Bias can affect the questions you ask in interviews, the resumes you choose, and the final hiring decision. It all, however, starts with bias in job descriptions. Look at a sentence taken from a job ad for a Technical Consultant. Can you spot anything biased about it?
“You are: a digital native with in-depth knowledge of Product Lifecycle Management systems.”
If you noticed the problematic area, great job! If you didn’t, no worries. At first glance, there’s nothing wrong with it. It clearly states whom the company is looking for. When analysed closely, though, it’s an example of subtle age bias, as we’ll explain later.
Bias Isn’t Always Obvious
The problem with bias in job descriptions lies in the language. More precisely, the language that, on the surface, is just fine. After all, you used gender-neutral pronouns and now look for a Chairperson rather than a Chairman. Sounds inclusive, right?
Unfortunately, some words used in job postings, even the innocent-looking ones, play into the unconscious biases of candidates and impact who sends an application. Or doesn’t.
Now, you may think that using gender-neutral pronouns and avoiding derogatory terms is enough. But bias in job descriptions can often be less obvious.
Hidden Age Bias in Job Descriptions & Losing Talent
Writing inclusive job descriptions and reaching your recruiting goals go together – whether you want to build a diverse team, or simply give yourself a chance to find an exceptional candidate. Paying attention to the language you use is therefore crucial, as it impacts who can picture themselves as a part of your team – whether a recent grad or an experienced candidate.
Particular wording may alienate people from different age groups and make them feel like they’re not what you’re looking for. A good job posting should use language appealing to a broad candidate pool to maximise the chances of objectively finding the right talent regardless of age. And you can’t do that if your job description subconsciously targets a specific age group.
Are You Subconsciously Deterring Groups of Candidates?
Nowadays, it’d be quite a challenge to find a job posting stating overtly that a company is looking for candidates of a certain age. However, such a preference is often nuanced. Let’s look at examples taken from real job postings and analyse how they might limit your talent pool to candidates from specific age groups.
A 40-year-old digital native?
Let’s go back to the example from the beginning of the post. A “digital native” is now a popular term and tends to pop up in job descriptions. In fact, just in July of 2019, the phrase appeared in 378 LinkedIn postings across the US. Although it looks innocent, its connotation is age biased. Whom do you think about when you hear that term? A 40-year-old? It’s probably not the first image that comes to your mind.
One generation specifically is referred to as “digital natives”, – and it’s Gen Z, who are currently between 9 and 24 years old. So, by stating you are looking for a “digital native”, you’re signalling that your preferred candidate is a young adult.
Yes, it can’t be argued that Gen Zers are more apt digitally. Many of them grew up in a highly digital world. That being said, you shouldn’t disqualify candidates based on their age, as they can be equally digitally proficient. And we’re not talking only about Jeff Besos or Bill Gates.
A candidate with mad skillz needed
The narrative is similar when your job description references mad skillz or bringing the hustle. Sounds hip, right? That’s the issue exactly. It sounds so hip that candidates of older ages may feel like they won’t fit into your company’s culture, as noted by Kieran Snyder from Textio during her talk for Harvard Business School.
“Well…maybe I’d apply for this job, but there’s something in the language that tells me I might not fit in at that company. I’m a 42-year-old woman; I do have mad skills, and I do bring the hustle, but I might not express it that way.”
Language evolves constantly, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with going with the flow. However, you should remember that using words and phrases that resonate with younger people might be a sign for someone from another age group that… they’re too old for you.
Ninjas, wizards & rockstars
Remember when a while back, there was a worrying increase in companies looking to hire ninjas, gurus, and rockstars? Although the trend has slowed down, it’s not gone with the wind. According to Resume.io research, just two years ago, these terms still appeared in a number of job ads:
– 849 jobs for rockstars
– 599 ninja positions
– 870 gurus needed
Quirky job titles may seem like a “cool” idea to attract people. But it begs the question – is the idea inclusive enough to work across all age groups? Certainly, no.
For example, 80.3% of Gen Zers wouldn’t apply for a “guru” job, followed by 74.9% of Millennials. Interestingly, you’d get the best chance at attracting candidates aged 35-44 – as 26.7% would apply.
Apparently, most people don’t want to be the next guru. And based on the data, using fun job titles doesn’t convince people from various age groups to apply for your job – minimising your talent reach.
Age bias in job descriptions can also deter older candidates
Although many examples of hidden age bias in job descriptions lean towards attracting younger candidates, it can also work the other way around. If your job description mentions an experienced or well-seasoned candidate profile, you’ll likely lose recent graduates.
By the same token, a job description containing jargon will have a similar effect. A Monster survey from 2012 noted that 57% of respondents would feel put off by a job description including jargon. So much so that they wouldn’t apply.
Not surprisingly so. Reading about leverage, bottlenecks or unicorns will leave younger job seekers confused and feeling they’re not the ones you’re talking to. Not only does it slow down your diversity goals, but it may also make you miss out on great rising talent.
Can Anything Be Done to Avoid Age Bias in Job Descriptions?
The task you’re up to is not easy. Unconscious bias is called just that for a reason – more often than not, we simply don’t notice it. The first step in dealing with the issue is to acknowledge that, yes, age bias can sneak into job descriptions written by the best of us.
Being mindful about the language you use will certainly help. However, it’s challenging to know which words are problematic. After all, how many recruiters are also linguists?
Luckily, companies can now use software designed with one main goal in mind – making people aware of the areas where language introduces bias.
Turn to software for guidance
With the advancement of bias awareness, we’re seeing an increase in companies creating software that can help anyone and everyone pay attention to how they write job descriptions (or anything else for that matter).
Companies such as Textio (the US) or Develop Diverse (Europe) give your teams access to extensive language data highlighting areas that introduce wording and phrases sparking bias of all sorts. That way, your employees can pause and decide whether they want to keep a potentially harmful section – or change it to suggested wording instead.
Following language patterns and data insights, you can optimise the language you use to maximise the audience you reach.
Remove Age Bias to Attract Candidates of All Ages
Mark Zuckerberg said in 2007 that “young people are just smarter”. The assumption is wrong as intelligence comes from many sources, but there’s a clear indication based on whom the job descriptions are targeting that, indeed, many employers believe that.
The goal of every company is to amass a talent pool of competent candidates. Some employers prefer that pool to be as big as possible, and some like to attract only the best talent. But no employer wishes to discourage great talent from applying in the first place.
The choice is yours; whether you opt for using the aid of data-based software or educate yourself and your employees to be more mindful. Either way – removing age bias from job descriptions will benefit your bottom line.