what does “energetic” mean in a job posting?

A reader writes:

I have several medical conditions that make me generally a low-energy person. However, my attendance is never an issue, and I’m pretty smart and an excellent worker and employee. Previous managers have raved about me. Not to toot my own horn, but I think I’m a pretty awesome employee.

I applied for an internal position that I’m qualified for. The posting says they’re looking for a “motivated, energetic, self-starter who can make immediate contribution to the team.”

What does “energetic” mean in this context?

I feel I’m motivated and a self-starter, but physically I am not energetic, nor will I ever be. I’m just physically not able to be and yes that probably comes across in zoom meetings and such. I’m always friendly and professional, just not “energetic” as I think it means.

I will probably get an interview because it’s an internal role, so I need to know how to address that. Just bring up projects I’ve initiated to better my teams? Talk about projects I’ve completed before their due dates? I’m not sure how to convey how I’d be a great pick if they’re looking for someone to be outgoing and “energetic.”

Much of the time, “energetic” in this context doesn’t mean a rah-rah / bubbly / outgoing / physical energy type person. It means things like: you see work that needs to be done and you do it, you initiate useful new projects, you have a sense of urgency when it’s needed, and you approach work with a can-do spirit (when realistic) rather than always looking for reasons something won’t work.

The way you’d convey those things in an interview is to talk about times when you’ve approached work that way — think back through your work accomplishments for examples that illustrate those traits and work them in as you’re discussing the job and what you’d bring to it.

And of course, if your interviewer is looking for a super rah-rah type, it’s smarter not to try to appear that way if you’re not. You want the hiring manager to understand who they’re hiring so that there aren’t surprises once you’re on the job … and so you don’t end up in a job that wants you to be someone you’re not or where you won’t thrive. Show them what you would bring to the role so that you can both figure out whether it’s the right fit or not.

{ 173 comments… read them below }

  1. fish*

    Hm. I see that and I *definitely* think rah-rah bubbly person. Like even if that’s not what’s really needed to do the actual work, whenever I see that I’m sure that’s who they had in mind.

    1. Bast*

      That’s what comes to mind for me as well. I think it is time to retire the term UNLESS that is what they are looking for, and in some positions it makes sense — a kindergarten teacher, event host, salesperson, sure — bubbly, outgoing, and high energy make sense — but why would say, an accountant, an attorney, or mechanic need to be energetic, bubbly, and outgoing? There are so many positions it just doesn’t make sense for. A quiet, introverted person does not = bad worker.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        I don’t know, as part of “motivated, energetic, self-starter” I read it much more as looking for someone who is willing to tackle a large volume of work with some degree of enthusiasm, rather than bubbly or outgoing. Maybe the word should be retired from job postings if people read it so differently, but I don’t think it necessarily means extroverted.

        1. Miette*

          This is my take as well. Also, in my experience, just SAYING, “Oh, I’m so excited by the possibilities here…” and going on about how you’d tackle it or similar goes a long way toward communicating energetic without having to be. Saying enthusiastic things (and meaning them), delivered in a confident, non-Eeyore voice, is what has always worked for me :)

        2. Emily Byrd Starr*

          Yeah, that’s what I thought, too: energetic means enthusiastic, which isn’t necessarily rah-rah bubbly, though of course it can mean that.

        3. MigraineMonth*

          Yeah, I read it as “takes on work and gets it done”. Has the energy to do work, not performs bubbly/extroverted.

        4. AcademiaNut*

          Yeah, I’d interpret it as someone who is self motivated, willing to dive in and get things done, can anticipate further work, and is willing to speak up and ask questions. So not necessarily bubbly, but if your idea of a perfect job is sitting quietly in your office working through a list of tasks without interacting with anyone else, it’s probably not a good job for you.

      2. Lea*

        I doubt they’re thinking very hard when they include this but my mind always goes to ‘sales personality’

      3. Miss Chanandler Bong*

        As an accountant, I can tell you, that term does not apply to most of us; we are barely awake and functioning on pizza and coffee.

      4. OP*

        This is for a business analyst position :D

        I personally don’t think it’s necessary to be bubbly but wanted to get ahead of it by writing to Alison. She gave me so much to use in the interview!

        1. JSPA*

          if you define it, for interview purposes, as “buckles down, proactively” or “actively on the lookout for telling details that will need looking into,” there’s a good chance that’s the key feature.

          If they want you to help the Department closed down the neighborhood bar at 2 AM, or help win the jitterbug competition at the annual talent show, you don’t want the job anyway.

