Job adverts are the first impression a potential recruit gets of your business. Get the wording wrong and you will reduce the number of applicants.
Research has shown a link between language and gender, in particular words that can put off women from applying for roles. Tech company Atlassian achieved an increase of 80% in female hires simply by changing the wording in adverts.
Whilst research has shown the link between language and gender, similar research has not been conducted on the impact of language on other groups. It is likely that language in job adverts will put people off from different backgrounds or those from ethnic minorities. Unfortunately at the time of writing this research has not been conducted.
Why does this matter?
The population from which you are recruiting is diverse. Reducing the pool of candidates reduces the diversity within your business. Companies with strong gender and ethnic diversity are 15% and 35% respectively more likely to outperform their competitors (McKinsey).
Your advert will attract those who use the type of language you have used in your advert. Those people will use that language in the workplace and with your customers. It’s vital that language used represents your business and brand. If using a recruitment agency it is equally important to ensure they are using language that matches your culture.
If your advert attracts the wrong person or gives the wrong impression of the job or culture, that person will eventually leave and be unlikely to perform well whilst they are with you.
What are the words to avoid?
When a person reads your job advert, you want them to identify with it and see themselves in the role working for you. It should attract attention and make them feel like this is a role worth putting in the effort to apply for. A study of 4,000 job ads found that women were put off from applying for jobs that used wording associated with masculine stereotypes such as “ambitious”, “aggressive” and “persistent”.
Interestingly, a recent LinkedIn study found that the word “aggressive” puts off 44% of women and 1/3rd of men. We can see from these numbers that we are not putting off everyone, but given these statistics, an advert with “aggressive” in it will get more male applicants. That said, that word is also putting off 1/3rd of men. Overall that’s quite a proportion of the population that this advert is immediately preventing from applying.
The job advert using a word like “aggressive” may accurately represent the company culture, in which case the issue is not so much about advert wording. If that isn’t the culture or it’s not the culture you want then the advert won’t be appealing to the right people.
It’s not just language putting people off
Many organisations work hard to remove personal details and make recruiting anonymous in order to overcome issues of bias. The reality is gender bias (and most likely other types of bias) starts long before the CVs even arrive.
It’s not just external recruitment where gender bias exists. Google found in 2012 that women were less likely to nominate themselves for internal promotion. This is unsurprising to anyone who has looked at gender differences. Women tend to be more modest. They are more likely to be penalised for standing up, putting themselves forward and asserting they believe they are capable.
An internal report by Hewlett Packard reportedly found that women apply for roles only when they meet 100% of the criteria whilst men will apply when they meet 60%. Long lists of criteria are also found to put off women.
What can employers do?
Your advert is a window into your company and what it’s like to work there. Ensure you provide detailed and accurate information. Think about the job seeker like you would a customer. Consider what they want and what they need to know. Establish what will attract them to want to work for you.
Think about the language. Don’t just pull up the last advert or the job description and use that. Review those words and use language that is more inclusive and will therefore attract a wider pool of people.
Article last updated: 6 August 2020
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