Picture of a job description on paper

The Language of Job Descriptions and What They Say About Your Organization

Words matter, and if there has ever been a time when that’s evident — that it isn’t just what you say, but how you say it that matters to people — that time is now.

In an era of tremendous turnover and skepticism from potential job candidates, the image employers create for themselves and how they maintain their reputation comes through in everything they put out into the world. Candidates are in a position where they can be hypercritical and willing to wait or move into entirely new industries rather than take a chance on an employer that they don’t believe they’d be happy with.

There’s no shortage of resources providing advice on how to word your job descriptions and postings to be more inclusive and ensure that you’re not pushing away diverse candidates before the conversation has even started. But beyond getting your job descriptions right to ensure they aren’t discriminatory or biased, it’s important to think about what they say about your organization to the discerning eyes of job seekers.

READ: Tips for Creating Inclusive Job Listings – From an Executive Recruiter

First Impressions Are Everything

The job description is often the employees’ first interaction with your organization. They can do a quick search using Google or LinkedIn to find out all they need to know about your executive team, and Glassdoor can provide them with some insight into what your culture is like. However, the only way they’ll typically make it that far is to have a good impression after reading your job posting and the description of your company within.

To do this, you’ll want to be aware of hidden cues that job seekers may be consciously or subconsciously aware of. Whether you realize it or not, you reveal hints about your culture and needs within your job description, particularly what is and isn’t negotiable. You’ll want to be clear and intentional with your use of words like “required” and “must-have.” If it isn’t a must-have, don’t use that terminology as you’ll be turning off or discouraging a potentially ideal candidate.

If your description is full of requirements and must-haves, it could lead the candidate to believe you are searching for a superhero rather than a human being. They’ll quickly conclude that you’ll also have expectations of them befitting a superhero and move on to another more attainable job listing. For organizations whose scores on employer-review sites are less than flattering, this is a particularly big mistake as even those willing to put up with a lot will be turned off when combining criticism regarding your company culture with an unreasonably long list of requirements.

In your job listings, words like “collaboration” and “creative” will allude to your company’s culture, but the tone will matter as much as anything else. Be creative when describing office culture and use conversational language if you’re trying to convey your commitment to morale. This section is also the perfect place to re-emphasize your commitment to diversity in your language.

Just remember, being fun or cute with your language can backfire just as easily as it inspires. In recent years, companies have had to learn hard lessons around terms like “ninja” or “rock star” and saying an ideal candidate will “dominate” or be “outspoken.” This sort of gendered or coded language will not inspire faith that your organization is inclusive or progressive in its views of the employee experience.

Be Careful With Titles and Experience Expectations

You may want a seasoned pro, but your ideal candidate may sometimes have high-quality experience at a relevant competitor, even if it amounts to fewer years with a specific title. If you’re hiring for a role that is newer or didn’t exist 10 years ago, you’ll want to be inclusive in your thinking around who can do that job, what sort of skills are really required vs. preferred, and what sort of life and professional experience will be most relevant.

Titles will vary by organization and can make the role unclear for the applicant. It’s important to note where the position exists in the organizational hierarchy so your target audience doesn’t fear being unqualified or may be taking a step backward.

If you get these things wrong, you may limit your talent pool by inadvertently discouraging candidates from different backgrounds from applying or, worse, give candidates the impression that the organization is out of touch with the times and possibly even mismanaged.

READ: DiversityInc’s Recruitment and Hiring Playbook: 5 Essential Steps for Improving and Promoting Diversity and Brand Equity

The Truth About Your Job Descriptions

In organizations of substantial size, the odds are that your job descriptions have gone awry somewhere, be it an overly templatized style, out-of-date language or gendered terms. More trouble: perhaps the job posting is asking for all the wrong things from a candidate for what they’ll actually need in the job.

Any of these common mistakes don’t make your organization a bad place to work, but they do reduce your chances of attracting the talent you’re looking for. You’ll want your job descriptions to convey your organization’s identity without scaring prospects around culture, work-life balance and the expectations you have for skills and experience. Carefully scrutinize the tone, voice and messaging in the listings and incorporate your marketing team where you can to ensure your job postings are in line with your company’s brand identity.

Want to see examples of inclusive job listings? Visit the DiversityInc Job Board!

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