Why I Killed 10 Kittens – And Why It Has To Stop

Anyone who knows me, follows me or has had the pleasure of engaging with me in the odd Twitter chat or two knows that I hate – nay, despise – buzzwords. Business speak. That gobbledy gook of catchphrases and say nothing terminology that some organizations even have an in house dictionary for. You know, if you need an in house dictionary for your staff…..you might have communication problems.

Anyhow, as I’ve been know to say a time or two (or ten)……

Buzzwords Kill Kittens!

Kitten Killers Anonymous 

Well, I’m about to ‘fess up. I just *killed at least ten kittens. Probably more. And I was quite literally forced to do it. I know, I know, it’s so easy to blame others. But this time, it’s the truth.

I submitted a job application that was lousy with buzzwords. Crawling with them, in fact. And I did it in order to get through one of two things (or both):

  1. Keyword scanning software
  2. The Human Resources department

It’s no secret that these days many companies from the Fortune 500 down use software to digitally scan your resume looking for relevant keywords – when they find them, your resume gets flagged as ‘interesting’ (LOL!) and sent on to a human being.

Pity The HR Employee

In many cases – and please, with all due respect to those who toil in the field – the person it ends up with works in Human Resources, which for many large organizations is about as far removed from the day to day world of the job you’re applying for as chalk is to cheese. So what are these poor HR people looking for when they scan your resume and/or cover letter…? I’ll tell you one thing – they aren’t looking for character, personality, sense of humour, or attitude. They’re looking for keywords! Boom – dead kittens.


Hire For Attitude

Fast Company magazine co-founder Bill Taylor wrote about this in Harvard Business Review. In the article, he focusses on three diverse companies – ING Direct, Southwest Airlines and the Special Care Center in Atlantic City. All three have realized that “…you can’t create something special, distinctive, and compelling in the marketplace unless you build something special, distinctive, compelling in the workplace. And the best way to build something special in the workplace is to hire for attitude and train for skill.” Now that’s what I’m talking about.

Who Are You Missing?

Understandably, not every company has the resources and/or infrastructure to be such tangential thinkers – to seek out and then train, coach and value the person behind the resume, and spend the time figuring out what makes them tick. And I get that organizations are inundated with thousands of resumes, and need an efficient way to separate the wheat from the chaff. But in my opinion, keyword scanning software (and other types of simplistic keyword scanning) just isn’t it. These days, at most companies, in every industry, tens of thousands of qualified candidates won’t even get an interview, let alone a call back, because they haven’t used the correct buzzwords.

Inside Baseball 

In my case, I had a connection who was able to feed me some ‘inside baseball’. I was told flat out to use catchphrases and buzzwords (meoowww!) gleaned directly from the job description itself. As many as possible. The jargon’ier the better in fact! Because if I didn’t – fact – there was no chance it would clear through HR, and eventually, possibly, maybe reach the desk of the person with whom I might actually be working.

So, with a heavy heart, I wrote the dang thing. A faustian deal. Because if my package reaches said person, all they’ve got is a buzzword filled bunch of baloney that says exactly nothing about me, the person. It’s void of character. Void of personality. Definitely void of kittens. I had to kill them all to get an interview!

I Heart Kittens & So Should You

Presumably you’re hoping to hire a human being. Someone with charm and wit and quirks and quarks. God only knows how many people you’ll have to interview, how much time you’ll have to waste and how many *wrong* hires you’ll have to make to find that person. Because the only resumes on your desk are as rote and mechanical as the system you’re using to narrow down your candidates.

With all the outstanding people out there working with and creating incredible new software platforms every day – can’t we find a better way? Can’t we make this inefficient system of sourcing candidates stop?


Please. I beg of you. Think of the kittens.

*NOTE: No kittens were actually harmed in the writing of the aforementioned job application. Or this blog post.

Would love your thoughts on this subject. Are you job hunting and dealing with the same keyword crap? Maybe you think it’s a great way to get your resume to the top of the pile? Maybe you hate kittens…!? Please share below.  


10 thoughts on “Why I Killed 10 Kittens – And Why It Has To Stop

  1. Hilarious! And informative: I didn’t even know about keyword scanning. (Your dead kittens every keyword reminded me of letters written between myself and a high school best friend, with little bombs drawn in the margin next to shocking or scandalous news shared in the letter.) :)

    • I have no clue what you’re talking about. HAHAHA!
      Yes, keyword scanning is the bane of my existence. Absolutely hate it. You learn a lot being unemployed. :) xoxo

  2. Couldn’t agree more, and it shows in the workplace. How many people have we all come across who are simply a bad fit for the role they’re in? I blame disconnected HR departments and their love of keywords, buzzwords, and jargon of every description for this sorry state of affairs. That, and unholy schmoozing (another topic for another rant).

