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Job ads reflect society and working life

Able to cooperate, driven and independent. These have been the most sought after characteristics in the labour market since the 1950s, according to a doctoral thesis from the University of Gothenburg; Sweden, on the evolution of recruitment advertisements.

The author of the thesis Karin Helgesson studied the development of unclassified recruitment advertisements from 1955 to 2005. A recruitment ad consists of a functional text written to announce a vacant job. However, it also gives employers an opportunity to promote their organisations and what they do.

‘Recruitment advertisements can also be used to study the evolution of the language it is written in and how the values in the labour market change over time,’ says Helgesson.

Helgesson found that the most frequently requested characteristics throughout most of the 50-year period were ability to cooperate, personal drive and ability to work independently.

‘There may be many reasons for this. It may be that these characteristics are needed in many different lines of work and that the so-called consensus culture is strong in the Sweden. Once consensus has been reached, a Swedish employee is expected to be able to work independently.’

Since the turn of the century, personal drive has replaced ability to cooperate as the number one requested characteristic. This implies an employee who is able to ensure progress, take initiatives, achieve results and lead others to a higher degree than in the past.

Throughout the period, the employer is portrayed as large and successful. Words such as large, leading and expansive are commonly used, but illustrations of well-known products, office buildings and industrial plants are also used to convey the message. There have been recent changes in this respect as well.

‘Ads from the last 10 years or so tend to focus more on the employee and the stimulating work tasks and opportunities for personal development that the employer is able to offer.’

Karin Helgesson also studied changes in the language used in recruitment advertisements. As in all areas, there are clear trends in people’s use of language. In the 1980s and 1990s it was common to present requirements through expressions such as We believe that you are at least 30 years old and have sales experience. Today, requirements are presented much more directly, as in You are able to cooperate and are outbound and driven.

There are also trends in the vocabulary used. In the 1950s and 1960s, employers talked about a framtidsplats (a position with good prospects) and they wanted idésprutor (people who are able to shoot out lots of new ideas). In the 1980s applicants had to be able to hålla många bollar i luften (keep many balls in the air) and in 2005 employers wanted workers with eget driv (a personal drive).

‘Recruitment advertisements reflect the development in society at large. The employers who used to offer workers the security of belonging to large and successful organisations have become partners who are offering their co-workers personal development and stimulating work tasks,’ says Helgesson.

For more information, please contact:
Karin Helgesson, telephone: +46 (0)31 786 52 83, e-mail:

Helena Aaberg | idw
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