Science of Work

Study: These kind of job descriptions are more likely to turn away women candidates

A job listing is the first impression you’ll give to a candidate of your company. As an employer, you want every qualified candidate to feel welcomed by your listing.

new study, however, has found that how you frame a role’s requirements can alienate and deter qualified candidates from applying.

Study: Job requirements framed as personality traits can be turn offs for women applicants

To show the effect of a job advertisement’s wording, University of Ghent researchers recruited woman job seekers to take a personality test, look at job ads, and rate the ads’ attractiveness. They found that women were less attracted to requirements framed as traits — “You are calm/not nervous” — than requirements framed as behaviors — “You remain calm in stressful situations” — when they held the belief that men would penalize them for being emotional or insecure. The researchers call these beliefs “negative meta-stereotypes.”

“Women may infer from a negatively meta-stereotyped trait that they would be assessed in accordance with the negative stereotypes recruiters hold about their social group. If this is perceived as a threat to their social identity, women job seekers would be less attracted to the job and refrain from applying,” the researchers said.

In a separate experiment, the researchers found that wording a listing as a trait would make a woman less likely to apply for a job. Thus, the researchers conclude that including rigid personality traits like “You are calm” as a job requirement “underlines that the way job ads are written may have a discriminatory effect even when there is no discriminatory intent.”

Why getting the wording right  in a job ad matters

In the early recruitment stage of a job hunt, candidates have little information to base their decisions on, so verbal cues within job listings take on an outsized influence. That’s why asking for a ninja or a guru for your next hire can deter qualified applicants from applying.

The bottom line

Everything — from how the role is framed to what words you choose to include — matters. It’s a reminder for employers to spend as much time crafting their job listing to get the wording right as they do with any other component of the hiring process.

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