All stories

Should you leverage synergy?

You know that scene in Office Space? Not the one where the guy goes bananas on the printer, although I have totally been there. I can’t believe we’re still printing things in 2015.

No, I’m only talking about the most highly referenced moment of cinema in corporate America. The memo. Cover sheets on the TPS reports. You know the one. It’s funny because it’s true. Or maybe it’s funny until it’s true. I’ve had that boss. You’ve had that boss. Maybe you still have that boss.

Over the last two months I’ve read at least 10,000 job listings. I’ve read postings for engineers, bankers, hairstylists, and carpenters. I know more than I ever thought I would about what makes someone qualified to fix windshields or be a veterinary nurse or run a recycling plant.

And as I’m reading these job ads I’m thinking: If I were really on the job market, how would I figure out ahead of time which listings take me straight to Office Space and which are the ones I actually want?

Turns out a pretty good proxy might be how much these listings use the word synergy.

You know, like this:

Leverage synergies with sales and customers and innovative services”

“Seeks opportunities for company-wide synergy with practitioners of methods and tools”

“Can convert your energy into synergy!”

Not sure what these hiring managers are looking for? I’m not either.

So I wasn’t surprised when Textio’s statistical models identified the presence of the word synergy as a predictor of poor performance in job listings. Listings that use synergy score an average of 16 Textio points lower than similar listings that do not. That means the roles receive fewer applications and take longer to fill.

Take heed, hiring managers. You write leverage synergies, and the rest of us read COVER SHEETS ON THE TPS REPORTS. Then we skip to the next listing.

It goes further. The more corporate jargon you use, the worse your listing performs. For instance, I came across a recent posting for a Chief Communications Officer — I swear I couldn’t make up this kind of irony — that tells job seekers that they need to:

“Collaborate diligently throughout the organizations to ensure alignment and ultimate synergy of marketing and communications opportunities”

But as with many such listings, it doesn’t stop with the ultimate synergy. Candidates also need to:

“Ensure the internal strategic communication plan includes the development and implementation of innovative tactics and programs to communicate”

“Provide guidance to affiliates to ensure message alignment”

“Possess strengths in understanding communications and marketing strategies”

I’m not sure which Chief Communications Officer they’re going to rope in with this job ad, but that sucker’s gonna have their hands full.

As it happens, synergy is a strong gateway term; listings that use it include an average of 3.8 other business clichés in addition. You know the type. Phrases like value-add, change driver, or my personal favorite, make it pop! Textio has identified a large class of business clichés that confirm what I’ve always felt as a job-seeker: it can be hard not to take it out on the printer.

Sometimes terms that work well in some contexts are less effective or even damaging in others. For instance, talking about creative inspiration is more effective at attracting applicants to design jobs than it is in finance. Talking up an opportunity to meet with executive leadership draws in candidates at junior levels but often leaves more senior ones cold.

In contrast to most terms, the interesting thing about synergy is that it doesn’t discriminate; its usage punishes every industry at every level just about equally. Listings that use synergy include twice as much corporate jargon as neutral listings. They have one and a half times as many words and their sentences are almost twice as long. They include more than twice as many adjectives and they average nearly 80% bulleted content. All of these drag down the appeal of a job listing. As harbingers of doom go, synergy is substantial.

Tune in next week and find out what happens when your listing includes Nerf. It’s gonna be epic.

All stories
Get stories like these delivered right to your inbox.