Delete the word ‘requirement’

A word I see crop up in both applications and interview questions is require and requirement. “I am required to …” do something in my job. “It is a requirement of this job …” that you do certain things.

I was re-reading an article in the June 2007 edition of Boss magazine about corporate language. (Lost in translation, Prue Moodie p 62). Moodie refers to some research into language patterns and found a consistent use of what is called nominalisation, which means a noun that has been created from a verb. When a verb is nominalised, the identity of both subject and object can be lost.

Requirement is a nominalisation. If I say: “There is a requirement to meet the deadline.” It is not clear who has this requirement, who should meet it nor how. The researchers point out that using the word ‘requirement’ “risked making the system an end in itself rather than a tool for employees.

When selection panels start using ‘requirement’ in job descriptions and interview questions there is a risk that:

  • The job starts to sound like an exercise in compliance.
  • Those directing work become invisible.
  • No one is accountable for this directive since the author of it is unknown.

And it just sounds unattractive.

Yet panels continue to come up with interview questions based on a requirement.

  • ‘In this job you are required to liaise with internal clients’
  • ‘In this job you are required to display initiative and judgement. Tell us about a time when you displayed these qualities.’
  • ‘As a requirement of this job you will be expected to meet deadlines. Tell us about a time when …’

None of these question leads sounds inviting. Do I want to work in a place where everything is based on a ‘requirement’. The word has overtones of rules, laws and mandated directives. While literally we are required to do the work we’re employed to do, do we have to use this language during selection processes?

A friendlier choice of words can still be professional and accurate:

  • ‘The person in this job will have the opportunity to display initiative and judgement. Would you please tell us about a time when …’
  • ‘Part of the work we do means liaising with colleagues in other parts of the department.’
  • ‘To complete our work we liaise with colleagues in other parts of the department.’
  • ‘Meeting deadlines is critical for us. Tell us about a time when…’

So next time you are writing job specs or crafting interview questions, watch out for all the ‘requirements’ and hit the delete button.

Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.