Talent Management

The 5 Human Resource Buzzwords I’m Begging You to Stop Using

Published by in Talent Management

Update 7/25/18: This post has been refreshed to reflect more recent terms and definitions.

By some estimates, there are three-quarters of a million words in the English language.

We have words on loan from other languages, slang that’s been accepted into mainstream vernacular, and even words that were born on the internet. We have so many ways to express what we’re thinking, the combinations are almost infinite.

And there’s also a lot of evidence that the way we speak determines, maybe even limits, how we think.

So why are you limiting yourself professionally with such a narrow offering of human resource buzzwords?

human resource buzzwords

When it comes to buzzwords, the biggest problem isn’t the word itself. It’s the misuse and overuse of it. It’s taking a word and choking your training material, meetings, and emails with it until it’s impossible to escape.

When you use buzzwords, especially if you use them poorly, you look foolish, immature, and like you can’t form your own original thought. Nobody wants their employees to view them like the boss from “The Office,” but that’s how buzzwords make you come across.

To help you clean up your vocabulary, here are some of the biggest HR buzzword offenders of 2018 that you really need to stop using.

1. Dynamic

Is it dynamic? Is it really? This word is so horrifically overused that I don’t think that anything gets to be dynamic anymore.

Merriam-Webster defines dynamic as “always active or changing,” “having or showing a lot of energy,” or “of or relating to energy, motion, or physical force.” Calling a new onboarding manual dynamic isn’t just silly, it’s probably wrong, since you want your manual to be consistent.

You could argue that dynamic has taken on new meanings, such as unique or special or new, since that’s how it’s been used. However, with a quick Google search…

Google results for Google search results for “dynamic hr solutions” (Source)

…the number of results show that it’s not that unique or special. That usage is worn out, and Merriam-Webster hasn’t even accepted it yet.

Poor dynamic. It was such an energetic word. So full of life.

Not anymore. Let the poor thing have a break already.

2. Soft skills

Soft skills deal with interpersonal connections and personnel management—things such as good communication, time management, conflict resolution, and being a fast learner.

But what if I suggest that there is no such thing as a soft skill?

This language, referring to a skill as soft, implies that the skill is not as important to a job. In some cases, when hiring a programmer or an engineer for example, perhaps the value of soft skills isn’t instantly obvious.

But don’t you want all your employees to have these skills?

Given the choice between two people who are equally talented at the “hard” aspect of their job but only one is also excellent at getting their ideas across and getting along with the rest of their team, you want the good communicator.

In fact, good communication, time management, conflict resolution, and fast learner sound like skills for the perfect manager…

Don’t downplay valuable, necessary skills by calling them soft and implying that they’re not as important to the job. Just call them skills.

3. Viral strategy

This is my biggest pet peeve on the list, and I mean it in a very specific sense. You cannot use the word viral in reference to your own HR content.

You are quite literally saying, “I am very cool and popular!”

That didn’t go over well in high school, and it’s not going to go over well now. You can’t decide this for yourself—other people have to determine it for you.

If your hiring content—article, recruiting video, gamified recruitment website, what have you—goes viral (and I hope it does), you will know. It’s not a solid recruiting strategy to “go viral” and you cannot put “make a viral video” on your to-do list.

Try to attract candidates with hiring content—it either blows up or it doesn’t, and in the big scheme of things, you can’t control that.

4. Millennial

It’s not that you should never call anyone a Millennial. People are Millennials, they exist, and that’s fine. The problem is that a Millennial probably isn’t what you’re picturing when you say it.

A Millennial is someone born between the early 1980s and the mid 1990s.

That means that more Millennials are 30 or older than under 25. The way that HR and recruiting talk about Millennials implies that the industry doesn’t understand that.

Google results for

I sure hope they are? (Source)

Google results for

Probably because people in their late 20s and early 30s want to start families? (Source)

Anti-Millennial headlines

Sometimes buying trends change (Source)

If you think Millennials are teenagers and college students, you’re off the mark.

Your interns aren’t Millennials. Brand new college grads aren’t Millennials. They’re Gen Z. (And they deserve your respect, too!)

5. “Tell me about yourself…”

I know this is technically a “buzzphrase” and not a buzzword.

It comes up all the time, but I’ll let you in on a little secret: It means nothing and it tells you nothing.

If you ask me to tell you about myself, what should I say? Should I talk about my academic portfolio? My fitness regime? My last job? My addiction to glitter? My cat? Where do I go with that?

It’s way too broad and, at the end of the day, you may have learned some small snippet of who I am, but you haven’t learned what you need to know to make a hiring decision.

Instead of using this phrase, use a more specific question that tells you what you actually need to know:

  • Tell me about your biggest personal accomplishment.
  • What are your plans for utilizing your degree?
  • If you were an ice cream cone, what flavor would you be and why?

Get creative. You owe it to your applicants and to yourself.

How to bust human resource buzzwords for good

There are a lot of dreadful buzzwords out there. But there’s hope.

The beautiful thing, the most beautiful thing, about our varied and complex language is that it is a living language. That means it can change and develop. We can invent new terms and keep evolving it.

So you can stop saying something, and inspire other people to stop saying it, and then, maybe, if we’re lucky, it’ll drop out of the vernacular altogether, making space for new and better words.

What’s your most hated HR buzzword? Did it make the list or is your fury going unaddressed? Let me know in the comments or tweet me @CapterraHalden.

In agreement, or horrified at my opinions? Share this article on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and let me know what you think!

Looking for Talent Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Talent Management software solutions.

About the Author

Halden Ingwersen

Halden Ingwersen

Halden Ingwersen is a former Capterra analyst.


Comment by Shelley on

What are some other titles for “talent pool?” We don’t like that one either, but are having a hard time finding a better term!


Comment by Halden Ingwersen on

Natasha, I think we’ve all been that monkey at one point or another. thanks for commenting!

Comment by Natasha John on

I feel like that monkey every time that has happened to me. Great article Halden.

Comment by Gerald Green on

“You think that this term is lit, bae, but I’m just mad salty about it.” Is probably the best article phrase I’ve ever read. Keep keeping it 24/7 100% real.

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