September 19, 2014

Talk Like a Pirate (But Write Like a Professional)

PirateAhoy, mateys! Batten down the mizzenmasts, because it’s that time of year again: International Talk Like a Pirate Day is September 19th. While we here at Grammarly don’t recommend writing your resume and cover letter in pirate-speak (although it would be a way to stand out from the other landlubbers), a lot of the language used in the corporate world can be just as difficult to understand as ol’ Blackbeard himself.

When looking for work, especially in a specialized field, there’s a fine line between using the right lingo to get you in the door and sounding like a parody of a corporate executive. The trick is knowing the difference between buzzwords, jargon, and keywords.

Buzzwords are those empty words and phrases that seem to crop up in every organization. For example, “synergy” is a term meant to describe two or more groups, projects, products, or businesses that work together to create a whole greater than the sum of its parts. (It’s also the name of the AI computer from Jem and the Holograms, but we don’t recommend bringing this up in the next board meeting unless you work for Mattel.)

Anneke Jong, writing for The Daily Muse, is puzzled by the prevalence of buzzwords since most of them defy the laws of both English and logic. “We’re not sure if those who use this cryptic dialect actually think they sound smarter or are just attempting to solidify their membership in some sort of exclusive corporate tribe, but—we beg you—step away from the jargon,” says Jong. We agree; leave the buzzwords out of your resume, your cover letter, and your interview. You have a very narrow window to make a good impression, so don’t waste it by spouting meaningless mumbo-jumbo.

Jargon, unlike buzzwords, is usually specific to a particular industry or field of study. Medical or legal jargon, for example, is almost unintelligible to laypeople—and that’s kind of the point. Jargon can become the lexical equivalent of a secret handshake; if you understand it, then you’re part of the club. It can also be used by people who want to impress instead of communicate ideas.

The good folks over at, whose mission is to help make govermental communication clearer, breaks it down like this: “Special terms can be useful shorthand within a group and may be the clearest way to communicate inside the group. However, going beyond necessary technical terms to write in jargon can cause misunderstanding or alienation, even if your only readers are specialists.” The bottom line is that you should use the bare minimum of jargon needed to communicate clearly—but keep in mind that even if you’re applying for a job in bioengineering or library science, the person reading your resume won’t necessarily be an expert in that field.

Finally, there are keywords. You’re probably familiar with the term from searching for information online, but you can use the same principle to your advantage when applying for jobs. We’ve written about the power of keywords in the job search before, but basically it comes down to using the same vocabulary as your potential employer. This will reinforce what a good fit you are for the position—and help you get past any electronic gatekeepers such as human resources screening software. A good rule of thumb is to mimic the language you see in the job posting so that everyone is (literally) on the same page. If you’re not sure which keywords to use, print out the job postings you’re interested in and highlight the terms that stand out.

So, me hearties, what are you waiting for? Set sail in search of your dream job!

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A self-proclaimed word nerd, Allison VanNest works with Grammarly to help perfect written English. Connect with Allie, the Grammarly team, and nearly FIVE MILLION Grammarly Facebook fans at
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