Do Your Job Ads Use Discriminatory Language? You May Not Realize They Do.

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The written word is an incredibly powerful thing.

That’s why the language of your job advertisements is so essential. One wrong word is all it takes to turn off the perfect candidate, so you really need to put time and effort into every sentence.

When writing a job ad, the first thing you need to consider is how you want your company to be perceived. What tone is best: friendly and conversational, or more corporate and serious? What general messages do you want the ad to send to potential candidates? Writing a compelling, honest job ad requires being 100 percent clear on your company’s values and culture. If you aren’t sure of what your company stands for, your candidate’s won’t be sure, either.

After you’ve decided on an overall message and tone, it’s time to think about the specific language you will use. You need to consider what kind of language will successfully portray your company values while attracting likeminded people, but also you need to avoid discriminating language. It’s all too easy to turn off certain candidates without even realizing it.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Remember That It’s an Advertisement

When you write a job ad, you’re selling something to your candidates. You must therefore treat your job ad in the same manner as you would any ad. Approach each sentence as sales copy, rather than a mere description of a role. You need to paint your job in an attractive light and keep the candidate’s attention. In the digital world, job seekers have no time to be bored. If your add fails to capture their imagination, they’ll go in search of one that does.

2. Keep It Human

Don’t write like a robot. If you’re going for a more formal tone, that’s fine, but make sure it reads conversationally all the same. Big paragraphs outlining requirements and job specifications are a surefire way to bore candidates.

3. Avoid Discrimination

There are a lot of ways your job ads can appear discriminatory through language — and you may not even realize it. For example:

Age Discrimination

Requiring applicants to have “at least six years of experience” in a particular field puts younger applicants out of the picture. That can be considered discriminatory. Similarly, some ads call for “newly qualified” people or “recent graduates,” thereby knocking older candidates out of the running.

Racial Discrimination

Consider the difference between the phrases “English must be your first language” and “must be able to speak English fluently.” The first one implies that only people from English-speaking countries should apply. The second one simply asks for people who can speak English well, regardless of when or where they learned English.

Gender Discrimination

It is surprisingly easy to accidentally use gendered language in job advertisements. Titles like “barmaid” and “handyman” are examples of this in action, and use of such gendered job titles will turn away candidates who identify differently. Similarly, words like “ninja” and “superhero” could be considered male-gendered words, whereas “bossy” and “feisty” could be considered female-gendered words. There may not be laws against using these gendered words in your job ads, but you’ll needlessly cut your talent pool in half by doing so.

Using “you” instead of “he” or “she” is a good way to avoid gender bias while also making your ad more personable. You may also want to run your ads through Gender Decoder, which scans your text for potentially gendered language.

Indirect Discrimination

The National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux defines indirect discrimination as when “a policy, practice, or rule which applies to everybody in the same way … places people who share your protected characteristic at a disadvantage.” For example:

There’s a clause in your contract which says you may have to travel around the UK at short notice. It’s difficult for you to do this because you’re a woman with young children. This clause therefore places you at a particular disadvantage. It also places women generally at a disadvantage, as they’re more likely to be the carers of children.

In the context of recruiting, an example might be advertising a job only in men’s magazines. You might not be explicitly discriminating against women with your language, but your choice of placement could be deemed to put women at a disadvantage because they are less likely to be reading a men’s magazine.

The next time you sit down to draft a job ad, keep the above tips in mind in order to attract the perfect candidates while simultaneously protecting your company and brand. Following these guidelines is only a starting point, however. You must put in the time necessary to understand your own company values and culture if you are to write a job ad that is clear, compelling, and honest.

Katie Harrower’s current title is marketing executive at Youmanage HR Ltd, but she has considering taking on “scribe” as her preferred choice.

By Katie Harrower