Jargon Fluency and Securing the Job Offer

By Ganteng Boy

Ni hao, Buenos Dias, Hello. 

In this post, my aim is to shed light on the importance of understanding a company’s choice of words, in order to secure your next career move. 

But first, a story. I promise it is relevant. 

I will never forget the time when the President of a large multinational steel distributor visited our sales program at the University of Houston, and opened with those very three words – Ni hao, Buenos Dias, Hello. Just as countries have their own unique language in which they operate, corporations communicate internally with their own unique language. In turn, this shapes the company’s culture and impacts the audience. At that moment, subconsciously, the President demonstrated a level of language fluency and indirectly implied that his company was open for business, anywhere in the world at any given time of day. 

Some companies operate on a massive lexicon repository that is littered with three lettered acronyms. And to add to the complexity, each industry space has their own verbiage. For example, let’s take a look at the acronym: API. Ask a programmer, and he will tell you that an API is a set of tools for building software and applications. Ask a geologist, and he will tell you that an API is a measure of how heavy or light a petroleum liquid is compared to water. 

Where to begin? 

Step 1. Do your homework and research the industry

Every industry is infected with their own form of jargon. By design, jargon was used to simplify a complex concept, or just another way for them to tell you to piss off. Leverage your network. You might be surprised with just how big your network truly is. And in your network, there must be someone from that industry who can walk you through the 10,000 foot overview of how the industry operates. When you find said industry expert, ask them the following questions:

[Questions that Give Insight about the Industry]

How has the industry changed over the past year/decade? (Expect to hear change. If there is little to no change, ask why)

What are the different roles that play a part in the industry? (Expect to hear variability in roles and their scope of responsibilities)

How does this industry turn a concept into a product? (Check for understanding on the supply chain process from culminating knowledge into the finished product)

[Questions that Give Insight about the Company]

Do you like what you do at work? Why or why not.

You will probably notice that the questions are super simple. The key here is not to beat up the industry expert or to assert that you know more than they do. When in doubt, err on the side of humility. It might surprise you by how much intelligence humility gets rewarded these days. 

Step 2. Listen intently, as if they are the only person in the world right now

Chances are, your industry knowledge expert is enthusiastic to share with you about their career and industry. Even if they are jaded by their industry or career, they are at the very least enthusiastic to share with you why they are upset. Either way, people are passionate about what they do. If they are neither of the two, then it might portend to an imminent career change (to which you can point them to this blog). 

You want to listen to the tone and how your expert conveys their knowledge about their role and the industry. There will be key words or ideas that stick out like a sore thumb. When you stack jargon on top of jargon, you will arrive at jargon squared – a perspective, a way of thinking that is specific to that company and/or industry.

Step 3. Incorporate the novel word/concept 

Be mindful of directly replaying verbatim of what your knowledge expert has just shared with you. The consequences might be deleterious. My suggestion is to repackage that new knowledge into your own words.

Here are two examples..

Exhibit A.

In my undergraduate years, I took a vested interest in a prestigious oilfield service company. I researched their financials from a standpoint of an investor (if I were to invest $250,000 into a stock, is this company worth it?). I connected with friends and family that worked at this oilfield service company. Lucky for me, there were at least 10 people from my church who either worked there or knew someone that worked there. But what helped out the most was a little bit of insight from my PES colleague (Program for Excellence in Selling, University of Houston). My PES colleague had another friend who was an employee at this oilfield service company. She shared with me her conversation with the employee and how he felt about his role and about the industry in general. There was one word that stuck out to me the most: meritocracy. 

Miriam Webster defines ‘meritocracy’ as a system in which the talented are chosen and moved ahead on the basis of their achievement. 

Fast forward 5 months later, and I was in the position to interview for this oilfield service company. It will be their first summer internship for sales. There I was, across the table from the VP of Industry Affairs and VP of Global Sales Training – two heavy hitting employees. To set the tone, they made it clear that there is no wiggle room to falsify information. You can imagine how I might have answered the question that every company is bound to ask in an interview:

‘Why do you want to work here’? 

I found a way to incorporate the word meritocracy into my response and why I wanted to work for this company. Frankly, I don’t recall my response, and I would hate to post anything on my blog that is sub par accurate. 

Needless to say, the VP of Industry Affairs was blown away by my response. He proceeded to add on to my response and reconfirm that meritocracy was the very one word that he recently used in his internal campaigns, and the same word that the president of one of their major divisions used throughout their presentations. ‘Meritocracy’ was the Rosetta Stone into this company. It was the DNA of the company. 
People forget the words that you said to them, but they will never forget how you made them feel.

I felt like a million bucks because I just landed a summer internship. 

Exhibit B.

Four years into my sales career and I was ready for a transition. I wanted to get my feet wet and learn more about the tech industry. What I quickly found out was that there was so much information to take in. Again, I started reaching out to a few colleagues from the PES program (Program for Excellence in Selling, University of Houston).

My sights were set on a leader in the information technology space. I knew a friend that worked in that organization; and without hesitation, I reached out to him. What was interesting to me was the way that he approached a promotion. And it dawned on me, whether it is a promotion or you are starting a new career, you are about to embark on something new (new boss, new approval chain, new colleagues, possibly new location, etc). 

Fast forward to 4 months later, and I was in the position to interview for this information technology company. There was that one curveball of a question:

‘If you were to start working tomorrow, how would you plan to hit your target?’ Luckily, I spoke with my friend prior to this interview. You can find my response to this question, in my earlier blog post “Interviewing: How to Demonstrate that You are a Self-Starter”. 

The Regional Director of Sales eyebrows raised up. I later learned that interviewees were not given any feedback during the interview. However in my case, the Regional Director of Sales didn’t hesitate to share with me his thoughts. Although I didn’t have the exact skill sets or industry knowledge that they were specifically looking for, the Regional Director of Sales would rather take a bet on a person and their potential, rather than a ‘perfect fit’. I got the job and the rest is history.
For the Driver/Driver that found the blog post above TL/DR, here’s the takeaway:

We have already invented mind control – it’s called listening to others. Start with the end in mind and work backwards.

I hope that you now feel empowered. Go forth and apply this newfound piece of knowledge!

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