Most job descriptions are less than inspiring. They are often written solely from the perspective of the company: here’s who we are, here’s what we want, blah blah blah blah blah. I’ve seen only a couple of job descriptions where the language really spoke to me and got me really excited to apply.
Writing job posts isn’t easy. It’s really important to be clear about what you’re looking for to both attract the right candidates and to ensure you don’t drive away potential candidates. Here’s six things to consider as you’re writing a job posting.
Be clear about the must haves and nice to haves
When I see a job posting with 20 bullet points it demonstrates that the company is unclear what their priorities are for the role. Be clear about what the mandatory requirements are and what additional things might be nice to have. We know that men are far more likely to apply for a job where they have some of the qualifications and that women are far more likely to self-select out, unless they have 100% of the qualifications. See: Why Women Don’t Apply for Jobs Unless They’re 100% Qualified by Tara Sophia Mohr in Harvard Business Review.
I like seeing explicit call outs to invite people with non-traditional backgrounds to apply and to tell the company how their experience could map to what they’re looking for. I also like the friendly language that Collective, a DEI consultancy, uses:
Not-so-fun fact: Research shows that while men apply to jobs when they meet an average of 60% of the criteria, women and other marginalized folks tend to only apply when they check every box. Think you have what it takes, but not sure you check every box? Reach out to us anyways. We’d love to talk and determine together whether you could be a great fit!
There are some jobs where a specific degree is necessary. For example, I’m not going to a dentist who is really passionate about teeth but didn’t graduate from dental school or isn’t licensed. However, sometimes hiring managers use a degree requirement as a proxy for certain skills. If you need someone who can communicate effectively through written English, say that. Don’t add an unnecessary requirement for a BA in English literature. I’ve observed that universities frequently post jobs with unnecessary degree requirements.
Post-secondary degrees can be seen as a proxy for race and class. Byron Auguste, CEO and Founder of Opportunity@Work said on NPR’s All Things Considered:
If you arbitrarily say that a job needs to have a bachelor’s degree, you are screening out over 70% of African-Americans. You’re screening out about 80% of Latino-Latina workers, and you’re screening out over 80% of rural Americans of all races,” he explained. “And you’re doing that before any skills are assessed. It’s not fair.
I love this language that Tile uses in a job posting for a Data Engineer: “Bring your whole self. Degree or no degree, let your work, passion for data speak for itself”.
Include the salary range
I wish more job postings included salary ranges. I anticipate that more companies will include this information in job posts. New York City recently passed legislation that requires companies to post minimum and maximum salaries for jobs in NYC. I get that it’s complicated, especially for global companies where compensation varies by geography. Hearing salaries that are wildly out of line with the job level and responsibility is a big red flag. Right now it’s a job seekers’ market so transparency on salary range saves wasting people’s time.
There’s a handful of tech companies that include salary information in job postings. Kudos to Honeycomb, DuckDuckGo and Bench for including salary information in their job posts. GitLab has a public compensation calculator. Buffer is a leader with salary transparency for all staff, really living one of their core values of transparency.
Call out to candidates in a way that speaks to community interests
A job posting should be a balance of what you’re looking for and what a potential candidate would get from working with you. I want to know why I should consider you as an employer (including what problems you’re solving in the world, your values and employee benefits), what I’ll be doing in this role, and the key qualifications that you’re looking for.
Dr. Dori Tunstall’s class Hiring for Decolonization, Diversity, and Inclusion in the Creative Industries was awesome (it’s being offered again in May 2022). She is the architect and catalyst for 3 successful cluster hires of Indigenous and Black faculty at OCAD U. Her model is so successful that many universities across Canada have copied it to try and shift representation within faculty. She stresses the importance of building authentic relationships in community (more about how to do this in the next post in this series) and how important it is to call out to people using language that speaks to their interests, not just the interests of the institution or company.
For OCAD U’s Black cluster hire in 2020, the job posting included language like “Black speculative futures, Black Hip Hop or other Black cultural aesthetics”. This job post went viral on social media and Dori shares that “a candidate cried when they read this call for job applications because it was the first time that someone was calling to the totality and wholeness of who they were as an intersectional person with a dominant Black identity.” This moves me and has set the bar high for an amazing job description. Can you write a job post that goes viral on social media or moves people to tears?
Use Textio to audit and improve your language
There are a lot of technology tools entering the market to help increase diversity or manage bias through the hiring process. My favourite software tool in this category is Textio, which is an augmented writing tool to help you write job postings that balances language that is traditionally masculine (outspoken, confident, direct, results driven), and traditionally feminine (collaborative, supportive, compassionate, friendly), points out jargon and problematic phrases effectively auditing all of your job posts. At Mozilla we required all job postings to be at a specific score or higher to be posted. I loved seeing hiring managers and recruiters react as their edits changed the Textio score for their job posts.
Even if you’re not using Textio, avoid using words like rockstar or ninja–iit makes you sound dated, silly and sexist. The subtle ways tech job listings exclude women and minorities has more examples. NCWIT’s Checklist for Reducing Unconscious Bias in Job Descriptions/Advertisements (PDF) has some more examples too.
Here’s a free web based tool for checking gender bias in job ads (thanks Marina Ivanović for telling me about this tool!)
Most jobs posts have templated language claiming diversity, equity and inclusion are important and that the company does not discriminate. However, in practice, there can barriers that are disabling for some candidates. These barriers can block people with disabilities from searching your careers site, accessing all the information on your careers site, and even submitting an application for a job through your Applicant Tracking System (ATS).
Here’s some questions to consider:
- Does the job posting for a non-manual labor job have a lifting requirement of 25 pounds?
- Is your ATS accessible? Specifically, can someone using a screenreader submit an application? Has a person who uses screenreader actually tested it?
- Do images on your website have alt text descriptions?
- If you have videos on your careers site about your culture, are they captioned?
- Are you clear to candidates about what the steps in the hiring process are and the timelines?
- Is it clear who candidates can contact to share their access needs or request accommodations?
The next post in this series
This is post 3 in a series of 5 posts on inclusive hiring. The next post in this series is about how to ensure there’s structure and rigor at every step of the hiring process so you can ensure your hiring process is equitable and fair.