        1. Peter*

          Agree, “energetic” is one of the keywords for don’t be middle-aged or older, instead be “young”.

    2. CTT*

      I think if the job description were something like “we’re a friendly office and are looking for an energetic teammate” I could see that reading, but coming between motivated and self-starter makes it read like Alison’s interpretation for me.

    3. Kes*

      In the context given it just reads to me as self-starter who will get up and running quickly and take initiative of their own accord.
      That said, there are definitely cases where they actually do want someone more rah-rah bubbly, e.g. they need someone who can motivate people
      And as mentioned below, sometimes it’s code for young/will take on whatever enthusiastically/won’t question things/will work overtime/etc

    4. Michelle Smith*

      Me too. But since it’s an internal posting and LW already applied, my suggestion to them would be to ask the hiring manager and then determine fit accordingly.

    5. Random Dice*

      Me too.

      As someone with a disability that impacts my energy, like the LW, I wouldn’t apply.

      It seems like a coded ableist word.

        1. OMG, Bees!*

          That is how I am interpreting what they mean, but I would still apply (what’s the harm if rejected for an internal transfer?), just clarify what they want in the role. I could also see other things like you are expected to be away from the desk more often that usual roles or otherwise a bit more physically taxing than expected.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        I agree that it’s a coded ableist word, but I don’t think LW should take themselves out of the running. If it comes down to choosing between someone who performs a high-energy personality and LW with their proven track record, I bet LW wins.

        It’s probable that the hiring process/hiring manager have internal bias, but unfortunately there aren’t many places that don’t.

      2. JSPA*

        It absolutely can be… but it’s also a word that many people use without further thought.

        Back when I had All The Energy and Health, job-directed energy felt like a natural outgrowth of commitment and engagement and intellectual interest and task-directedness…and thus shorthand for all of the above.

        If there are other red flags once you’re at the interview stage, then yes, add this to the list. But by itself, it could mean anything, or nothing.

      3. Also-ADHD*

        To me, in the context of the job ad, it seems a little like code for “We’re slammed and have too much work to do, so we need someone motivated and energetic to unbury us” but it still isn’t a great look, even wedged in between “motivated” and “self-starter” (which frankly are two words that don’t add much to each other, but “energetic” between them makes me think “will work more hours if needed” more than “bubbly”, creating a whole different set of issues in terms of the working conditions). But really, humans often write stuff in job ads that’s poorly worded or explained and unlike a clear job duty, I’m not sure how much one can garner from adjectives like this besides that not everyone writes job postings very well.

    6. Coffee Protein Drink*

      I would take it as outgoing at the very least and also think rah rah/enthusiastic.

      That would make me rather tired after a couple of days. Either being so or working with them.

    1. Language Lover*

      That has been my experience as well. I had an acquaintance on a hiring committee for a job I was up for and later they told me that the head of the committee said they wanted to hire an energetic candidate–and only selected people who had recently graduated even though others had more experience. It wasn’t advertised as an entry-level position either.

      1. purpleprose*

        And I bet that, in turn, was a ploy to get people they could pay less. *raises cynical eyebrow*

        1. Non non non all the way home*

          I bet even if an experienced older person were willing to work for the same or lower pay than a younger inexperienced person, the older one would still be rejected for not being “energetic” enough.

          1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

            Thing is, I may not come across as energetic but I have always been the most productive team member so…

    2. Beth*

      Yeah, this is one where it can be completely above board per Alison’s read, or can be a flag that the office is looking for a certain profile (young, likely to be willing to work extra to ‘prove themselves’, likely to be available for OT/not be married, have kids, or have other major commitments outside work, etc). It’s not a red flag for me, but it would make me extra curious about team culture if I got to the interview stage.

      1. M2RB*

        Yes, I would be hoping it was above-board but also realize it’s a yellow flag to indicate I need to ask questions about their view of energetic. Because I am not energetic socially for the first couple of hours of any workday, and if they need someone who is, I’m not going to fit.

    3. SpaceCadet*

      Apparently that may have been what they meant in a recent job posting I applied for. I hadn’t given it much thought, but mentioned to a coworker that I had applied for a job in their department, and during the general chit chat that followed she mentioned they were looking for some younger energetic people as “we’re all getting old around here”. I guess I still look young enough that she didn’t realize I was in fact older than her – probably older than half the people in her group.

      1. Hastily Blessed Fritos*


        I mean, I know it’s usually code for young, but it’s rare to see people come right out and say “We put that there because we’re being ageist”.

