How to Write Job Descriptions and Scope Job Requirements to Cast a Wider Net

February 22, 2022
6 minutes

If you’re striving to create a more diverse and inclusive workforce, it’s discouraging when your job posts fail to yield a diverse candidate pool. At first, you might even be confused. If your job postings are straightforward and conventional enough to appeal to any qualified candidate on the market, why aren’t they attracting more diverse talent?

The truth is, even when they try not to, many employers include exclusionary language in their job descriptions. Often, they’re unknowingly deterring people from applying.

In fact, according to our data, 50% of underrepresented job seekers see exclusionary language in job descriptions. And that means millions of employers have work to do.

But, as someone involved in hiring, it can be challenging to identify what’s driving prospective applicants away or how you can create more welcoming and inclusive job postings. To help you overcome these hurdles, we invited two experts to share their guidance on a recent edition of our Book Club Action Series.

Today, we’re sharing a few highlights from the event:

How Candidates are Shrinking Their Candidate Pools and Creating Barriers

According to the experts and our research, employers commonly include four things in job postings that diminish their candidate pools and dampen applicants’ confidence:

1. High degree requirements

Many hiring pros are accustomed to including educational requirements in job postings. But indicating that you require (or even prefer) a bachelor's or advanced degree sends a signal that you won’t hire anyone who hasn’t completed that level of education. Instead, consider including only the lowest degree requirement or, better yet, remove educational requirements altogether.

2. Years of experience

When an employer includes an experience range in their job postings, candidates tend to focus more on the end of that range. For example, if a job description declares the employer is seeking someone with “3 to 5 years of experience,” those with only three years of experience may feel under-qualified. As with educational requirements, we recommend you stick with the minimum or delete it entirely. Doing so will help you focus on candidates’ strengths and proficiencies.

“Removing years of years of experience and degree requirements can cause a little bit of angst initially, as people get accustomed to that change,” says Amy Keith, Talent and Acquisition Manager at Snagajob. “But it's made us a much better organization because now we’re consistently challenging our hiring managers to look at competencies and capabilities.”

3. Preferred skills

If something isn’t essential to the position, it’s not worth including — and that goes for those “nice to have” skills lists too. Often candidates see preferred qualifications as necessities, and if they aren’t proficient in those areas, they might assume it’s not worth applying.

And data supports this. According to Harvard Business Review, 78% of the time that women choose not to apply for a job, it’s because they believe listed qualifications are explicit job requirements. In other words, if they don’t meet all the listed requirements and preferences, they typically won’t apply. 

4. Subjective and vague language

Ambiguous terms like “fast-paced environment” aren’t just confusing and off-putting, but they’re also subjective. Instead, it’s best to stick with clear descriptions and concrete job requirements.

Here are a few examples of vague, subjective, and unnecessary language employers often include in their job postings:

  • Gender-charged words like “aggressive,” “dominant,” “assertive,” and “competitive” may signal a workplace isn’t gender-neutral or welcoming to people from all genders.

  • Corporate cliches and jargon like “move the needle,” “roadmap,” or “above the fold” can be difficult for people to understand if they’re coming from a different industry or if English isn’t their first language.

  • Exclusionary terms and words like “guru,” “insane,” or “junkie” can be distasteful and derogatory.

As you compose your job postings, it’s important to remember the language you use has a profound effect on how a job seeker will proceed, or if they’ll proceed at all. George Walker, Chief Equity Officer at Planned Parenthood, likens prospective applicants to firefighters assessing whether it’s safe to enter a room. “When a person who works for the fire department is going through a house, and they're checking different rooms, one of the first things they do is touch the door to find out if it’s hot,” he explains. “If the door is hot, there's one way they enter. If it's cool, there's another way they enter. And you have to think of all your future employees as people who are touching the door.”

Scoping Job Descriptions

In addition to focusing on essential skills and experiences, as suggested above, here are three more tips for scoping job descriptions in a way that casts a wider net:

  • Set clear expectations
    Be explicit about who the chosen candidate will be reporting to, the benefits they’ll receive, and the salary range. Remember: vague language will only drive applicants away.

  • Emphasize your diversity commitment
    Don’t simply copy and paste a boilerplate equal employment opportunity statement or add your diversity commitment as a footnote like an afterthought. Emphasizing your diversity commitment at the start through a personalized statement will show applicants your organization genuinely values a diverse and inclusive workforce. Plus, it helps get candidates excited about applying.

    “We framed our EEOC statement to let people know that, yes, we're doing this because it's the right thing to do, but it also benefits our company, our customers, and our products,” Amy says. “It's making all of us better.”

  • Be concise and accessible
    Write in a conversational tone, remove biased terms, use accessible language, keep text between 500 and 750 words, and remove redundant or complex words. (The Mathison Bias Scanner can help you by flagging problematic words and phrases.)

Additionally, give yourself plenty of time to work through these steps.

George points out that although we’re living in a time when employers need hiring teams to move quickly, speed can be an enemy to your diversity goals. If you want to attract a more diverse talent pool, you need to slow down and reflect, or you’re liable to make mistakes.

“Whenever you're in a time crunch, I would urge you, more than any other time to pause,” he says. “Make sure you're looking at a rubric through which you're asking why, what is it you want to do, and how it’s going to land.”

Amy agrees and notes that leaders should recognize the value of slowing down and get it right. “If it's not a priority, we're missing out on talent,” she says.

And amid the Great Resignation, when as many as half of the workforce may be looking for a change in the year ahead, anything you can do to broaden and deepen your talent pool will be well worth the effort.

Want to hear the full conversation? Watch the on demand webinar now.

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