Why You Should Read Job Listings Extra Carefully Before Deciding Whether You're a Fit to Apply

Your subconscious could tap into key indicators of company culture, but it could also hold you back from your dream career.

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By Lydia Belanger

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Each edition of this Women Entrepreneur series, Behind the Numbers, presents a stat about a disadvantage women face in work and in business, examines the dynamics at play and provides guidance to help women overcome obstacles.

Many companies find that extra effort is required to hire women and achieve a gender balance. They consciously have to work against the current of gender bias: Recruiters actively seek more women candidates, hiring managers actively select those candidates for interviews and, ultimately, extend them offers.

Even if they hope to attract women candidates, recruiters often find that their inboxes fill with resumes mostly from men. But there's one aspect of hiring that strongly influences the gender of applicants: job descriptions. When a hiring manager crafts a job listing, they might not be aware of how the language they're using can entice or deter certain groups of potential applicants.

A ZipRecruiter study found that descriptions with gender-neutral wording get 42 percent more responses than those skewed male or female. And Textio, a tech platform that helps companies gender-neutralize language for job listings and internal communications, has helped companies, such as Evernote, attract 25 percent more women applicants, as well as, Johnson & Johnson attract 90,000 more women applicants in just one year. Textio's customers find that gender neutral language in job listings fills the openings two to three weeks faster on average.

Authors of a 2011 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology point out that "Women and men, for example, may equally like and desire an engineering job, but highly masculine wording used in the advertisement reduces women's appeal of the job because it cues that women do not belong." The study cites some examples of masculine language, such as "competitive" and "dominant" versus "support" and "understand."

One example Textio CEO Kieran Snyder provides to illustrate how language affects job applicant pools is the difference between the phrases "manage a team," "develop a team" and "lead a team." Listings that specify that the person selected for the role will "manage a team" attract more men than women, on average, while "develop a team" attracts more women than men. "Lead a team" tends to attract equal numbers.

"You might be able to memorize "manage, lead and develop' in terms of their impact, but it would get really hard to keep straight the millions of phrases that can have an impact, statistically," Snyder says. "Not only that, [the phrases] change all the time, because language is not a static system." Textio's platform uses scientific measures to gender neutralize language by using words that have statistically shown to draw more balanced candidate pools, not words that merely "seem" masculine or "seem" feminine, according to Snyder.

While it's not possible to recognize every instance a certain word is influencing your decisions and reactions, Snyder points out some common indicators that job listings will attract one gender in greater numbers.

1. Mind your bullets.

If a job post is mostly bullets, that's something that many women are turned off by. Hiring managers often format job responsibilities or experience criteria in bulleted lists. "On average, if a job post is one-third bulleted content, it's a sweet spot," Snyder says. More people tend to apply, and both genders apply in equal numbers. But if more than half of the contents of the listing are bulleted, "you see a drop-off in the number of women applying," she notes. If less than a quarter of the description is bulleted, fewer men than women apply. Snyder acknowledges that "there's nothing intuitive" about this phenomenon.

2. Beware of these words and phrases, which demonstrate "fixed mindset" language.

People with a fixed mindset believe that you're born with all of your talents, Snyder explains. Keywords that might tip you off that an employer has this philosophy include "the best and brightest," "super smart," "high performer" or "top-tier talent." Job ads containing fixed mindset language tend to attract fewer women applicants and a lower proportion of female hires, Snyder says. In fact, job ads with fixed mindset language are 11 times slower to fill than those without this language.

3. Look out for "growth mindset" language.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, people with a growth mindset believe in constant, lifelong learning. You can learn to be more analytical throughout your career, for example, and a phrase that signifies a growth mindset would be "commitment to improvement." Snyder advises women job seekers to keep their eyes peeled for phrases like these, because jobs for which women are hired are twice as likely to have contained growth mindset language in the listing. "It likely could be an environment that has drawn more women to apply and to work," she says. These jobs also fill 1.5 times faster than jobs for which listings lacking growth mindset language. That rate increases to five-fold when phrases such as "learn new things," "highly motivated," "love learning," and "strive" are included.

4. Recognize that job listings are a window into company culture.

Although your decision of whether to apply for a job based on the level of gender neutrality in its description will be largely subconscious, Snyder says, "when job seekers read job descriptions with an eye to culture, patterns often reveal themselves." Textio has calculated that Uber uses the phrase "whatever it takes" 30 times more than the rest of the tech industry and "high-performance culture" 23 times more. Amazon uses "maniacal" 11 times more than average and "wickedly" 33 times more. As a job seeker, you might draw your own conclusions about what it might be like to work at a company based on word choice alone, be it in the job listing or beyond.

"I think job seekers are increasingly savvy, and they are taking a look at the way companies communicate with them to try to get a view into [what] the culture might be like when they work there," Snyder says. "Whether that's a job description, recruiting email, experience into getting interviews scheduled -- that communication tells a cultural story."

Lydia Belanger
Lydia Belanger is a former associate editor at Entrepreneur. Follow her on Twitter: @LydiaBelanger.

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