        1. Starbuck*

          So many people say these things and feel these things and are totally fine with it and see no problem! Despite it being illegal. Just does not compute for them why it’d be considered discriminatory. It’s wild.

          1. RVA Cat*

            This. It’s like claiming they aren’t racist but only hiring PoC lighter than a paper bag.

        2. Peanut Hamper*

          This doesn’t always have to be ageist, though. It can be a case of trying to develop a more balanced staff.

          I’m not saying that’s what is happening here, but it’s a possibility.

          1. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

            The fact that the intentions may be innocent (creating a “more balanced” staff) doesn’t mean the action (deciding not to hire someone because they are a member of a protected class) isn’t discriminatory.

            1. Zephy*


              *Everyone* is part of a protected class. The class IS what is protected, not a specific value within the class of sexual orientation, gender presentation, age (over 40), race or ethnicity, disability status, marital status, or reproductive status. The protection goes both ways.


            1. Peanut Hamper*

              Oh gosh, young people have kids. And that is expensive. And kids break bones and need dental work.

              The idea that only old people have expensive medical bills is itself ageist.

    4. Seashell*

      I have a young adult kid who is introverted and quiet, and I would probably say, “energetic is not for you” because I would expect they want someone perky and bubbly.

      1. RVA Cat*

        This. They want someone young and extroverted, and physically fit (if male) or conventionally attractive (if female).

      2. anon24*

        Yes, as an asocial introvert if I see energetic in a job description I immediately assume the job is not for me.

    5. Jessica*

      Thank you for mentioning this. I am job searching for the first time as an over-50 year old and have started keeping track of ageist language in job postings as an unwelcome hobby. “Enthusiastic”, “Energetic,” “Digital Native,” “Tech-Savvy” are all code for young. Insisting on “Cultural Fit” as a hiring criteria or listing the minimum and maximum years of experience, like 5-10, are also ways to select based on age preferences. All illegal of course, but not easy to enforce.

      1. allathian*

        Indeed. And call me cynical, but many young people don’t fit any of those supposed categories. A surprising number of so-called digital natives who got a cellphone in the cradle can’t use standard office software and barely know what email is. My son who’s nearly 15 and got his first dumb cellphone when he went to school at 7 and his first smartphone a couple years later thinks email is as antiquated as the fax machine. To him, email is little more than a password recovery tool. He can’t imagine using it to actually communicate with people.

        That said, about 10 years ago a former coworker told me that her kid’s first word was “iPad”.

        1. Peanut Hamper*

          100% of my coworkers (90% of who are younger than me) have no idea how paragraph styles in Word (or any word processing program) work. They don’t know HTML or CSS or how to create a website.

          In short, they know how to be used by software, but they don’t know how to actually use software.

      2. Peanut Hamper*

        “Digital Native”? Count me in! I was working with command line interfaces when I was 11. That was before the Macintosh and Windows came out.

        We can make this work both ways, you know.

  2. Richard Hershberger*

    I see “energetic” as empty filler, like “fast-paced environment.” But I am a notorious cynic.

    1. BellyButton*

      Ha! I should have read the comments before posting, I said the same thing about it being a filler.

    2. NotSoSaltyAdmin*

      That’s what I thought too, as I was reading the question the first answer that came to my head was “nothing”.

    3. BRR*

      Same here, especially in the context the LW gave. I’ve seen this language in so many job descriptions and it always feels like meaningless jargon.

      1. ferrina*

        That was my read too. Unless it’s a job that benefits from a high degree of energy (commenter Bast brought up examples of kindergarten teachers, event hosts, salespeople; I’ll add DJ and physical trainer), I’d assume ‘energetic’ means “I didn’t really know what to add here”/”I can’t articulate what I really mean, but I think I’ll know it when I see it?”

    4. HonorBox*

      Could not agree more. Motivated, energetic self-starter is probably used in too many job descriptions.

      1. Caramellow*

        For me in nursing, it was code for always happy to pick up extra shifts and go the extra mile, stay late without pay.

    5. Roland*

      I agree and I actually think it’s less cynical than people assuming it means young, full of pep, etc.

    6. Cynical B*

      “Fast-paced environment” to me means things like, “everything is an emergency,” and “we all suck at managing time, so we’re constantly right up against deadlines.”

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        and because we suck, we need someone with lots of energy who’ll get it all done for us.

  3. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    Funny, I was thinking about this very subject early this morning. I think Alison’s answer is really good.

