5 Reasons Your Job Descriptions Are Turning off Diverse Candidates


Your company is actively working to build a diverse and inclusive workforce, but you find that despite your best efforts, somehow, the majority of applicants who respond to your job postings remain white and male. You know there are talented, qualified candidates who don’t fit that box out there, but you’re just not attracting them. 

Bring them in by taking a closer look at your job descriptions. You could be turning away diverse candidates who read between the lines. Altering how descriptions are written is not a magic formula but it is a great place to start.

Here are five ways you may be losing diverse candidates because of your job postings:

Coded Language

“Excellent English skills” may seem like a simple and basic ask from the employer side. However, it can be read as a jab aimed at those not Ivy-League educated. People who have worked hard to become proficient in a second language but retain an accent might interpret it as a message that “non-native speakers need not apply.”  

Think about how crucial “proper” English or English as a first language really is or is not to the position, and focus instead on the actual skills required to do the job. With careful evaluation of the position, you might realize you really need someone with excellent people skills or phone skills.  

Educational Barriers

Requesting alumni of top-tier universities apply, or using verbiage like “Looking for MIT grads!” can slam the door in the faces of perfectly well-qualified candidates who may not have attended prestigious (and mainly white) schools. Likewise, specific degree requirements can keep numerous applicants with relevant skill sets out of the running. Place “or equivalent skills or experience” next to your education requirements and clarify what type of experience you consider “equivalent.” 

Lengthy Laundry Lists

A long list of “requirements” can turn off diverse candidates who may have had barriers in their way. Instead of credentials, focus on the results or goals you want to achieve in that job, and whether a candidate can deliver. By making qualifications for the job center around performance instead of checking off boxes on a list of must-haves, you open the door to a more diverse pool. You can always list some of those items as “helpful, but not required” to encourage respondents who are eager to learn and grow.

Outdated Terminology

Using dated terms could indicate your office isn’t forward-thinking or concerned with true inclusivity. For example, if you talk about your office culture as including traditionally masculine activities and refer to employees as “comrades in arms,” it will feel decidedly “bro-ish.” 

In database-related fields, old terms like “master/slave” clusters were often used when referring to expertise in software architecture. Follow the example set by IBM and Microsoft by replacing such language with “primary/replica.”

Lack of Transparency

Be clear about your needs and offerings from the beginning. Failing to provide clarity about applicant needs could mean your best potential candidates don’t even reach out.

Trying to build a diverse, inclusive workplace can be a challenge when the right candidates don’t feel motivated to apply. Make sure your salary range is clearly stated (as many diverse candidates won’t touch a job requiring salary negotiation). Also clarify the start date. Your perfect candidate may not have time to wait around for a job to begin, and could be looking for job listings that clearly inform them of when their first paycheck can be expected.

Overall, seek to avoid the above problems when writing your job descriptions, and instead focus on three main goals:

  1. List job responsibilities clearly. Focus on performance and achieving objectives over arbitrary requirements and qualifications.
  2. List work hours, pay, and benefits upfront. Diverse candidates don’t have time or patience for guessing games or jumping through multiple hoops.
  3. Describe the typical work experience with transparency. Inclusivity begins with honesty. Include your commitment to a diverse workplace.

Look to employees already in your company to find out what makes working there worth it. Then create a job description that is honest, forward-looking and transparent about your desire to make your business an inclusive, diverse space.