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Job description: What does "Deals well with ambiguity" mean?
Old 05-19-2014, 04:28 AM   #1
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Job description: What does "Deals well with ambiguity" mean?

Hi all,

I've been contacted by a headhunter about a job listing that sounds quite interesting. We haven't talked yet, so I don't know if their client is willing to offer a package which might entice me to change positions.
The job description fits my profile very well and overall looks pretty standard, with one exception: The last line under "Other personal characteristics" reads "Deals well with ambiguity". What is that supposed to mean? I've never seen anything like this in a German job listing, but a quick Google search turned up a lot of examples of this phrase being used. Oh, this is not confirmed, but I believe the job is offered by a US employer.

Is it a warning sign?

Thanks in advance for all comments,
RISP
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Old 05-19-2014, 06:29 AM   #2
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It might mean the job is not well defined. Maybe they are looking for someone who does not need much supervision. Or it could mean the job requires a lot of decisions be made on a "case by case" basis. Or maybe the job duties are very broad - one week you would be doing one thing and the next week, something totally different. Not sure. But I think you should definitely ask.
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Old 05-19-2014, 06:40 AM   #3
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Thanks David, I will definitely ask why they put this sentence in. None of the possibilities you mention sound bad, though. Good news.

Any other opinions?
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Old 05-19-2014, 06:44 AM   #4
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I've never heard the phrase use in a job listing but suspect the employer is looking for someone who can operate without structure and can think on their feet.
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Old 05-19-2014, 06:58 AM   #5
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An expression that was oft used in the telco sales department where I was once employed.......a friend of mine used to say that his response was that he "Did not tolerate ambiguity".
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Old 05-19-2014, 07:27 AM   #6
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Obviously OP is a bit put off by this ambiguity.

Depending on what the ambiguity is. If it is something I want to optimize perfectly it would probably send me down a black hole... like a perfect set of Roth conversions.
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Old 05-19-2014, 07:34 AM   #7
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Old 05-19-2014, 08:24 AM   #8
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Quote:
Obviously OP is a bit put off by this ambiguity.
Not at all, if this means something along the lines of "does not need much supervision", or "job requires a lot of decisions be made on a "case by case" basis", or "the job duties are very broad", or "someone who can operate without structure and can think on their feet". That's rather positive IMO.

As a non-native speaker, and somebody who has never dealt with an American employer, I was just not sure what this requirement implies. I even had to look up "ambiguity" in a dictionary. To me, it sounded a little like "we will not give you clear objectives", or "you report to three different Directors, with totally conflicting targets, in a matrix organisation that nobody understands". But apparently it's not as negative as I thought.

Thanks for all the feedback!
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Old 05-19-2014, 08:25 AM   #9
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Old 05-19-2014, 08:29 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RISP View Post
As a non-native speaker, and somebody who has never dealt with an American employer, I was just not sure what this requirement implies. I even had to look up "ambiguity" in a dictionary. To me, it sounded a little like "we will not give you clear objectives", or "you report to three different Directors, with totally conflicting targets, in a matrix organisation that nobody understands". But apparently it's not as negative as I thought.
To me it sounds like your first example (no clear objectives or the client doesn't know exactly what they want). Of course I don't have any context regarding the company or job position.
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Old 05-19-2014, 08:35 AM   #11
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Old 05-19-2014, 08:59 AM   #12
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I've often seen that phrase in job descriptions and reviews.

It means that your job objectives will be defined but the path to get to them is likely to be unclear, or at times frustrating. Your job will not be "laid out in an organized fashion" and you will need to forge your own path. There may be periods of change where you get your leash jerked in a different direction and you need to figure out how to re-prioritize without being given a lot of specifics by your boss.

"Yeah, things move fast around here... Keep up and figure it out. We're not going to spell everything out for you."

It's not a red flag exactly, but it's definitely the sign of a certain kind of culture.
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Old 05-19-2014, 08:59 AM   #13
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That just means that you need to be flexible to any changes that you encounter and not go postal or quit.
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Old 05-19-2014, 09:15 AM   #14
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Yes, I too would interpret it as meaning flexible and leave it at that. If you have a personality that can handle surprises, you should be okay; some people are good with them and find they make a job more interesting sometimes. Some people hate unexpected changes and find them stressful and probably would not enjoy a job that already is defined with the term ambiguity.
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Old 05-19-2014, 09:18 AM   #15
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This phrase is used frequently in job descriptions in the US, especially in large companies. The company is looking for an individual who is self-motivated, able to adapt to changing situations, and to assess when a different direction might need to take place. As you said, RISP, all positive outcomes.
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Old 05-19-2014, 09:27 AM   #16
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Originally Posted by Gotadimple View Post
This phrase is used frequently in job descriptions in the US, especially in large companies. The company is looking for an individual who is self-motivated, able to adapt to changing situations, and to assess when a different direction might need to take place. As you said, RISP, all positive outcomes.
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It can also mean that whoever wrote the job description copied and pasted it from the prior one.
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Old 05-19-2014, 09:44 AM   #17
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I think "Deals well with ambiguity" is open to interpretation and may mean different things.

One nice thing about ER - there's nothing ambiguous about it.
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Old 05-19-2014, 09:53 AM   #18
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If the OP is interviewed for the position then s/he should ask the employer what they mean by that phrase.
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Old 05-19-2014, 10:16 AM   #19
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Sounds like a political party is searching for someone who can be political - has a comment about everything but really saying anything.
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Old 05-19-2014, 10:22 AM   #20
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I think it means even though you don't know what you don't know - you will have to ask the right people the right questions to gather the information to be able to be effective in your job. Many people hoard "intellectual capital" and resist documenting things in the belief that it provides job security. You will have to get these people to cooperate with you to be successful.
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