    I think there is a parallel to the ‘passion’ thing here. Some managers need to see emotive displays, instead of just relying on objective results. I don’t get it, but there it is.

    I’ve always been on the cool, quiet, reflective side myself. The bass player wearing sunglasses, who keeps up a steady rhythm with just a hint of grin on his face. Who is is just as important as the guitarist who’s jumping all over the stage.

    1. Bast*

      I am also the quiet, low energy introvert who will get the work done without a fanfare. I don’t have a huge emotional response to the vast majority of things, although I have learned to mask with some muted emotion of what I think people want to see/hear in certain situations. Part of why I hate opening gifts in front of others — I could really love something and I still am not going to have a huge emotional OMG I LOVE IT THANK YOU OMG response that people seem to want, and that is one reaction I cannot seem to force myself to fake.

      I do not understand needing the emotions over the results either. A vast majority of my job involves paperwork, which is always done correctly, ahead of time. This should be more important than an emotive display IMO as well — Old Job was particularly bad as they thrived off of emotions and would castigate you if you didn’t seem “happy enough” when they did a donut day or “thankful enough” at getting to leave 15 minutes early. You had to lay it on really thick and I just… am not that person. “Thanks Boss” didn’t cut it.

      1. OP*

        *shrug* I copied his comment over to a notepad I’m keeping of memorable quotes from this post; I doubt I’d use it verbatim in the interview but it’s a good image to keep in my head.

  4. Dorothy Zpornak*

    In an ideal world, I definitely think it means what Alison says, but in reality I think it’s often code for, “Your workload will be insane, you’ll be run off your feet with how many projects you have on deck at any given time, you’ll never have space to breathe, so you better be okay with that.”

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Same here. “We will routinely assign work to you that can’t be completed in 50-60 hours let alone 40, and we will expect you to hit the office at 8am even if you didn’t leave before midnight. There are no quiet periods to balance out the hectic periods. Your salary won’t look as attractive once you realise what your hourly rate works out at.”

    2. purpleprose*

      Yep. In much the same way as ‘roll up your sleeves’ tends to be code for ‘we expect lots of unpaid overtime.’

    3. anonymouse*

      came here to say this – I always suspect it means “someone who is OK with it if we overwork them.”

  5. Eldritch Office Worker*

    I think “energetic” is often a stand-in for “optimistic” – generally pleasant to work with, shows initiative, ‘starts with yes’ when approaching a problem, etc.

    But of course as we’re seeing we all reflect our own biases onto words that don’t fundamentally mean anything. So ideally places would stop using code words and just say what they want.

    1. Miette*

      Agreed. I said it above, but to me it means enthusiastic without being rah-rah, and confident in your abilities.

  6. Kel*

    I spent an hour this weekend trying to define sense of urgency; the best thing working at a certain green apron coffee shop in the mid 2000s taught me. Even now, it’s one of the best skills I’ve ever acquired.

    1. Quinalla*

      Haha, yeah it is kind of hard to define. Showing that you care about deadlines and will work hard to meet them?

      I do read energetic as usually as having a sense of urgency or showing a desire and work ethic to learn the job. It doesn’t read overly bubbly to me, but also no one would ask for that in my profession so it just seems weird in general, so I’m probably biased.

      I agree it can be code for looking for young, single people who won’t complain when we overwork them!

    2. Goldenrod*

      I loved that link above that connects to Alison’s fantastic longer description of “sense of urgency.” As she explains, it doesn’t mean panic or chaos or overreacting to every little thing all the time.

      It does mean having a positive, can-do spirit, not having to be reminded of tasks, and understanding when it’s important to push things forward aggressively (as well as when it’s not).

      In my job (EA), it’s very important sometimes to be a bit relentless, like a dog with a bone. In my observation, people who are passive, who don’t follow up, who are afraid of being a little pushy at times, who lack that sense of urgency, don’t succeed as EAs. In my opinion, based on my experience and from what I’ve observed in a few different workplaces.

      1. Kel*

        I absolutely used a good EA as an example. I’m an advisor and that’s exactly the same. You gotta be on top of everything all the time, but without being panicked.

        1. The Prettiest Curse*

          This is an absolutely perfect description of how a good event coordinator should appear while working a big event. If you see me panicking at an event, it means that something is going seriously wrong somewhere. The registration desk is usually busy, but if it’s chaotic and the people behind if look panicked, that’s the sign of a badly planned and/or badly run event.

      2. Freya*

        All of that is why I’m much happier as a bookkeeper than an EA – I do not have any kind of comfortable with being even close to pushy, ever!

