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Looking at Job Postings Differently

I’ve seen lots of articles out there about the way to attract a diverse candidate pool, and while there are some good points out there (i.e., stop writing them like you run a frat house), there are others that I’m just going to plain disagree with.

The big one? That if you want to attract more women and minorities, you have to stop asking for a certain number of years of experience. You have to keep it mushy, dumbing down the job in ways, to attract the underrepresented populations.

Total BS.

Y’all know I’m a recruiter. And here’s the thing I’ve learned after working in HR/Recruiting for 18 years: if you’re not clear about what you’ve gotta have in the job posting, you’re only going to piss people off when you decline them because you wrote the job posting in a way that sixteen thousand people will potentially qualify for the role, yet aren’t capable of doing the work.

It is perfectly okay to put a baseline out there of what you need – you just need to be able to justify it, and then – just as importantly -assess everyone who meets those technical qualifications on a level playing field.

You see, the problem is NOT in listing a certain number of years of experience, it’s rather the issue of not just knowing but admitting how many years a person REALLY needs to do the job. Same goes for educational background. When I meet with hiring managers, my first question is this: if they don’t have a degree in X, but bring 10 years of experience, are we actually going to automatically dismiss them? 95% of the time, the answer is ‘no’ – and we move that requirement into the “nice to haves”. Same with years of experience – if they’ve seen people be successful in a role with fewer years, then let’s open up the pool to more people.

What I have to remind managers is that people often take job requirements literally (why should we expect anything else?) – and unlike the articles out there, it’s not an exclusively “woman thing” when it comes to applying for jobs in which one ignores the qualifications and applies anyhow. As someone who’s not only recruited but also career coached individuals specifically on job search strategy, I see at least half of the people I talk to, of all genders, questioning whether they should apply because a company has listed 26 items on the “mandatory” list, and they don’t meet 2 of them. The problem is, most companies actually are describing their Unicorn-y Dream Candidate, and are often very open to talking to those who don’t meet all of their listed requirements…but candidates don’t know this because the hiring manager and recruiter didn’t put together an accurate job posting in the first place.

Too often, HR and/or hiring managers who need to write an ad will just look up other companies’ job postings online and think “well, that’s what those companies are requiring, might as well do the same” or look at how many years of experience other people in the department have, and put a range out there. They’re not actually going out there and doing the work to figure out what it really takes to be successful on the job, what can be learned on the job, and what the ramp-up expectation is for a new hire. And by they, I mean BOTH the hiring manager and the recruiter – it’s a partnership, and both should be working together to ensure the most successful hiring process.

And these poor job postings and lack of time upfront into what’s really needed is where diversity – and successful hiring in general – is affected.

Here are a few examples of mushy requirements that I am referring to:

  1. Manager A is a VP of Sales, hiring a Senior Account Executive, and lists “Bachelor’s Degree in Business required or equivalent work experience.” This tells me as an applicant that if I have a degree in business, I don’t need to have an ounce of actual professional sales experience, just 4 years of college, and yet you’ll bring me in at the Senior level.  I could have worked at McDonald’s and you’ll definitely want to interview me because I have the degree.  Wow!Problem is, that’s not how it’s going to work. Candidates are not going to get an interview for a Senior role at most companies without any actual work experience. Be clear – if you’re not going to interview someone who hasn’t done this for at least a couple of years, LIST IT AS A REQUIREMENT. It’s not discriminatory to ask for a certain number of years of experience, if you can prove why this is essential for the role. In sales, for example, an experienced account executive will have gone through the entire sales cycle with customers multiple times, and not only be able to translate this experience, but through this experience will be able to show the hiring manager what their revenue goals were, average sales cycle lengths, number of clients sold to, and provide a year-over-year comparison to how they achieved their goals. If you don’t need this kind of experience? If a degree is sufficient to do the job because you’ll teach them the rest? Cool. But don’t call the job a Senior Account Executive. Instead, title that job an Account Executive, and instead focus on growing and promoting from within. By the way, I’ll get back to this last part in a bit.

