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‘Duties may vary’: Outdated jargon in job postings is turning off candidates

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April 5, 2023
By Todd Humber

A help wanted sign. Photo: Adobe Stock

In the delicate dance to attract workers, language matters — a lot. A recent survey from Randstad Canada found that word choice in job postings and descriptions is often an obstacle in attracting candidates.

Eight out of 10 jobseekers said they were turned off by job postings with certain terminology, with common phrases like “duties may vary,” “must be willing to take on leadership responsibilities” and “industry specific experience is a must” raising red flags among many, according to the Ipsos Advice For Attracting Job Seekers survey.

“Words matter. In this day and age it is very important to ensure that you are using words carefully to attract and retain the right candidates. Employers and companies need to take a more modern approach and ensure that they are favorably representing their organization and attracting the right candidate,” said Nick Montesano, executive vice-president of Central Region at Randstad Canada.

‘We are a family’ problematic for young workers

Job postings with predictable catchphrases, like “we are a family,” had younger candidates running for the hills, the survey of 1,500 Canadians found.


And candidates of colour thought twice about applying to organizations that didn’t mention a diverse, equitable workforce.

“Like a dating profile, a job description is all about making a good first impression,” said Montesano.

Pay transparency

More than half (51%) of candidates were less likely to apply for a job that didn’t mention a salary range. Nearly as many want to know the location of the workplace/office (47%) and information about the company/culture (42%). Salary range is particularly important to professionals (58%) and women (55%).

“Employee mindsets are evolving as they are looking for employers who are transparent with their hiring practices, especially with salaries,” he said. “Many applicants do not even apply for jobs that do not have a listed salary or salary range. Job market trends suggest that millennials in particular are very open about their compensation. Most employees believe that if a company is not listing a salary, it is because they may be trying to underpay, which may not be true.”

By sharing this information up front in the job description, employers can save a great deal of time and energy for both their internal HR team as well as the potential job applicant, he said.

“Too many recruiters spend time and resources conducting extensive interviews only to find out that the salary range is not compatible with the candidate’s expectations,” said Montesano. “Revealing the salary range in the job posting means only applicants comfortable with the salary or salary range may apply, saving you time and hiring costs.”

Using AI to write job descriptions

Some organizations might be tempted to use artificial intelligence, such as ChatGPT, to help craft the perfect job description.

“In theory, it seems like a great idea, leveraging the power of big data and artificial intelligence technology to help with such a task, pulling from massive sources of data to build a ‘perfectly’ written output,” he said.

But there are some pitfalls to that approach, because AI uses all the data available to it — both good and bad.

“And if that data is biased or flawed, (it) could perpetuate that flaw or bias,” he said.

“While AI and tools like ChatGPT can be helpful in some circumstances, AI has its limitations, either guessing at probable answers or using flawed data with bias from the historical past, which will continue to repeat the bias into the future.”

Photo: M Einero/peopleimages.com/Adobe Stock

Tips for employers: Attracting and retaining talent

Montesano provided the following tips for employers to help find the right candidates:

Know what you’re looking for now: Think about all the elements of your organization, what you do, what you need, your corporate culture — everything. Start with big picture thinking, and then drill down to specifics. What are the specific skills that are must-haves and which are nice-to- haves? Base your job description on the actual role and the capabilities of the people already doing it. Once you identify your ideal candidates, start marketing your role where they “live.”

Diversify how you search for candidates: You never know where you might find great candidates. Not everyone hangs out on the same platform. Step outside of the box, and look for talent everywhere. You might just find a gem that you would have overlooked by sticking to the same old recruiting grounds.

Look at job boards, recruiting firms, your internal networks, passive candidates, in-house recruiters, and referrals from colleagues. Leave no stone unturned. Successful hiring depends on a marriage of technology and the human touch to make you immune, regardless of whether the candidate pool is shrinking or expanding.

Be proactive, not reactive: Make a habit of identifying current and potential industry, market and hiring trends, and understanding their potential impact on the availability of top talent. Counsel your hiring managers so they are sensitive to the hiring process and how yours might affect candidates. Candidates who survive a hiring process feeling bruised or dehumanized are unlikely to accept a job offer, regardless of how great it seems.

Hone your employer brand: The importance of your employer brand in attracting and retaining exceptional candidates can’t be overstated. Like your clients, prospective candidates do their research. They know which organizations they want to approach and which to approach only with a ten-foot pole. In other words, your reputation — good or bad — precedes you. Smart organizations leverage their employer brand so it does much of the hiring work for them. They know a positive, attractive employer brand describes a place people want to be.

I engage employees by being engaging: Employees are drawn to employers whose compensation packages are comprehensive and competitive. That’s not to say you have to offer the highest salaries in town; in fact, doing so is no guarantee employees will stick around if your idea of comprehensive doesn’t include things like employee assistance and benefits programs, flexible work hours, the ability to work remotely, and opportunities for career growth and development.

Look beyond salary and benefits: Times have changed. Organizations are judged by more than their comp packages. Of course salary is important, but it’s not the end all be all. After a competitive salary is reached, there are lots of other things employees look for. A company culture that’s inclusive and representative, that values and supports community and charity work, and provides opportunities to mentor and be mentored, team building events.

Things like these sweeten the pot and give rise to a committed workforce that takes ownership and recognizes they contribute in no small measure to organizational  success. People who are made to feel valued like that aren’t likely to jump ship anytime soon.

Flexibility is a new reality for employers: Many employers believed extreme flexibility, such as that afforded by remote work options, was a short-term trend supported mostly by pandemic needs. The reality is that job seekers and employees increasingly wanted more flexible schedules and work environments even before COVID-19. The pandemic simply sped up the manner in which employers implemented such solutions and made everyone aware that they could be offered and work well.

The changes must also be integrated for the long term and not as a quick fix for current needs or what is seen as fad demands from the applicant pool. It’s not enough to provide a few lackluster flexibility perks, either. Employees are looking for options such as the ability to move seamlessly and almost at will between remote and office working environments, flexible schedules that let them attend to work-life balance, and more paid time off.

More flexibility leads to higher-quality employees: When you do the work to create a flexible workplace, you can attract and hire better candidates. You’re also more likely to retain top talent, as good employees will leave a position if they find another that meets their needs and provides better flexibility.

The importance of corporate culture: Detailing corporate culture in a job description was the deciding factor for the majority of applicants — not having a clear organizational culture defined in the posting had more than 40 percent of candidates (42%) deterred from applying.

Company culture encompasses many things; it’s the organization’s core values and beliefs system. It’s how things are done and how people are expected to behave and communicate with each other and externally to vendors and customers. Company culture, while somewhat intangible, governs business in quantitative ways.

You may not be able to put your finger on exactly what makes an organization’s culture work, but you sure know when it’s not working or absent altogether. And in today’s world of work, employee impressions and experiences move electronically, literally faster than the speed of light. Try finding and attracting top candidates to a position in your company once word gets out and spreads like a brush fire that your employees are leaving in droves. Any business that doesn’t see the relationship between establishing a corporate culture that works and their bottom line is living in the dark ages.

No-one wants to spend the first few weeks of a new job disillusioned, disappointed and looking for the exit.  And unfortunately you won’t truly know if you’re a good fit for the company until you’ve worked there a while, but you can learn enough about it to see if it’s for you and move forward intentionally.

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