    3. Username Lost to Time*

      “Sense of urgency” is much cleared to me while “energetic” means so many different things. It probably would have been better to explicitly state several things like “sense of urgency,” “optimistic” and “take initiative/self-directed” rather than assume applicants would know what “energetic” means.

    4. RagingADHD*

      I think “responsive and communicative” are also important parts of a sense of urgency, and can be part of what people mean when they say “energetic.” There are jobs where it’s expected for requests or questions to go into a black box, with no transparency on when the customer / team member / internal client might hear back. But for a lot of jobs, it’s vital to acknowledge the inquiry promptly, and if it’s too complicated to answer immediately, to give an estimate of when it will be completed.

    1. Lana Kane*

      The vast majority of the time, this is what it means. That, and like Alison said, having a well-tuned sense of urgency.

    2. Angstrom*

      Yup. The kind of person who will say “I’ve finished my assigned work. Is there something else I can can help with?”
      “Always ready to pitch in & help out” might be another definition.

      1. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

        See, this may be where it’s field-dependent. In areas where it’s assumed that there is always more than enough work to do, such that “finished my assigned work” is an impossibility, it tends to mean “will work ridiculously long hours” and/or “is young and thus willing and able to work ridiculously long hours”.

      2. Green great dragon*

        Yeh, or face their list of 20 tasks with ‘let’s see how many of these I can get done today’ rather than ‘well, I’m never going to finish them anyway so I might as well make a coffee and chat to my coworkers for a bit before I start’.

  7. Heidi*

    I wouldn’t let the description dissuade the OP from applying for the job and finding out more about what they’re looking for. High energy is nice, but I think a lot of bosses would be just fine with having a low energy employee who was highly productive.

    1. Not Energetic*

      So-called “low energy” people can be very high in MENTAL energy. I do not present as frantic, vibrating, or any physical manifestation of energetic, but my mind is working full throttle on whatever I’m engaged in. It’s REAL energy, vs. the perception of energy.
      That said, job advertisement descriptors such as this are just filler, as are all subjective traits unless being used as code for young. OP, interview and do your best don’t worry about appearing energetic,whatever that means. Talk a little faster than normal if you want to fake it a bit. Good luck

  8. Chad H.*

    I always figured it was one of those terms they put in job ads because it sounds like it means something, and everyone else puts it there, but doesn’t actually mean a thing.

    Like “competitive salary”.

    1. Fluffy Fish*

      someone brought me some hiring material today to get feedback – i told them to take out “competitive salary”.

      1) because it means nothing 2) depending on who you compare it to it’s not and 3) it’s objectively not a lot for the responsibility and stress

      we don’t attract people by lying to them – talk about the actual perks of the job

    2. Miette*

      LOL is “competitive salary” an oxymoron in the spirit of “military intelligence” and “jumbo shrimp”?

      1. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

        yes, completely an oxymoron. To me “competitive salary” means “low and you will not budge us because we have found some metric that we will use to defend it.”

          1. MigraineMonth*

            EXACTLY. Same with vacation. If it’s so great, why not put it in the ad? Is it because the salary is competitive compared to the minimum wage and the vacation is 1 week?

            (I give a bit more leniency to health coverage, just because if you do offer it, it takes so many details to meaningfully compare coverage that the ad would be 10 pages long.)

  9. BellyButton*

    I translate it to mean “sense of urgency” and “engaged” Or it is just a generic filler like “Fast paced environment”.

    1. Anonymon*

      Right: Someone who doesn’t enjoy sitting on their hands and waiting for work to come to them.

      1. Username Lost to Time*

        I think that’s “take initiative” or “self-directed.” Also in the realm of “sense of ownership and pride in work”

  10. Kevin T-Rex Willis*

    I think in this case energetic is being used as a synonym for the other words in the description – motivated and a self- starter.

    It’s a common jd word that usually just means, “engaged” or “proactive” or the other adjectives which you seem like you are. Don’t worry about reading it too literally!

  11. Looper*

    Do you know who else is on the team and have a good idea of what their personalities are like? If it’s an internal team, I’d do a little asking around to get an idea of their vibe.

  12. AnotherSarah*

    I think that sometimes, a bubbly, high energy (like bouncing off walls, not like the kind of energy AAM delineates here) can be mistaken for the other kind of energy, which is unfortunate, because a person who doesn’t really have that professional energy might get the job due to their performance of enthusiasm. But I also think voice can go a long way to conveying energy–especially varying tone. (I’m thinking of a situation now–my toddler’s regular babysitter comes off as extremely low energy due to her monotone and other habits of speech….Since a friend recommended her, I knew this going in, but I would have been concerned about her stamina if I had just interviewed her from a job posting.)

