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Attracting diverse candidates: How not to write a job ad

Drafting a job ad is a fine art. It sets the tone for your company and demands distilling a lot of information into just a few short paragraphs.

Crucially, the care used in crafting a job ad also has a tangible effect on diversity goals. From the words you use and how they are interpreted by different potential candidates to whether a job description encourages or discourages applications, the nitty gritty of a job ad has huge sway over the diversity of candidates that may apply to any given role.

Our Diversity, Equity & Inclusion panel took a look at the impact of a job ad, best practice, and the potential pitfalls. Here’s our advice on how not to write a job ad to attract diverse candidates.


Choosing the wrong title

This is a simple point but an important one. To ensure jobseekers can easily search for your ad, use a standard industry job title that simply states the role, e.g. UX Designer or Marketing Executive. Avoid the temptation to spice up your job ad with titles like ‘ninja’ or ‘rock star’. As well as being largely meaningless, words like these are implicitly male-biased and run the risk of putting off great female candidates. Similarly, ditch gendered job titles like waitress, doorman or salesman in favour of gender-neutral alternatives.


A never-ending list of skills and requirements

Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg famously cited that women only apply to positions if they meet 100% of the requirements, whereas men will apply even if they only meet 60% of them. Further research by LinkedIn found this extra ‘self-screening’ by women means they end up applying for 20% fewer roles than men. 

The learning here is that honing down your skill list to the most important traits helps encourage more applications and a better gender balance of applicants.

Separate the ‘must have’ skills from the ‘nice to haves’ to create a focused job ad with broader appeal. Consider if certain skills can be acquired through on-the-job training – and if so, say so. Make clear what the primary skills needed are – the ones that will be used every day – versus the occasional skills needed just once in a while.

You should also pare down other requirements so jobseekers aren’t having to jump through unnecessary – and often exclusive – hoops. For example, question if a candidate really needs a ‘top 5 university’ background to be successful within a role. 



Using alienating language

Paying close attention to the words and phrases within a job ad can help minimise many types of bias, from racial bias, to gender bias, to disability bias, cultural bias and more.

Avoid phrases like ‘talk the talk’ or ‘walk the walk’ which can alienate disabled candidates. Be explicit about if it’s possible to work flexible hours, or work-from-home, as these options may be necessary for disabled applicants. Include a statement asking if a candidate needs any additional support during the hiring process with clear guidelines on how to request any necessary accommodations.

A job advert should never mention race or nationality – even within the context of skills. For example, stating a requirement for ‘native English speaker’ can put off applicants from other nationalities. Instead, try ‘fluent in English’. Similarly, purge phrases that imply a jobseeker should be a certain age, like ‘young and energetic’, ‘millennial’ or ‘digital native’ so applicants at all life stages feel welcome. Avoid comments on appearance such as ‘clean shaven’ which can alienate female or religious candidates.

Equally, watch out for gendered language creeping in. Descriptors like ‘assertive’ and ‘independent’ have male connotations, while words like ‘collaborate’ and ‘nurture’ skew towards females. Use neutral language wherever possible, making use of gender decoder tools to assess if your job ad skews either way. We like this free tool from Totaljobs, while Applied offers a similar paid tool.

Stick to clear, easy-to-understand descriptions and avoid using acronyms or in-house abbreviations. Recognise that corporate speak is a language grounded in historically white, male spaces and can therefore be alienating to other ethnicities and genders.


Skimping on the package details

Aim to anticipate the key questions different jobseekers may have about working at your company and answer them upfront. This helps to demonstrate your commitment to inclusivity and can help encourage diverse candidates to apply.

Be clear about policies like maternity and paternity pay, adoption leave and carers leave. Mention if flexible working is an option, if your company offers health and wellbeing support, and if so what these options look like.

Where possible, it’s also best to be transparent about pay and include a salary bracket rather than saying ‘salary negotiable’. This helps even the playing field between candidates, empowering groups who may feel less confident negotiating, such as women. 

Including a diversity & inclusion statement can also help demonstrate your commitment to DE&I goals. This is an important consideration for many of today’s jobseekers, with 76% saying they evaluate a company and job offer based on the diversity of a workforce, according to Glassdoor’s latest Diversity & Inclusion Workplace Survey.



Too much weight on workplace culture

Finally, focus on company values over company culture and actively seek those who will bring fresh perspectives and experiences with them. This means leaving behind statements about ‘Thirsty Thursdays’ or a ‘party atmosphere’ and re-focusing on the range and inclusivity of activities available, as well as the chance for new employees to have their opinion heard and enrich a company’s culture.


Interested to learn more about the steps we’re taking at Adzuna to create an inclusive working environment? Check out our blog: Seven steps for building an inclusive company culture.