Words Matter



We know all too well that words matter. They matter to the masses, literally and figuratively. They are contagious. Their impact may be short or long term. They can soothe your soul or cut like a knife. Words can be comforting or hateful, empathetic, or intimidating. They can be taken in stride or taken to heart. For better or worse, our words are an indication of our values and beliefs. The intention may be clear but still can send a mixed message.

My thoughts this week turn to workplace communications, in particular — recruitment.

I often share relevant job postings that come across my desk with others. In recent weeks I have noticed an influx of job offers. Offers of employment! To most, these statements will be taken in stride. Statements like “It is our pleasure to extend the following offer of employment…” or “We look forward to a long-lasting and beneficial relationship and are confident your abilities will play a key role in our company.”

These statements in print, online or within unsolicited email messages, are implying that an offer is being made, by a specific company and even a specific position.  The intent was likely to grab the active or passive job seeker’s attention and encourage them to apply.

The language used in recruiting messages throughout interview processes can be binding. The misinterpretation by some may be due to mixed signals from the various parties involved in screening and selection of potential hires.

Nearly all states in the U.S. are employment-at-will. Organizations must be careful to avoid communicating an implied contract of employment. Interviewers must be careful with their words and language used during this process.

  • Avoid promises or assurances of employment.
  • Confirmation of annual reviews or pay raises need to be avoided (these things change).
  • Comments such as “you’ll be great here, when can you start, you’ll be working with…, we have an excellent opening and would be pleased to have you our dynamic team” should be avoided.

Consider the maybe naïve candidate, inexperienced at interviews or maybe feeling desperate for work. The unintentional message of “you’re hired” may be heard and taken seriously. The candidate may indeed (if currently employed) quit a job they already have even though there was no official decision made or job offer. Then what?  Though it may be difficult to prove, if a job offer is inadvertently implied by the employer’s actions, the offer is binding.

Do not put your organization at risk. Be sure to have policies in place and provide regular coaching for managers on best practices for interviewing and how to avoid accidental or implied job offers. Many of us have been there, certain that we got the job! And yet we did not. While there are many rules and laws that could be broken during these encounters, having those participating in the hiring decisions should be appropriately prepared. At the same time, it is certainly okay to express satisfaction with a candidate; just tread lightly.