  13. K*

    I’ve worked in a role where leadership truly did want a rah-rah type, like very optimistic/highly cheerful. These things are not my personality really, and I noticed that folks who did have these traits seemed to do much better in the organization. But you can usually get a sense by getting to know the team, asking how they handle challenges, etc, if this is the case.

    1. Awkwardness*

      very optimistic/highly cheerful

      That’s what it would mean to me.
      “Where is the problem? I’m here to solve problems and get things done (and not to waist time with proof of concept, risk analysis and other nonsense)!”

    2. Cold Snap*

      At an old job, I had a note on my desk reminding me to overdo it on the bubbliness when my boss was on the call. It said “Get that Oscar!”

      It’s exhausting and was a sexist demand in my case, so OP is smart to be wary of this. Definitely probe into this! You want to be able to behave like a normal adult professional instead of self-policing your entire presentation daily to please some jerk. Life is too short.

  14. ResuMAYDAY*

    Career Coach here – it’s often used with the hope/expectation that older workers will disqualify themselves.

    1. Jiminy Cricket*

      This sucks. (I know you’re just the bearer of bad news, of course.)

      Middle-aged and older people have so much to contribute to the workplace, including their own kind of energy!

      I’m on a team of people in their 50s for the first time in my life and wouldn’t trade it for the world.

      1. ResuMAYDAY*

        I’m so glad to hear that! I teach job search classes for people who are 50+. If all my students got together and created their own company, they’d be unstoppable.

        1. Fire and Ice*

          There was a 94 year old woman in my (summer) firefighting training course. She was awesome.

          (But also, she wasn’t looking to actually join a station, it was a bucket list item.)

      2. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

        Also, people in their 40s and up (can’t speak for 50s personally) have generally been around long enough to know that the smart way to do things isn’t always “work all night and all weekend to do it the best possible way” and is often “get 80% of the way there in 20% of the time”. When you’ve worked the late nights enough times to do it the hard way and consistently get told by the execs “this is too complicated, let’s simplify and do X instead” you learn to start with X and only do it the hard way if you’re asked for deeper details.

    2. anonymouse*

      and it works! When I was younger I’d see that word and think “yes, me!” Now I’m like, eh, I will do the job for you but I’m saving my “energy” for my dang self!

    3. Doc McCracken*

      That makes me so sad! As a small business owner, I would much rather have an employee with some life experience. I can teach someone to use a software program, I cannot teach them the life skills that only time and experience bring.

  15. DannyG*

    My thoughts run to The Mary Tyler Moore Show’s opening episode: Lou Grant’s line to Mary: “ You’ve got spunk. I hate spunk!” Mary represents all that is young, energetic, perky, etc.

    1. Girasol*

      That’s funny. I used to work for a recruiter who used “perky” as a code to tell everyone in the office that the employer who had the opening would only accept a woman. We didn’t use “energetic” but I also read that as “older people need not apply.”

          1. Girasol*

            Yes indeed. Nobody dared write it down, but the head recruiter for admin staff would put “see me!” on any job description where an employer had specifically insisted that one of the requirements for receptionist was “36-24-36.”

  16. Juicebox Hero*

    I always interpret “energetic” to mean enthusiastic and raring to go, zipping around like a Lamborghini. However, like LW, I’m more of a Buick – not exciting or flashy but I get where I need to go. “Phlegmatic” is an accurate description of my personality. I don’t show much on the outside but by golly I get results.

    Personally, I wouldn’t even bother applying to a position where they want someone “energetic” because I’ve always felt that they’d talk to me for 30 seconds and automatically write me off for being calm and stoical.

  17. English Rose*

    It’s just lazy advert writing. The sort of boilerplate phrase that is used so frequently as to be meaningless. Like using the word ‘passionate’ as a requirement for every job. I’ll bet you that the person who wrote the advert copied something else they’d seen and gave zero real thought to it.

    1. Username Lost to Time*

      “Passionate” is the one that trips the “we will overwork you” and “please don’t flee for a better opportunity” alarms for me. You can do a lot of jobs very well while not having a big show of passion for the work.

