Is Your Job Description Repelling Half the Applicant Pool?

In recruiting, we know that casting the right bait in the right locations is key to attracting top talent. Whether we are vetting incoming candidates or actively sourcing passive ones, everyone eventually comes into contact with the proposed job description, and this makes all the difference.

Job descriptions are a kind of necessary evil. Writing them is universally despised, but it’s also the only way to concisely explain what you need and who you are looking for. In today’s competitive, equity-focused talent market, employers cannot afford to make a mistake. Too often, we write unconsciously gender-biased descriptions and lose good people along the way. Businesses must gain a new level of awareness and write in a way that appeals to both men and women.

Just the other day I was reworking a client’s job description that very blatantly included the phrase, “his assigned duties.” While this position was in a male-dominated field, using a pronoun this overtly would effectively kill any chances that a qualified woman could and would apply. Tweaking the language was a simple fix to make it neutral and appealing to any candidates.

Pronouns are an easy and obvious place to start, but consider these other places where you may be revealing unconscious bias or unintentional preferences:

Preferred Skills:

Many employers feel like the job description is the ultimate catchall to describe their dream candidate. Resist this temptation. A job description should be a skeleton upon which you build out a complete picture of the kind of person you want. Adding the figurative bulk and key characteristics should happen throughout the interview process.

As you write your JD, decide what skills and experience are “must haves” and what are “nice to haves.” Then, include only the “must haves” while keeping the optional/preferred ones as items you ask about and look for in interviews and subsequent follow up meetings.

Statistically, women will not apply for jobs where they don’t meet 100% of the requirements, whereas men will apply to positions where their skills and experience align only 60%. In the past, this has been explained by a female lack of confidence, but studies repeatedly show that is not the case. In the workplace, women are often forced to be overqualified to even be regarded as equals to less overtly qualified men. They are also strongly socialized and rewarded to play by the rules from a young age through adulthood and careers.

As you craft your JD, keep your preferences to yourself and focus only on the deal breaker essentials.

Gender-Specific Titles and Language:

Job descriptions these days like to get more crafty and creative as the talent search is increasingly cutthroat. While we’re all for something that stands out in a crowd, be careful what words you choose.

Especially in competitive fields or sales roles, we often see words like “hunter”, “ninja,” “cowboy,” “renegade,” “rockstar,” “superhero,” and “guru.” Regardless of intention, these kinds of titles connote a masculine image. If you are looking for a business development manager, say it plainly and use the description to elaborate on what that means to you and your business.

Similarly, overly aggressive verbs like crush, dominate, analyze, and obliterate can repel even the best female candidates who are more conditioned and motivated to collaborate or conquer in less obvious ways.

Another area for caution is with highly superlative adjectives like expert, superior, and world-class. While some women may fit these descriptions, they would be hesitant to admit that about themselves. Women are much less likely to boast about or inflate their accomplishments and many studies show that even high-achieving top female executives suffer from an unmerited imposter syndrome.

Real Benefits:

What you say and the language you use is important, but equally important is the kind of culture you present to attract top talent. Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives are more than just a passing fad, but rather a tectonic shift in today’s workplace. As you write about what kind of company you are creating and the benefits you offer, consider highlighting the following aspects:

  • Core values: If you have them (and actually live them), mention them in a job description. Candidates today are looking for more than just a position, but rather a culture fit and a mission they can align with and believe in.
  • Family-friendly benefits: Do you offer generous parental leave or subsidize child care? Is your healthcare better than average and does it acknowledge and assist in family coverage needs? Do you have flextime or remote work options? These are the kinds of incentives that really move the needle for working parents, and especially women. Highlight these kinds of benefits that go beyond mere salary level.
  • Company commitments: Many companies have volunteer opportunities, mentoring partnerships, or other kinds of non-profit allegiances. These kinds of programs can help your company by attracting candidates with big vision and a desire to give back. Similarly, if your organization has made a public or official commitment to DE&I programs or initiatives, mention it. Show that your company is about more than the bottom line and you will attract talent that resonates.

At Core Ventures, we are consistently challenging our clients to consider candidates who stretch their perceived need. We outline the parameters of the ideal fit, but also push on the “nice to haves” and encourage them to look for people who will strengthen their organization through different experiences and characteristics.

All of this is made easier when we start with job descriptions that don’t eliminate potential candidates before we even start the interview process. As you craft job descriptions, consider how they would read to men and women alike. Remove language and details that limit your options prematurely and be open to individuals who differ from your perceived ideal.