10 ways to make job descriptions more holistic and accessible

a laptop sits on a desk with a bouquet of dried flowers, a cactus and a a cup of pencils on either side of it. A job description is shown on the laptop monitor.

We’ve reached an exciting milestone: with over 100 clients to date, we’ve produced upwards of 150 opportunity briefs (job descriptions) to attract candidates.

We are appreciative when job seekers and colleagues alike trust us to receive their ideas, and open our eyes to ways we can improve a candidate’s first experience with us. More often than not that first experience is with an opportunity brief hot off the press into an inbox.

So how do we develop opportunity briefs that help foster trust between us, candidates and our clients?

We tend to edit our work with multiple lenses, and consider: “who is this speaking to?’ “Who is this not speaking to?” “What barriers might we be upholding with the language we use, or the credentials we ask for?” “Are we giving candidates a clear and honest look into the organization’s culture and values?” “What might a candidate ask after reading this? What are we hiding?”

Today we share 10 suggestions for HR managers to help make job descriptions more contextual, clear and accessible for applicants:

  1. Articulate where your hiring organization is on their journey to undo systemic inequities and create healthier workplace cultures for historically excluded communities. This way, interested candidates can fairly assess an opportunity and know what to expect when considering an employer. To create more equitable opportunities, many organizations are designating positions for members of marginalized communities. We recommend including a Statement of Intention that speaks to two things. The intention an employer has (why hiring with an equitable lens matters and why they have pursued it now), and the efforts they are making to ensure a sense of belonging for new contributors.

  2. “Truly understanding the human behind the resume, and what motivates them, has become more crucial than ever,” Nzingha Millar shares in the blog Humanizing the World of Recruiting. “A values-aligned search begins by gaining an understanding of the hiring organization, the team and its culture.” Sharing organizational values and behaviours in the job description helps candidates determine alignment with their own values. Most people want to share values with those they work for, and according to a recent CNBC study, 56% won’t consider a workplace that they don’t share value alignment with.

  3. When possible, consider if the traditional qualifications listed for a role (ex: Master’s or Bachelor’s level education), are truly required to get the job done. The talent your company needs may not be backed by a degree. For example, our client Get Everyone Online (GEO) NS opted to highlight knowledge and skills over credentials in the searches we’ve conducted together. Doing so creates more equitable access for qualified candidates who may have taken alternative training or skills-development programs. Remember, an enhanced focus on skills does not invalidate degrees,” says DEI Company, Grads For Life  “it simply recognizes that some people have obtained certain skills through degrees and others have done so through experience alone.”

  4. Include the salary. Posting a role without a salary can push ideal candidates away (who wants to go through the recruitment process only to find out the salary isn’t in line with their expectations?). Secrecy around how much we make directly contributes to structural inequalities at work and our inability to acknowledge, and do something about them. (Read our blog Pay Transparency Drives Pay Equity to dive deeper).

  5. Like it or not the words we use are steeped in gender bias and slight differences in language like ‘managed’ (masculine) versus ‘coordinated’ (feminine) have an impact on how people perceive their eligibility and alignment with a job ad. We suggest using this gender coder.  At times, we have found that we’ve been gender-coding certain opportunity briefs with masculine heavy language that might not resonate with everyone.

  6. How often do you come across job qualifications that require ‘good verbal/oral communication skills?’ Almost always. But if you ask, “What barriers might we uphold by requiring this?” you might learn, that by requiring ‘good oral communication’ those with common speech disorders, cerebral palsy and/or other related disabilities might be discouraged from applying for the role. Just because someone’s strength isn’t verbal communication, doesn’t mean they aren’t a good communicator. Many use sufficient tools (like video-relay-devices) to communicate with colleagues and clients. Consider re-framing ‘good verbal or oral communication skills’ to ‘good communication skills’.

  7. Avoid industry jargon and acronyms that won’t be obvious to those outside your organization, even if they work in a similar field. Too much unrelatable language can make a potential candidate feel intimidated or like an ‘outsider’.

  8. In our blog 9 Shifts Employers can Expect in 2023 we saw that flexibility has been rated as the #1 perk an employer can offer (Criteria Corp’s 2022 Candidate Experience Report). In a job ad, be sure to include the flexible offerings that make your organization a great place to work. Whether it’s hybrid working arrangements, mental health days, or personalized solutions – candidates want to know they are valued and trusted to do their job.

  9. Prioritize web accessibility guidelines to ensure that job ads are compatible with screen readers and other software-based accessibility tools. This aids candidates living with disabilities to read job postings via a speech synthesizer or braille display, for example. Is the flow of content linear? Is content organized by headings? Have you chosen a text that keeps a wide space between letters? Are you using a colour-safe palette? No one person can know it all, so we lean on tools like  this accessible colour-contrast guide when we aren’t sure.

  10. What about after an application is submitted? Candidates are often left in the dark, waiting on a phone call that sometimes never comes. Try including a ‘What to Expect’ section so that potential candidates have ample time to prepare themselves for the process. Our steps often sound like: 1) If you are selected as a top candidate, expect a phone call with a Lead Placemaker from P4G. 2) Selected candidates will proceed to a virtual interview with the Lead P4G Placemaker and 2-3 organization representatives. 3) Finalists may participate in a second-round interview or skills activity (virtual or in person). 4) P4G will check employment references and assist in presenting an offer to the successful candidate. Providing this context helps candidates avoid anxiety and uncertainty and also lends itself to a more accessible process for neurodiverse applicants. (Shout out to Sally Ng for bringing this consideration to our attention). 

This list is not complete with all the ways a job opportunity can be presented more inclusively. But we’ve learned a lot over the past few years and wanted to share our  suggestions that have created clearer communication between ourselves and the candidates who make our work possible.

We know you have your own practices for making job descriptions more inclusive and accessible, so we’d love to hear from you! Share in the comments below. 

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