I was recently listening to a financial show and I was amazed at the level of jargon that was used throughout the interview. I had to listen to it multiple times to comprehend everything that was being discussed. Even the title of the person being interviewed was ludicrous. He self-identified as the CO-COO of the Equities Franchise in the Securities Division in charge of ‘making markets’.
When I reflected on what I was listening to I realized that the culture of the financial sector was to over use jargon to a near comical level. I get that a significant amount of the jargon is needed because of the abstract nature of the concepts, but a lot of it could have been avoided.
I’m well read. I am told I have and use an extensive vocabulary. Many, many times in my life I have been asked to use ‘normal words’ buy friends and family. Because of this I have learned to take concepts and simplify them. Still there was a ton of stuff in this show that were beyond even my well read experience. They had used phrases like, regulation ETS and regulation MMS, decimalization and narrowing spreads. They also used Mutualized organizations, central limit order book, and highly quantitative trading. My favorite obtuse terms were the constant references to the “Alpha in idiosyncratic stock” and also the “Beta”. As I said i’m well read and, there was a bunch of language I understood like “diversification” and “STEM”. I could even quickly figure out terms I wasn’t exposed to such as “Indexation”, “Quantitative and fundamental communities”, and “coding up special algorithms for trading organizations”. My favorite of all of the terms was the reference to the Industry now using the “Barbell Model”.
Side Note: I loved the conversation about the barbell model. One of the greater themes in my work is the destruction of the middle. No more middle services, no more middle management, no more middle incomes. It’s why getting a promotion is a ticket on the space elevator vs. the historical reality that it’s a ride everyone is on eventually if they want to be there. I thought it was hugely interesting that the financial markets are experiencing the same thing. The individual traders (working class) have been displaced by tech years ago and the job growth at the low end is now for people who manage that tech which targets average returns. This is the Beta Jargon referenced earlier which represents one side of the barbell. The other part, the alpha jargon, describes the part of the market that wants high returns and high levels of services associated with those types of Investments. Bottom line is that in the financial markets there are two areas left: Alpha or high cost, high service targeted at high growth or Beta which is usually a low cost, tech automated service targeting the market average. There is no middle left. Since there is no Middle Market, middle management that serves that market doesn’t exist either. I listened to this and thought that, like so many other Industries, targeting the traditional middle part of the market for a job isn’t really a good option in the financial industry.
Going back to the conversation about jargon, I was struck at how complicated the language was when basically the show was all about the fundamentals of selling bits and pieces of companies. I was thinking about how translating the language used on show the would allow any retail sector employee to understand what’s going on.
That in turn got me thinking about how language is really a barrier to getting into a job or industry. This was one of the core themes in the Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd comedy Trading Places. The movie was a satirical look at the financial markets and class stratification. Language and jargon played a big role in the script.
The Two Levels of Jargon.
When considering the working environment there really are two levels of Jargon. The first level is industry jargon. Industry jargon is exactly what you would expect it to be. It’s language used within a specific industry and it’s the type of Jargon I was commenting on at the beginning of this article. The more I thought about it the more I realized that industry jargon is one of the fundamental concepts that’s taught in any higher education program. It’s also one of the reasons why people say you learn more in the real world then you do in school. In school you get a bunch of definitions and concepts that result in a grade. If you do a good job then you get an A. Woohoo. After the grade there’s no compelling reason to retain the knowledge as you’re not really using the language. In the real world those definitions and concepts are associated with tasks that result in a regular paycheck which make them a heck of a lot more important. Is it any wonder why people pick up the information more quickly in the work environment? Some of this jargon can be tremendously complex even if the underpinning concept is simple. Think medical and financial markets. In medical you have bugs and broken bodily systems. In the financial sector you’re buying and selling valuable stuff to make money. At their core one is a technician and the other is a merchant. In both of these positions it’s the comprehensive industry jargon and associated licensure that creates a barrier to anyone competent from doing the job.
