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Inclusive Job Postings Are Clear, Hopeful

A woman in a suit smiling.
​Katrina Kibben

LAS VEGAS — Being a job seeker is tough. Hundreds of people can apply for a job that goes to one person.

"Job seeking tests our endurance; it tests our hope," Katrina Kibben, CEO of Three Ears Media and a recognized expert in writing effective job posts, told attendees Aug. 23 at the SHRM Talent Conference & Expo 2021 in Las Vegas.

"The job posting is the first instance in the job search that you as a recruiter can offer opportunity to someone else," they said. "You can be the person who prevents bias from creeping into a moment when a person is at their most vulnerable—because the job search is inherently vulnerable, and everyone will experience bias at some point looking for a job."

What Makes a Good Job Post

Job posts should be clear, above all. Anyone should be able to read the posting and be able to tell you what the person is expected to do, Kibben said. They advised dropping the trendy buzzwords and phrases like ninja, rock star and top talent. "Don't use words that do not have universal meaning," they said. "Ten people will say that 'top talent' means ten different things."

Make sure your "mandatory requirements" are really necessary. " 'Mandatory requirement' means the job can't be done without it. Not 'this is nice to have' or 'it would be great if,' " they explained.

Shorter is better. The ideal job posting is 250 words, they said, because that's the length of the average social media post and the length of most people's attention span. Don't roll out an exhaustive list of benefits. And don't over-explain.

If you're writing a job post for a role that's unfamiliar to you, don't guess about parts of the job or write things you aren't certain are true. That's when bias creeps in.

"The area where this is most critical is in job titles," they said. "All job titles are completely made up. That can put the job seeker and the recruiter at a disadvantage. Because if you don't have the title that recruiters or job seekers are looking for online, you won't find it. That's why 'ninja guru' does not work."

For example, office assistant and administrative assistant are basically the same job. But while 4,500 people search for the term "office assistant" each month, 80,000 people search for "administrative assistant." Which would you rather use?

Write the way you talk, like you're having a conversation, Kibben said. "When you write a posting, you should imagine sitting next to the hiring manager and imagine how they would describe the job."

Working with Hiring Managers

The initial conversation you have with your hiring managers about roles they need to fill will be the difference between good and great job posts. "You need this input," they said. "But you have to ask the right questions in order to make the meeting matter. It's magic if you get it to go well. This is the moment when you build trust."

They said the intake meeting is not a time to ask for a list of qualifications or requirements. "Lists are full of biases," they said. "Don't ask, 'How can we sell this job to a candidate?' Instead, ask, 'What is special about the team?' Don't ask, 'What are the ideal candidate traits?' Instead, ask, 'What do the best people in this role have in common?' " Kibben said.

They recommended recording and transcribing the conversations with hiring managers. "Copy and paste phrases from the conversation into the job posting," they said. "You want the post to sound like the hiring manager, not you."

Simple Tactics to Eliminate Bias

The traditional job posting structure is decades old, and its components carry bias. Here are some areas to consider:

Years of experience. Quantifying experience does not work when trying to qualify people, Kibben said. "I have been a CEO for the same amount of time as Jeff Bezos, but are we qualified in the same way? Obviously not. People with the same job titles do not have the same experiences. We should be telling people about the experiences they have had that would qualify them for the work, not the time spent under some made-up title," they said. Instead of asking for "eight years of X experience using Y technology," say "you'll use SQL to build a database that helps customers query their groceries."

College degrees. Getting a college degree is a privilege, Kibben said. They advised not asking for college degrees if a degree is not actually required. "Tell people why the requirement exists instead, such as what success will look like in the role," they said. Make explicit what it takes to thrive in the role.

Requirements. If there are not actually any requirements to do the job, say so, Kibben advised. "Say, 'No experience is necessary to do this job; we will teach you all you need to know.' "

They explained that candidates who do not come from privilege read a list of requirements as a barrier they have to overcome. "Every single bullet added is more likely to make that candidate think they can't thrive in that role."

Lastly, Kibben told attendees that the writing automation tools advertised to lessen bias in job postings can be helpful but will be useless without the right training and user intentionality.

[Want to learn more? Join us at the SHRM Annual Conference & Expo 2021, taking place Sept. 9-12 in Las Vegas and virtually.]


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