  18. The New Wanderer*

    I think given the other words used, I would interpret energetic as “willing to take action, not passive” rather than enthusiastic rah-rah or as code for young. For OP’s purposes, going in with the mindset that what they’re looking for is someone willing to step up and do the hard work (something the OP sounds perfect for) might help. If in fact the hiring team is looking for super-enthused or young instead, that might come out in the interview but it’s not something OP can do much about.

    Energetic paired with rockstar or ninja = definitely young
    Energetic paired with team player or customer-thrilling = enthusiastic cheerleader

  19. Serious Silly Putty*

    When I read the headline, I read “energetic” like Kindergarten teacher energy. But in the context of being a “motivated self-starter”, I read it more how Allison did: somebody who is energized by producing excellence in the workplace.

  20. CSRoadWarrior*

    I agree with Alison here, as I am not really a “rah-rah” kind of person either. It just means able to get the job done, meet multiple deadlines and a sense of urgency when needed.

    I am not a low-energy person, but not much of a social butterfly either. It has never been an issue for me.

  21. I'm just here for the cats!*

    Am I having a Deja vu thing or was this question already answered a few weeks ago? Maybe it was an open forum?

  22. Jack Straw from Wichita*

    I describe that as “doesn’t wait to see what needs done but just jumps in and does it”

  23. Jake*

    Early in my career, I was described as energetic by several bosses and coworkers in both positive and negative contexts. I’m distinctly not a rah-rah type.

    What I was at that time: Hardworking, ambitious, emotional about my work, and eager for opportunity to learn.

    I think energetic is short for somebody that seems like they want to accomplish their work and do a good job.

    1. Jake*

      I also had a boss that liked to say, “everybody is one of two types of worker… They need the reins, or they need the spurs.” I think energetic is the former.

    2. Bitte Meddler*

      At my first job out of college (the 2nd time around), the VP of my department responded to my department-wide departure email (“Thanks for everything but it’s time for me to move on,”) with, “We’ll all certainly miss the energy that Bitte brought to the team and her work.”

      Which… she certainly did not miss my energy because I was *not* quiet about the toxic behaviors of her team (especially her Golden Child favorite, a Director who was my manager and who was the second-most gross misogynistic sexist glassbowl I have ever worked for.

      He slots in just behind the cocaine-snorting, cleavage-staring President of a software company whom I was the EA for [for barely six months before I quit.]

      Outside of her use of energy, though, I always peg “energetic” to mean “35 or younger, please.”

  24. Hastily Blessed Fritos*


    I haven’t ever written a job description containing “energetic”, but when I SEE one I always interpret it “young and willing to work very long hours”. It means you’re going to be up against ageism and they want you to know it to save them the bother. (Woman in tech here for demographic and field-dependent interpretations.)

  25. Just a question*

    I manage a hotel, in my world energetic means bubbly, outgoing, and an urgency to get things done sooner rather than later.

    1. Cicely*

      Yep. As far as I’m concerned, “energetic” means “Slackers need not apply,” which is just fine by me.

  26. learnedthehardway*

    I think it depends on the company.

    It can mean – “able to deal with an insane workload” OR be a coded “only young people need apply” statement. In fact, I think it tends to mean these things.

    But a company could also mean “Able to deal with priorities that change on a dime” or “has self-initiative” Or “gets things done”.

    Might be worth asking them what they mean. You’ll be able to address what they are actually looking for or self-select out. And if they really struggle to address the question and get uncomfortable, you’ve somewhat put them on notice that they’re discriminating based on age.

  27. pally*

    If defining it results in all this commentary, then so much the better for the employer. They won’t have to define it either. They just decide that the candidate is not energetic and reject them.

  28. Susan Calvin*

    Real talk – just ask. ESPECIALLY for an internal application, there’s no reason not to play with open cards.

    I had a similar, in a way opposite, problem when a recruiter used the word “gravitas” in relation to their ideal candidate, which was something of a sore point because communication style and personal presentation was something I’d basically just lost a job over, but turned out to be very eager to reassure me that they were more than happy with what they’d heard and seen from me in the process so far!

  29. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

    This always seemed like a throw-away phrase that is just what they put on every job.

  30. RJ*

    This is, unfortunately, a word that has been used in my experience by a not-so-great recruiter to denote lack of enthusiasm. As I was interviewing for a position last year, a recruiter noted that I was not ‘energetic’ about the role. I’d never come across this in my career and asked her to elaborate on what she meant. Apparently, due to the fact I was cautious about a position originally listed for 20k more than what was being offered and presented as hybrid instead of remote (originally advertised) in the final discussions meant I wasn’t ‘energetic’ about the role. It has since become red flag for me based on this past history.