This is absolutely why I have argued that a seasoned nurse can be as knowledgeable and effective a provider as a Doc. They have both the practical experience and know the jargon. Docs are forced to get most of that in the med school process which is why they come out of that system ready to provide care on day one. Nurses need on the job time before they get to a comparable level. Unfortunately in our system, they need the difficult to obtain licensure to provide direct care which limits the supply of primary care providers making everyone’s medical costs go up.
Industry jargon is very easy to learn, especially since we are in the information age. There are podcasts, YouTube videos, discussion forums, website articles, and every book ever written, all of this is just a click away. There is also the old school method of, well, School. If there’s not a gatekeeper credential required, then knowing the jargon is a powerful tool to get you into an industry or a job. If you can speak authoritatively with terminology that is specific to an industry you will be perceived as an insider and an expert in any interview.
A good real-world example of the power of industry jargon comes from twenty years ago when my brother wanted to get into medical sales. He was in all sorts of other product sales but realized the big money at the time was in medical products. To get into it, he took a medical terminology class to learn the jargon of the industry. He did it ostensibly for a resume enhancement and it worked. He got the job, increased his income and ultimately learned valuable lessons about the seedy underside of the medical supply industry. Those stories are a conversation for another day but the primary lesson of understanding the language to get into an industry is as valuable today as it was decades ago.
The second level of Jargon is organizational jargon. This is the preferred language adopted within a particular company or organization. This jargon can start with an individual, or it can be something related to the business process. Organizational jargon is different than industry jargon because it is nearly impossible to learn as it is unique to the establishment. For example someone from the outside of the company could hear something like: If the PMs miss the LOMBIS, then the PAs will Define the TCE. The ROD will be royally pissed that we missed a chance at LIQuiD and then it’s a trip to the store for someone. If they didn’t know the jargon then they wouldn’t know the prior statement without the acronyms would mean: If the Project Managers(1) miss the last overview meeting before installation of the system(2), then the Partner Agencies(3) will Define the total customer experience(4). The Regional Operations Director(5) will be royally pissed that we missed a chance at Leadership in Quality Delivery(6) and somebody could lose their job(7).
That’s the sentence, but the sentences doesn’t really tell the whole story. Where terms like ROD and PM are pretty easy to pick up and understood by an outsider, other terms used really need insider knowledge. In this case the jargon has even deeper meaning when put in context. In this fictitious example: The LOMBIS or Last Overview Meeting before the Installation of the system is a major milestone in the installation process and LIQuiD or Leadership in Quality Delivery represents a major internal corporate initiative built around the company controlling a situation with many partners involved in the delivery of the end product. “A trip to the store” is a corporate colloquialism about getting the proverbial target on an employee’s back, i.e. A trip to the store is referring to the retail chain Target.
It’s this type of Jargon that is the foundation of corporate culture. Aside from working for the company already, the only way you can learn it is to be extra diligent. You either have to get into the organization some how, i.e. interning, volunteering, etc.. or you have to really stalk the organization. That being said if you learn it, imagine how much more desirable you’d be as a candidate if in your Interview you say something like “The LOMBIS is critical to achieving LIQuiD”? Even if you don’t know all the nuances of either term, the hiring manager instantly thinks “I won’t have to train this guy, they already get it all”.
That in a nutshell is the power of jargon. If you know the language you are perceived as an insider. If you are an insider, your in the club, your ‘one of us’. Used in a cover letter it gets you the interview. Used in an interview that puts you to the top of the stack of candidates. If your in a low level job and you can speak the language used by the section you want to get into, then you have a much better chance at getting in that group. Jargon is an end run around a degree or other formal education. The beauty is that it only takes diligence to learn and in some cases can be absorbed passively. Paying attention to, and using wherever possible, the language associated with your goals is clearly an important thing to do if you are not doing so already.
There is more I could write, but I really need to put this down for now. I have my company’s version of the LOMBIS at 8am on Monday morning and I got to make sure i’m prepared for it, because I really don’t want to be the one picked to go to the store!