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When you post a job on a job board or your company website, you’re hoping that the best people will apply. This saves you the work of digging for quality candidates or paying a headhunter to find one for you. But is your job description inadvertently discouraging some people from applying for a job they would be well-qualified for?

Turns out, men and women react differently to the format and language choices used to create job listings, which may ultimately impact their decision to apply for certain positions. Here’s what you can do to start removing bias from your job descriptions—and attract more qualified candidates to your organization. 

Long Lists of Requirements May Discourage Female Applicants

According to a frequently cited study by Hewlett Packard, men apply for a job when they meet 60 percent of the criteria, whereas women apply only when they meet 100 percent of the qualifications. And while some argue that this stems from a confidence gap, there are other possibilities. Many may have chosen not to apply because they viewed the requirements as just that—mandatory—and believed they would not have been hired without them, as opposed to reframing their expertise to overcome any experience deficits.

So how can you convince this likely talented pool of applicants to reconsider? Beyond encouraging women to apply when they reach 60 percent, there’s a more immediate fix that helps just about everyone: Stop making laundry list job postings.

When you’re writing a job description, there’s a tendency to list every possible task so that you don’t forget anything. But not everything is critical to include in your post. And some vital skills can be taught on the job. For instance, if your candidate knows HR system X, there’s a good chance she can learn your system—so stop making your system part of the list. Or divide your lists into “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves.” (But, keep in mind, some candidates will still apply without all the must-have skills.)

Gendered Language Can Put Off Talented Prospects  

Words matter more than you may think: A few choice verbs and adjectives could mean the difference between a pipeline jammed with the same type of applicant and a more level playing field. 

For example, social scientists discovered that postings in historically male-dominated fields (like engineering and computer programming) often included words that aligned more closely with masculine stereotypes, such as “leader,” “competitive,” and “dominant.” Female survey respondents took this as a sign that they would be less likely to belong and ultimately found the position less appealing.

As long as companies and professions continue to rely on gender-coded language, they’ll continue to steer away qualified candidates. And it may not even be very obvious choices. An analysis of hundreds of millions of job ads by augmented writing software company Textio revealed that the word “manage” encourages more men to apply than women, while “develop” is much more inviting to women candidates.

So what can you do? The answer isn’t just to strip out words like “manage” and “develop.” You need people to fill specific positions, and a vague job posting that says, “hiring someone to do something with people” will bring you a slew of unqualified candidates.  

But before you write “manage a team,” really think about whether that’s the right term. Do you want an individual that focuses on day-to-day management, or are you looking for someone to develop people and help prepare them for the next level in their careers? Those are two very different things, and choosing the right word will help you attract the right candidate.

By being careful in your word choices and eliminating unruly lists of qualifications, you can expand your pool of qualified applicants and find the person who will really knock it out of the park.

Photo: Creative Commons