Craig Wilson
Craig Wilson
Associate Director: In House

Articles From the Team

Can the choice of words used in a job ad affect the prospective employer’s performance and profitability?

According to a recent BBC article, the answer is yes. Why? Because the way a job advert is written determines who applies. If a job advert excludes a certain demographic or deters lawyers of a certain age, gender, or level, then a pool of talent is potentially overlooked and workplace diversity jeopardised; and a diverse workforce means better performance, which results in profitability. This seems pretty logical and straightforward: avoid the use of outdated language when drafting job ads. However, after reading the article in full, it’s perhaps not as simple as it seems (see 'examples')…

BBC article: ‘Why do some job adverts put women off applying?’

The article instantly caught my eye, outlining why “words matter” and how the way they’re used in job specs can influence how many people apply (and who applies).

The findings are from a specialist software company, Textio, who use augmented writing software to highlight terms within job adverts that come across as particularly masculine or feminine (then the software suggests alternatives). What the software or company doesn’t do is explain why certain phrases appeal more to men/women and/or exclude women.

Examples

The article provides some interesting examples where the choice of word/phrase can impact on applications:

  • In the sentence: “We’re looking for someone to manage a team,” the word “manage” is said to encourage more men than women, whereas using the word “develop” is said to sound more female-friendly;
  • Using the word “stakeholder” supposedly “serves as a signal to people of colour that their contributions may not be valued”;
  • Words such as “leader” and “competitive” are usually associated with male stereotypes, whereas words such as “support” and “interpersonal” are associated with female stereotypes;
  • Words such as “strong” or “dynamic” repel many candidates, although the company behind these observations doesn’t know why exactly;
  • Lastly, replacing the word “build” with “create” is said to achieve a better result

What about the format?

  • “[E]ven the format of a job ad can make a difference…analysis reveals that ads with lengthy bullet points detailing the role’s responsibilities will face a drop-off in women applying for the job.”

What this means for recruiters

The article makes mention of the companies attempting to use more inclusive language and wraps up to say that all of the above matters when it comes to ensuring a diverse workforce, which in turn yields better performance and profitability.

As a legal recruitment consultant, I regularly post job adverts to the BCL Legal, Totallylegal, The Lawyer, and Indeed websites, so I completely understand the challenges involved with drafting unique and engaging job adverts for every new role. If I – and others – can learn from the article, we’ll hopefully write more inclusive adverts and secure higher application rates.   

It also comes at an interesting time for the legal sector: women now make up the majority (50.1%) of solicitors in the UK (for the first time ever). It's interesting to note that this is my experience as an in-house legal recruiter: I regularly place more women in in-house roles - than men - at every level. While it's reported that partners in law firms remain disproportionately male, the in-house sector doesn’t seem to echo this. 

All-in-all, the article throws up some interesting and valid points for all recruiters to consider. How relevant the findings are to the legal sector, in particular, is unknown. However, any changes and suggested improvements are always welcome in what’s a hugely competitive market; with multiple companies and recruiters advertising and hundreds of job adverts posted weekly.   

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