Forensic Linguistics for Recruiters

Did you watch the original Netflix series, Manhunt: Unabomber? If you haven’t, I highly recommend it. In the interim, let’s summarize:

In 1995 an FBI Profiler, Jim Fitzgerald, is tasked with identifying the terrorist known as the Unabomber. All he has to work with are a series of letters and a ‘manifesto’ written by the Unabomber.

Jim and his team focus on the language used by Unabomber. They analyze his diction and phrase choice to deduce that he must have grown up in a suburb within driving distance of San Francisco. They’re able to match the style and formatting of the dissertation to conclude the Unabomber obtained a PhD between 1967 and 1972.

This gives them enough evidence to narrow down the list of suspects. Ted Kaczynski, a man estranged from his family and living off the grid warrants some attention. Eventually, Fitzgerald is able to match a misused (or rather, correctly used) idiom in the Unabomber’s letters to a letter written by Kaczynski to his brother.

They deem this as sufficient evidence and coin the method used to make the arrest as ‘Forensic Linguistics.’

Ok, that was a long summary… but it’s an important example of how much we can learn about a person based on their style of writing or speech.

When we review resumes from job applications, we should be looking for subtle cues and clues. In the 6-seconds that that average recruiter spends reviewing a resume, we may not be able to deduce where the person grew up, but we can draw important conclusions.

Do your managerial candidates use the words ‘me’ and ‘my’ more than ‘we’ and ‘our’? What kind of leader do you want?

Do sales professionals reference their quotas in absolute terms or relative to their peers? If I surpass my targets, and so does everyone else, am I really a great sales rep or was the bar set too low?

Does the position description state basic duties associated with the role, or does it highlight accomplishments and contributions that go above and beyond? Are you looking for someone to meet expectations or exceed them?

Is the list of skills specific to one domain, or does it showcase a seemingly miscellaneous list suggesting great breadth? Could this be useful to a startup where manpower is stretched thin?

Are you looking at a traditional career trajectory, or one that shows a capacity to learn and adapt? If it takes me two years to reach a level of seniority that normally takes seven years of experience, am I inexperienced or simply better at what I do?

A resume may only be a series of 8.5” x 11” pieces of paper (hopefully no more than three), but it contains much more information about a candidate than meets the untrained eye.

Jim Fitzgerald may not have been an expert in Forensic Linguistics, but he spent a lot, a lot of time learning. This kind of time isn’t something that most hiring managers can squeeze in amongst their regular workload. This is the real value of an experienced recruiter.

There are countless other cues that veteran recruiters are trained to identify. If you’re looking for ways to kick your recruiting up a notch and build a better team, let’s chat.

Leave a Reply