  31. Sparkles McFadden*

    “Motivated” and self-starter” aren’t really meaningful either. I think these are all filler phrases that generally mean that you will pick up work without being told to do so, that you’ll stay on top of the work, and that you’ll try to figure things out on your own if necessary. You sound like that kind of employee.

    Good luck with your interview!

  32. DBC*

    In one job interview I was screening against the toxic environment of ExJob/”we’re faaaamily”; so I told them up front that if they were hoping their new staff member would join their softball team, do their charity golf outings or attend personal events for other coworkers, they shouldn’t hire me. I may have even said I had friends and family I already didn’t have enough time to spend with in my off hours. But they could count on me to be skilled, conscientious, thorough, professional, cheery and personable, both with staff and clientele, during my working hours. I got the job and had lovely coworkers I enjoyed interacting with; but they were respectful of my boundaries, and were happy to let me know I was invited to their outings without expecting me to participate.

  33. OP*

    Thank you so much Alison!! <3 They just reached out to me today about an interview, I'm so excited!

  34. kiki*

    To me, energetic in a functional professional context means that you’re self-motivated, ready to take projects where they need to go, and not going to go through the whole day grumbling about having to do a reasonable amount of work.

    It *can* definitely mean that someone is looking for a bubbly personality or, in a dysfunctional company, mean they’re looking for somebody with the energy and stamina to do a wild amount of work each week.

  35. N*

    It’s a red flag to me. It says they really should be hiring 3 people but 1 or 2 “energetic” workers will take on the full work load.

  36. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    Energetic to me means someone who is eager to work, who starts each task without procrastination and works through the day with just short breaks for lunch and coffee, with little gossip or social media use.
    Someone who can stay late if necessary, without advance notice.

    That probably means someone without significant family commitments or disability.

    Maybe also code for a workaholic, live to work kind of person.

  37. Tiger Snake*

    I get “can-do attitude, willingness to jump in even when it isn’t really your area, and a willingness to ‘just do it’ even when there’s little direction and help.” from the posting. Especially the last.

    And yes, those are definitely good traits to have in an employee, but one that bad workplaces want to exploit as well. Asking for an energetic and enthusiastic attitude isn’t a red flag, but it does tell me there’s things I need to keep an eye out for when doing the interview.

    To be honest, it reminds me of the kind of description I might give about my work field. Our work is complex, specialised and cerebral. It’s not something you can just follow a SOP for, but it’s also critical – as in, until finish our job, a release cannot happen. Even if you’re coming in with no prior experience, you still need to hit the ground running. Some people thrive in that environment. Others don’t do well where on-the-job training isn’t “you’ll shadow someone” but “we’ll go over this process with you once and then you need to do it on your own because that is the only way it clicks.”

  38. NotARealManager*

    I disagree with Alison here. I’ve heard “energetic” in work contexts to mean exactly things like bubbly, zooming around, and also (as others have mentioned) code for young or even naïve. I hope your interview goes well, but I don’t think you’ll get a lot of clarity around that particular word until you have asked about it or they reveal more of what they’re looking for.

  39. Martin Blackwood*

    I think this is also a “you do not necessarily have to meet 100% of the requirements to apply/get an interview” situation. Like, energetic is such a vague filler word that appearing upbeat in the interview and being obviously a motivated self starter will essentially check the box for that whole line.

  40. Jane*

    I think energetic might mean different things in different jobs. If it said that for customer-serving jobs like a shop attendant, camp counselor or tour guide, I’d assume they mean bubbly and cheerful. But from the OP’s description it sounds like an office job, so as Alison says, I suspect they mean having a can-do attitude, finding solutions to problems proactively, etc.

  41. Dawn*

    Most of the time I don’t think language like that in a job posting means much of anything whatsoever. I think most of the time, people who write that kind of stuff in a job ad do so because they aren’t very clear on what they actually do want.

    I’m sure it happens where it’s sincere and well-considered, but it’s largely just fluff.

  42. rebelwithmouseyhair*

    I see this so very often in ads, it’s enough to induce unprecedented levels of lethargy in me.

    I always take it to mean that you’ll zip through all the work and be asking for more before lunchtime, so they can then get you do all sorts of other stuff and no need to hire anyone else for as long as you’re in the department.

  43. ParaProse*

    As someone who has worked as an assistant teacher or nanny for my entire adult life: “energetic” just means “not fat” and yes, I have heard that from multiple parents.

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