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Do You Know the Language Your Target Employer Speaks?

Recently, I held a mentoring call with Sam*, a Weapons of Mass Destruction Specialist in the Army who is four months from his separation date. In discussing his goals for what comes next, I asked him, “Do you know the language your target employer speaks?” He had no idea what I meant.

Every industry, company, and team has a certain “language” in which they communicate with each other, differentiate their culture from their competitors, and relate to their target audiences (customers, stakeholders, media, etc.) The language of a company is their internal narrative, tone, wording and messaging that makes the company unique.

Understanding the company language is critical to a job search. How could you expect to walk into an interview, or a new position, and build relationships and earn credibility if you speak a different dialectal than your colleagues, supervisors, staff and customers?

Here’s an example of how a disconnect with company language can appear: Let’s say Sam, my mentee mentioned above, applies for a position in project management in a mid-size accounting firm in the Midwest. On the company website, the firm boasts about it’s fun, “work-hard-play-hard” company culture, and its customer-first attitude. They look like an outgoing and personable group of accounting professionals from what Sam reads on social media reviews about the company, and from their website.

Sam sends in his resume and job application, with the headline, “Weapons of Mass Destruction Specialist Seeking Project Management Leader Role” across the top. He lists the unique skills he acquired during his military service, and highlights several of his soft skills and character traits such as: ability to work well under pressure, manages stress well, able to make quick decisions in high risk scenarios, can evaluate threats and respond in real-time. Sam is confident these skills will be helpful to someone in a project management position.

He never hears a response back on his application.

What Sam missed was consideration of the company culture. Perhaps his skills, experience, and talents would be valuable to a project manager, but he forgot to revise his messaging to meet the language of the company he was targeting. The company is proud of its fun and energetic personality, they promote the customer interaction they are known for, and relish in their reputation as relatable and personable. Sam’s job application – with the headline – likely came across as intimidating, intense, and maybe even threatening. After all, the chances are high that the recruiter or hiring manager reviewing Sam’s skills and experience is a civilian with no context for what he did in the Army, except what they’ve heard on television.

Instead, Sam should have shown his relatable-side. After doing his research on the company, his application should have mentioned his values, goals, and why effective project management would ensure the company would continue to build its reputation as a leader in its field. He could have emphasized how his soft skills would make the work more effective and enjoyable for his colleagues, would enhance the customer experience, and could make his career at the company a win-win. With what he learned about the company’s values and narrative, he should have spoken their language in the application and resume.

Companies promote their values, culture and systems to make it easier for job candidates to see where they align, and then customize their approach to the needs of the potential employer. To disregard culture and your fit for a company’s personality, is to miss a bit part of the civilian work place experience – how we work is as important as what we do.