Inclusivity: it’s a word you’ve probably heard a million times before. In the context of recruiting, it means that candidates come in many shapes and forms, and you should make them all feel welcome. Of course, you can still choose to in- or exclude candidates based on their skills or knowledge, but the baseline should be that superficial factors don’t influence your decisions.
While you may be aware of that last bit, there are a few things you need to watch out for before the candidate even sets foot into the office for their interview. We’re talking about job descriptions! Everything starts here for the candidate, and there are a lot of reasons why they may or may not feel spoken to. It’s in your best interest to keep this first step in your hiring process as broad and welcoming as possible: after all, you want as many candidates as possible to apply, right?
Let’s dive in and look at a few factors that can either attract or repel a candidate!
1. Steer clear of so-called “gender-coded” words
Whether you realize it or not, language can be charged with gender, and it’s an important trigger in our decision-making. Seeing too many masculine coded words might keep women from applying to your job posting, and vice versa. You don’t have to tiptoe around them, but it’s good to be aware of the fact that they do matter, and that having too many may well have an effect on your results.
Here are a few well-known examples of words that are proven to be gender-coded:
Female-coded words: support, share, responsible, understand(ing), committed, interpersonal, feel, collaborate (or collaboration), connect
Male-coded words: strong, lead/leader, analysis, individual, decisions, driven, competitive, expert, objectives, principles
And here are some that aren’t coded at all:
Honest, hard worker, multi-tasker, fast-learning, resilient, self-starter, communicative, creative, expert, determined, accountable, … for all the ins and outs on this, here’s a blog that details quite a few tips!
2. Avoid racial bias
This seems like a no-brainer, but again there are a lot of triggers that can tell your candidate something about who you’re looking for. Even recruitment professionals who fully recognize the importance of inclusive job descriptions don’t always know about these. Here are some suggestions:
In the job description:
- Let’s start with the obvious: never mention race or national origin.
- Requirements like “strong English-language skills” can stop non-native English speakers from applying.
- A “clean-shaven” requirement can exclude candidates whose faith requires them to maintain facial hair, and indicates that the position is for men only.
In employer branding:
- Show as much diversity as you can in the pictures and videos on your website. Men and women of all ages and backgrounds, preferably not pictured stereotypically.
When reviewing candidates:
- Avoid the words “Cultural fit” in favor of, for example, “Value fit”.
- Limit referral hiring: you’re likely to get more of the same kind of people you already have.
- Don’t deviate from the qualifications and measure everyone to the same standard.
- Ask everyone the same set of interview questions.
These are some quick fixes that you can implement immediately, but of course there are many more measures that you can take to avoid racial bias.
3. Do not make your listings too age-specific
Would it surprise you to know that 35 percent of the workforce are people aged 50 or over? This has been coming for a while, as the retirement age keeps moving up and general health improves, and brings with it a problem for recruitment professionals. Because of course you can never pinpoint the exact ideal age for a candidate, but you may well have some assumptions about let’s say computer or language skills that aren’t always correct.
These older employees can bring your company something that younger employees can’t: they’re experienced and are often better at staying calm in stressful situations. They stay in jobs longer, are more loyal to their employers and take fewer days off. They’re also reported to have a stronger work ethic than many young employees… although that last one might be challenged if you tell it to your Gen Z employees.
So, some tips for attracting older workers: avoid the term “digital native.” Older workers didn’t grow up with technology like their younger counterparts, so this language may stop them from applying, even though their tech skills can be just as impressive. Another turnoff can be a company description that details the “party atmosphere”, maybe coupled with a website full of pictures of mostly young people. You don’t need to hide the ping pong table or informal atmosphere, just make sure that it’s balanced out with some more serious notes.
Some other typical turns of phrase to avoid if you want to attract older workers:
- “Young and energetic”
- “Work hard/play hard”
- “Athletic” or “athletically inclined”
- “No more than X years of experience”
- “Junior” or “Senior” except as part of a job title
Just like the non-gendered terms like the ones we spoke about earlier, try to think about what could be turnoffs to older candidates. This article does a good job in listing some of them!
4. Keep disabled workers in mind
When writing a description, keep in mind that some candidates have disabilities. You shouldn’t hide parts of the job that require physical actions or movement, but try to think about how it reads for disabled individuals. They can then assess for themselves whether it would be realistic for them to do this job. If the tasks include lugging bags of concrete up stairs at a building site then wheelchair users are automatically excluded, but perhaps they need to operate a forklift or use other types of equipment? In that case the disability may be circumvented.
There are a few ways to get around using exclusive language. If the job requires moving around an office to get files or items from A to B, don’t write “walking through the office” but write “moving”, as it’s more inclusive to wheelchair users. In the same sense, don’t assume everyone can hear and see equally well. If you’re looking for pilots then by all means ask for 20/20 vision! But if being able to see is optional like for, say, a psychologist job opening, then don’t use “see many patients” but “assist many patients” or an equivalent. As you can see, language is a powerful tool, use it with caution!
5. Limit your job requirements to “must-haves”
On that last note, you’ll notice that you start thinking about requirements differently: what are the precise baseline needs for the job? Studies show that women and men look at job listings differently: men will apply if they meet 60% of the requirements, while women will rarely apply unless they meet 100% of the listed requirements. This makes trimming down your requirement list a must! You don’t want to scare off a perfectly fine candidate just because they don’t meet one or two out of ten requirements. Do this and you should see the number of female applications go up immediately!
There’s also a way around this if you’d like to mention certain desired skills but not scare anyone off. Then you could still include them but soften the message using terms like “familiarity with,” “bonus points for,” or “if you have any combination of these skills.”
All of that being said, there’s a lot of benefits to not making your listing too long: job seekers only spend between 49.2 and 76.7 seconds reviewing a job listing before deciding if it’s a fit for them or not.
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