No matter what industry you work in, the first step to designing effective hiring campaigns is to develop job descriptions that will attract high-quality candidates. And while many recruiters focus on creating detailed lists of responsibilities and qualifications that accurately reflect a given role, new research suggests that hiring professionals need to pay closer attention to their word choices. According to a 2019 study from LinkedIn, men and women favor different words when describing their work experience, expressing themselves professionally and hunting for open positions. Taking stock of these linguistic preferences is essential to building a stronger and more inclusive workforce, but what specific insights should hiring managers keep in mind?
Key takeaways from LinkedIn's "Language Matters" study
To better understand how men and women react to different word choices, researchers at LinkedIn analyzed thousands of user profiles, press releases and social media posts related to job searches. The primary goal of the study was to provide a high-level overview of how language shapes professionals' perceptions and expectations about employment opportunities. Using this information, companies may be able to meaningfully adapt their hiring practices to modern audiences and create a more diverse candidate pool.
First, it's worth noting that both men and women positively relate to performance-based descriptors in job postings and during formal interviews. LinkedIn's study found that the top three words men and women use to describe themselves professionally include "hard working," "good at my job" and "confident." That said, women tend to prioritize terms that directly correspond to their character, such as "likeable" (38%) and "supportive" (39%), whereas men are more likely to focus on their technical skills.
Hiring managers who are trying to appeal to both genders should strike a balance between skills-based qualifications and individual characteristics when creating job descriptions. This approach can help ensure that talented candidates are not dissuaded from applying due to minor word choices. For example, LinkedIn found that close to 44% of women would be discouraged from applying to a position if the term "aggressive" was used in the job posting. One way to avoid this outcome is to incorporate more positive language whenever possible, like switching out the word 'aggressive' for terms like 'powerful' or 'strong-willed.'
Useful tips for crafting effective job postings
When it comes to crafting a balanced job description, recruiters should try to eliminate 'masculine' language whenever possible. This can not only help attract a higher volume of female applicants, it may also provide candidates with a more positive outlook on a company's working conditions and culture, according to research from Harvard's Kennedy School. For example, rather than mentioning that a position is 'high pressure,' recruiters can leverage terms like 'fast paced' or 'time sensitive' to get their point across without scaring away eligible candidates.
Another strategy is to make job postings more descriptive by including information that speaks to what an ideal candidate would look like, rather than focusing on educational background and prior work experience. Listing out relevant soft skills is a great way to make open positions more appealing to female job seekers and attract the type of personality profiles that will fit into your existing workforce. According to LinkedIn's study, both men (52%) and women (61%) tend to believe soft skills are gendered in favor of their sex, though men are more likely to emphasize hard skills during the recruitment process. Thus, incorporating these details into your next job description can benefit all applicants who are looking for inclusive employment opportunities.
Building a robust workforce takes time, patience and firsthand knowledge of modern employment trends. While linguistic preferences represent only a small piece of the puzzle, companies can meaningfully improve their hiring practices by paying closer attention to how their job openings are written and promoted.