fun fact – they also have a short (smaller than the “tall”) that isn’t on the menu. It is really useful if you want the same ammount of espresso but less milk in your latte. The price difference is small, but the espresso/milk ratio is better.

        In normal-person lingo, maybe that would be extra small?

        1. Natalie*

          I think “short” is a really coffee shop word. My recollection from pre-Starbucks coffee shops is that you would specify the number of espresso shots, and specify “short” and “tall” meaning how much other stuff would be in there. So a 3-shot short latte would be mostly espresso and almost no steamed milk, and a 1-shot tall would be the inverse.

          Presumably this is why Starbucks uses “tall” to mean smallest size – they took the short of the menu, and added more sizes above it.

  26. Blinx*

    Aww, geez guys — I’ve been out of work for a while and I’m getting all weepy and nostalgic for all the business jargon! Reading this thread has brought it all back in a flash. Now excuse me while I go ideate…

  27. Just sayin'*

    “Incentivize” does not make you sound smarter – it just makes you look pompous. The correct verb is “incent,” as in, “The bonus plan is designed to incent greater focus on the sale of products from the higher-margin categories.”

    1. TK*

      I don’t work in the corporate world and never will, but I didn’t realize that “incentivize” was a corporate-inspired formation. And this is the first time I’ve ever heard “incent.” A quick search suggests that it too is a corporate-inspired backformation from “incentive,” and actually of newer vintage, so really neither is the “correct verb”– though language is fluid, not fixed, and I think the word, whatever its form, serves a useful purpose.

      This article illuminates well the shades of meaning incentivize/incent provides over other similar words:

    2. bearing*

      The verb that “incentive” is based on is “incite,” not “incent.” “Incent” is a back-formation.

  28. Ursula*

    There are so many corporate mutations of words that drive me nuts. One is “learnings”. With an s at the end. As in, “What learnings will we take away from this meeting?”

    Another is “operationalize”. I know it’s in the dictionary, but really? Can’t you simply say put into operation?


  29. Parfait*

    I am waging a lonely war against “please don’t hesitate to…” I may be the only one, but I don’t see what that gains us over just saying “Please.”

    1. Chinook*

      “but I don’t see what that gains us over just saying “Please.””

      Cuz I am Canadian and if I don’t say please they will take away my rights to maple syrup on my pancakes, eh?

    2. Cat*

      Increasing the number of hedge words in a given sentence increases the deferentialness of the sentence. Often it’s unnecessary; occasionally you really do want to signal that you’re doing the human equivalent of what your dog does when he rolls over and exposes his belly.

  30. Elizabeth West*

    rather than like someone who got trapped in a really boring HR conference and never escaped.

    LOL! This made me giggle.

  31. PuppyKat*

    One word and one phrase I’d really like to vaporize:

    “Adminstrate, used for “administer”
    “Drill down,” which seems to be the pet phrase at the university I work at. It’s used for “examine”—which I think is more descriptive.

  32. Chinook*

    You all will appreciate this tweet I read yesterday from a parody twitter account for the Calgary mayor “I can’t believe I have to say this, but since we are all using it wrong anyway, effect and affect are officially now both correct.”

    Yeah – the all powerful Mayor Nenshi has declared the two synonyms, atleast in Calgary – let the applause begin.

    1. Chinook*

      Nenshi did say that, regretfully, it is beyond his powers to invoke Darwin’s law on people silly enough to boating during a raging flood.

  33. Anonymous*

    Check that with IT people for an insight to the word “core”.

    Never thought of it “important”. until now that is.

  34. Jane*

    Thank you all for your witty and educational comments! I just read this entire thread and I hope with all of my heart that I will work with people like you! I’m updating my resume and was directed to this site while researching “core competencies.” The term is used in my company’s HR department, but I’m hopeful to transition into another career and I wanted to find out what other industries prefer. I better study corporate jargon because few employees use it where I am now! My coworkers couldn’t care less about the words they use or how they speak.

    “He gave the plans to Derrek and I.”

    ARRRRGGGGGHHHH. Makes me want to scream.

  35. Naana*

    I was researching on the difference between competencies and skills and i came across this site….. hilarious comments!! Its made my day! Thank you!!

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