    A friend, who, for many years, was responsible for his own hiring, had it taken away from him by the company HR department. The result was a nightmare. He went from a high retention rate – he knew what he needed and got it – to an extremely high turnover. Why? No one in HR ever did the job they were hiring for! So they hired based on…well, you know, and then blamed him for the high turnover (he was too difficult to please they said).

    Certain creative industries, that shall remain nameless, were once populated by artists, eccentrics, autodidacts – genuinely talented characters – but no more. The credentialed, buzzword sporting functionary has taken their place, and guess what? It shows up in the work culture and the end product!

    I don’t know what the solution is. I guess we all just play by the rules of the game as they currently exist but I think change is, slowly, afoot. I live in hope. Speaking of which, I hope your buzzy application does its job and gets you one.

    • Clappity clap clap!! A standing ovation for you sir! Honestly, brilliantly, brilliantly said. Thanks so much for your comments, especially for pointing out how much ‘certain industries’ have changed – and for using the term ‘autodidacts’!! :) I’m hoping it will change. Slow and steady wins the race! Cheers Justin, Lindsay

  3. What this SEO thing also shows is how many creative, innovative, expert people who don’t fit the usual mold don’t get hired to jobs they could excel in. Oh I got hired for my SEO words….. haha in fact someone looked at my LI profile and told me I had not paid enough attention to SEO ! I was interviewed for MENG last year based on a strong recommendation & did not have a resume on file (I’ve been an entrepreneur for 25+ years) and the fab interviewer …..who really got it… said to me….. I guess you’ve never had a resume….to which I replied……YES, and if people take the time to speak with me directly (as you did) they find out about me… and so often this is how I get the consulting job or client. Of course I have to miss out on opportunities (if they really exist for me) when only a written resume will do! I was accepted by MENG.

    After my experience with MENG (and I’ve personally been lucky that this is not an exception) I looked at the resume thing…and one very talented young woman who just was unable to find the right job, in fact any job……and no wonder as there was no way her resume told her story. So I wrote a post “The Ideal Interview” and the result of the post (& the 20 comments which added recommendation & endorsement) led her to the ideal job. I and others in my network sent my “The Ideal Interview” post around…..and success. I paid no attention to “keywords” but just what I do best… marketing and marketing a very talented candidate by letting her tell her own story in her own way!

    I love this post….. and kittens also!

    • You just shared brilliant examples of why SEO in resumes/job hunting is so useless! It frustrates me to no end when I think of the incredibly talented people who can’t even get a foot in the door! Much like yourself, my resume doesn’t tell a lot about me – and after being in the workforce for 25 plus years, it only highlights a few recent gigs. I love that you “get that” and your idea to write that post was off the charts! Creative and innovative, which are attributes that don’t jump off the page of a keyword heavy resume! :) Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving your thoughts, I really appreciate it. Enjoy the rest of the holidays! Cheers, Lindsay

  4. We have a client that has an in-house dictionary and it drives me nuts. But there are some corporate cultures you just can’t change…at least not by yourself. This kind of stuff is hard for me to fathom. I know my business isn’t gigantic, but I’d like to think the personal relationships I build online and off are what helps us determine who we’ll bring in to interview. I know that may not be feasible at the Fortune 10 level, but isn’t that what HR pros are paid to do? I know that would be their job description in my company.

    •  @ginidietrich I agree – some orgs just *need* that lingo in order to function. But when you think about it, that reliance on jargon didn’t develop over night. It was an evolution – and surely we can make an effort to change it. I pity the poor HR people nowadays who don’t really even connect with *people* anymore. Everything’s digital, which can be a help or a major hindrance. 

  5. Well said Lindsay.  I’ve been looking for employment now for over a year and have sent many dozens of resumes and cover letters via e-mail. I have completely modified my original resume to include as many keywords as possible. My cover letters are little more than a regurgitation of the job postings that I reply to. I have learned that the ability to market yourself is an invaluable skill to have.
     I recently defended a local employers request that individuals applying for a position with his business , bring a resume in person rather than e-mail. I think for a small business this is a great idea as the employers can then see who is truly interested in the position , who has reliable transportation and provides a chance for a quick face to face in many cases. I suggested that when asking for resumes via e-mail , many employers are inundated with hundreds of unqualified candidates just applying for the hell of it , because of the ease of sending off a resume online.

    •  @MikeConnors Hey Mike! Thanks for stopping by – and you made some very good points here. It *is* easier for a small business, to do more face to face, etc., which I understand, but the “gamification” of getting through the wall of the hiring process really pisses me off. At best we use our social media connections and networking to get face time with people who know people in larger companies, and hope for a lead or a good word (which is invaluable when on the job hunt) – I suppose it’s similar to the ol’ handing out your business card routine of yore. LOL Keep on trucking my friend, you’re a smart, articulate guy – the right thing will pop up for you soon, I just know it 

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