20 Playing the Field: Language Use Strategies in Job Postings and Applications Across Disciplines

PRESENTATION OVERVIEW FROM CONFERENCE PROGRAM

Allison Benner & Barbara Svec, University of Victoria

In this workshop, we discuss findings of an exploratory study into the words that co-op employers and co-op students use most frequently in their job descriptions and applications across five co -op programs at the University of Victoria (Business, Education, Humanities and Fine Arts, Public Administration, and Social Sciences). The research is based on a database of over 200,000 words selected from over 800 job postings and applications from 2011 to 2016. The purpose of the research is (a) to identify cross disciplinary and discipline-specific trends in the language used to describe job qualifications; (b) to highlight similarities and differences in the ways that successful and unsuccessful applicants describe themselves when applying within and outside their disciplines; and (c) to discuss how co -op practitioners and career educators can draw on these findings to promote successful outcomes when working with employers and students. Specifically, the study suggests ways that employers and co-op applicants can be more intentional in their use of language in the recruitment and application process. Students who want to access opportunities outside their own primary discipline may need to attend to the language typically used by employers in that field. Conversely, depending on the students they are trying to attract, employers may need to be flexible in the way they describe job functions. While the study is focused on co-op postings and applications, the findings have relevance to employers and applicants in the broader job market — especially to applicants who are trying to findopportunities in a wide variety of employment sectors in a rapidly changing job market.

KEY WORDS

  • Discourse analysis
  • Word frequency
  • Transferable skills
  • Co-operative education
  • Program research
  • Job applications
  • Job descriptions

 

BIO

Allison Benner, University of Victoria
Allison Benner is the Co-op Coordinator for Humanities and Fine Arts at the University of Victoria. Before joining Cooperative Education and Career Services in 2015, Allison was a sessional instructor in Linguistics and a freelance writer and researcher.

Barbara Svec, University of Victoria
Barbara is the Co-op Coordinator in the School of Public Administration at the University of Victoria. She has been with Cooperative Education and Career Services since 2005. Prior to joining UVic as an employee, she earned her Masters in Public Administration (MPA) at UVic and worked with the Province of British Columbia in a few different Ministries.

 

SUMMARY

Overview

The purpose of the research is (a) to identify cross-disciplinary and discipline-specific trends in the language used to describe job qualifications; and (b) to discuss how co-op practitioners and career educators can draw on these findings to promote successful outcomes when working with employers and students. The research is based on a database of over 200,000 words selected from over 800 job postings and applications from 2011 to 2016. Samples were balanced across the five disciplines studied. Word clouds were used to display the words most frequently used in job postings and successful applications within and across disciplines (word clouds provide a visual representation of word frequency).

Key findings

The research revealed discipline-specific and cross-disciplinary trends in the words most frequently used in job postings and job applications, reflecting (a) the transferable skills demanded by most jobs in the current labour market; (b) discipline-specific knowledge and skills; (c) discipline-specific differences in the relative emphasis given to some transferable skills over others; and (d) discipline-specific conventions in the ways that similar duties are described.

For example, Figure 1 below shows the words most frequently used in job postings across all the five disciplines studied. In this word cloud, the 10 most frequently used words are communication, management, research, written, public, team, independently, program, Office, and independently.

Figure 1. Most frequently used words in job postings across disciplines

The words used most frequently across all job postings will also appear in the word clouds generated for specific disciplines, but with differing degrees of prominence (they may or may not be in the top 10 most frequently used words), reflecting discipline-specific patterns in actual skills/duties demanded and/or discipline-specific conventions in describing knowledge and skills. While space does not permit the display of all our findings, Table 1, which shows the top 10 words in three of the programs we studied, demonstrates the discipline-specific patterns we found in our word clouds.

Public Administration Social Sciences Humanities & Fine Arts Business Exercise Science, Physical Health & Education
research

public

policy

information

analytical

issues

management

written

communication

administration

research

management

communication

data

analysis

public

team

written

writing

independently

writing

communication

management

history

written

computer

Office

research

interpersonal

organizational

communication

management

team

marketing

written

Excel

Office

organizational

public

independently

children

communication

program

management

FirstAid

Independently

health

organizational

training

planning

Table 1. Top 10 Words in Job Postings, by Discipline.

Next Steps

We intend to incorporate this research into our training of co-op students, so they can draw on it in applying to postings both within and outside their disciplines.

Implications to Career Education

The study suggests ways that employers and students can be more intentional in their use of language in the recruitment and application process. Students who want to access opportunities outside their discipline may need to attend to the language typically used by employers in that field. Conversely, depending on the students they are trying to attract, employers may need to be flexible in the way they describe job functions. While the study is focused on co-op postings and applications, the findings have relevance to employers and applicants in the broader job market—especially to applicants who are trying to find opportunities in a wide variety of employment sectors in a rapidly changing job market.

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