Ceasefire: Stop the Battlefield Language in Recruiting

Boot Camp Drill SergeantI had a meeting last week and it was brutal, an absolute bloodbath. Managers were screaming. Individual contributors were sobbing. Furniture was thrown. After spending years in the trenches, with several tours in talent acquisition under my belt, I can say it was it was one of the most horrific exchanges I’ve ever witnessed at work. Some of the images will be etched in my mind forever.

None of the things I just wrote are true. There was no gruesome meeting. There was no epic battle in some conference room. My line of work isn’t violent and if you’re in the field of recruiting I sincerely doubt yours is either.

So why when we regale our associates with details of intense meetings do we feel compelled to inject military jargon and emotional visuals? What are we hoping for in reactions from our peers?

Purple Hearts are not awarded to civilian recruiters for those “candidates that got away.” Medals of Honor are not presented to recruiting managers who reach their fiscal goals. You’re a recruiter. You’re not in the military.

Even if you call yourself a headhunter (which has a violent ring to it), recruiting isn’t that violent. It’s actually not violent at all. Which is why when I hear things like “the war for talent” I cringe. When latte sipping Silicon Valley natives (who I suspect have very little experience with firearms) talk about being in the trenches I throw up in my mouth a little. When they refer to their various projects and the positions they’ve held at their company as “tours of duty” it’s a challenge for me to hide my frown. Who are these people?

I get it. It’s cool to sound tough. Boasting about brutal reqs and devil hiring managers over shots of Jameson can be entertaining. We might even call them war stories. They’re not. With enough drinks you might even feel entitled to a medal, and the recognition may be well deserved. However, when talent acquisition professionals use words that should be reserved for combat situations to describe the work they’re doing for their company it sounds sophomoric and silly.

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I’m not a military veteran and I find this language insulting to the men and women who serve. I can only imagine how people who have served must feel. Maybe not every single one of them finds it offensive, however I’d be willing to guess it causes most of them to raise an eyebrow, at the very minimum.

After writing down my thoughts, I reached out to a friend of mine who served over a decade in the armed forces. We had a great conversation, during which I went over what I’d just written and I asked him for his feedback. He agreed with my perspective and told me: “The f***ing moment when there are guns pointing in your direction and you know damn well the people aiming those guns are here to kill you, then you can use that (military) language.”

As a civilian I would like to thank all of the men and women who have served and put their personal wellbeing in harms way to protect our way of life. Additionally, I would say that if we truly respect the work performed by military personnel worldwide we will reserve the use of military jargon to describe military events.

image credit: bigstock

Joshua Jones is director, talent solutions with ERE Media. He supports conferences and publications focused on human resources, talent acquisition, and talent management. Prior to joining ERE Media, he dedicated nearly seven years as a recruiter and sourcer to tackling hiring challenges for companies and organizations nationwide.


7 Comments on “Ceasefire: Stop the Battlefield Language in Recruiting

  1. Well done Josh! I completely agree and yes, let’s leave the military jargon to those who have serve and protect us. Recruiting is not a dangerous or violent field. Heck, the closest we sourcers and recruiters get in comparison is research and sleuthing….online!

  2. I agree, but we aren’t the only ones to blame. It’s a much bigger problem than just recruiters and sourcers. ‘War rooms’ are common in high tech sales orgs, bringing in the ‘big guns’ to client meetings, I even worked with a ‘sniper’ who was brought in to close very specialized deals. It’s a pervasive problem that is in all parts of business and American culture.

  3. “Purple Hearts are not awarded to civilian recruiters for those ‘candidates that got away.’ Medals of Honor are not presented to recruiting managers who reach their fiscal goals. You’re a recruiter. You’re not in the military.”
    Metaphors don’t recruit – people do.

    Well said Josh…

  4. As someone with a military background and a recruiting background I enjoyed reading this. We (the business world) are always looking for catchy new buzzwords to use and be on “the cutting edge”, and when everyone else catches up to us, we push forward even more to be on “the bleeding edge”. We can call it whatever we want, but unless you can act on it and produce results, it doesn’t matter what you call it. “The war for talent” though… I have to say that I like that phrase. War isn’t always fought with guns.

  5. Typically a American problem. Us Europeans just do not have this problem, and it’s
    actually pretty sad. I feel you Joshua. If I where an American having to read messages filled with “gunzzzz blazin” and “attack mode” phrases, it would definitely not motivate me. But hey, once again: “us Europeans hey”.

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