Mysteries often involve a code of some kind, to keep information secure so that only the ‘right’ people will know the meaning. In a mystery story, a code is interesting and a fun part of the plot. Code is also important during times of conflict – I really enjoyed the movie Windtalkers about the Navaho code talkers in WWII, very clever on our part to make sure our plans would be successful. The Allies of WWII also successfully cracked the German’s Enigma code to gain valuable information which thwarted Axis plans.
Each industry has its own jargon, or code too. This is mostly just a short-hand way to convey information quickly and not really meant to protect information from those outside-the-know.
Sometimes code is just tiresome and fuzzy. Perhaps at one time it served a purpose but it has become something else entirely. Ask any group of job seekers about code words within the hiring process and ‘overqualified’ is sure to come up in this category. What does it really mean if you look closely? We think that you are older than our ideal candidate, we think that you will want too much money, we think that you won’t stay very long (therefore wasting our time) should you convince us that you are the right candidate – in short you don’t fit our outline of our ideal candidate.
There are code phrases – we’ve decided to take this position in another direction, etc. Notice most of the code is centered on turning a candidate down. It is human nature to want to avoid conflict and handing out rejection is difficult on both sides.
Job seekers want to get it right, to be the successful candidate, to stop being a job seeker and be a worker. Often they feel that if they could get detailed understanding of what went wrong in the last effort, they could correct it for the next. I understand this urge, but also feel like I have a nugget of insight because I have been on both sides of the table.
Sometimes there is something specific and it would be wonderful as a hiring manager if I could offer a tip to the candidate for their next application or interview. (Psst, make it clear that you want our job not just any job. Or, don’t ramble so much in your answers that we both forget the question. Or, be on time. Or, breathe and center yourself because your nervous energy made us both jittery.) Sometimes the candidate just didn’t suit our idea of the successful candidate as well as someone else – and this could be a very close second, but we only have one position open. (One time I was able to snap up my second choice weeks later when my team suddenly had a new opening – and both people were good members of our team. But that is rare.)
It comes down to this, these code words are the words that are chosen to let a candidate down as firmly but pleasantly as possible. HR probably talked to a legal representative at some point to help to craft these messages – to sanitize them. Which also means that they are meaningless in terms of helping a candidate understand what to do better next time. That is a mystery that each candidate must solve on their own.
Beth Anne Reed has a background in Customer Relations, Process & Project Management and a deep interest in Written Communications.
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