  2. Manager B is a Software Engineering Manager, hiring a Lead Software Engineer, and lists “Solid full stack engineering skills” as the first requirement, and “experience mentoring others” as the second. Um, huh? The first one is an insanely subjective requirement. I think it’s safe to say that anyone coming out of code school with an ounce of self confidence in their abilities, will say they have strong skills in both front- and back-end engineering. The second one could pertain to anything – helping your little brother with their homework, being a camp counselor, or yes, actually guiding less experienced developers. Based on this manager’s requirement, your recruiter would be examining every resume showing they know how to code and served as a shift manager at Starbucks. Is that what you really want? If not, don’t waste the candidate’s time – or your recruiter’s. If that is what you want, is this position actually a Lead Engineer?What does work for technical job postings like this? Talk it over with your recruiter and your team, and establish a baseline of experience that anyone in this role would have to have had to be able to come in and join your team, knowing what you know about the ramp-up time to be successful. Then build upon that – describe what KINDS of things they should be able to do. Years of experience isn’t the end all – it’s a starting point for clearly defining what a successful person in this role will bring to the table at the very minimum.

  3. Manager C is a Store Manager, hiring a retail salesperson, lists “diploma, with 1-2 years of relevant experience”. First, the term diploma. Since when does having your high school diploma mean you can or can’t work as a sales clerk? And with that, what about those with their GED? Are these individuals somehow not qualified? Second, explain to me why you are requiring ANY years of “relevant” experience for a retail, probably-close-to-minimum-wage, job? Are you not offering any type of sales or product training your employees? If so then explain WHY you need those 1-2 years. A better way to write that requirement, if it’s truly needed? “1-2 years of customer-facing work experience”. Knowing retail like I do, most retail managers just want someone with a good attitude, good work habits, and who’ll enjoy this type of work with the public. And the education portion? Unless you’ve got a good explanation – and are going to verify that education as well – leave it out.

  4. Manager D is a Chief Marketing Officer, hiring a Marketing Director, and lists two of the requirements as “Experience leading marketing teams” and “Highly proficient skills using Microsoft’s Office Suite including Word, Excel, Outlook, Internet Explorer and PowerPoint”. Okay, so how much experience? This is exactly the kind of mushy requirement line that gets you everything from supervisors to vice presidents applying for the job.  While you don’t have to add a quantity to everything, the first line of the requirements should indicate how many years of experience you know deep down is essential for the job (not your ideal amount, mind you – the ESSENTIAL, I said). My preferred way to rewrite these types of postings is to split up the function from the supervision, as many times in digging in with managers, it turns out the function is more important than the amount of leadership experience. So the posting could instead as for “10 years of progressive marketing experience, with at least 2 years directly supervising staff”. This way you encompass their career in marketing while ensuring candidates bring enough management experience to the table to lend credibility to the role. And for the second element? My question is, as you may have guessed, what does ‘highly proficient’ actually mean? People will self-select themselves out if they don’t think they are at the level they think you mean. What do they actually need to be able to do in Excel? Is this a ‘create a basic formula’ or are you asking them to do v-lookups and pivot tables? Why the hell are you calling Internet Explorer, a web browser, part of Office anyhow (not to mention something that isn’t even supported on a Mac anymore)? What is seriously so advanced in Outlook beyond basic emails and calendaring do you need them to be so darn skilled at? If someone isn’t doing hardcore analysis in Excel, but you want them to still know Advanced functions, tell me why this is a non-negotiable requirement.

So What’s Next?

Job postings need to represent not just what the basics of the role are, but what a prospective candidate should expect from the company. What’s the environment like there? What’s can someone in this role do to truly impact the business? Who will they interact with? Will there be opportunities for learning and advancement? How committed are you really to bringing in women and people of color?

There are a ton of other things you can do beyond the job posting that cost very little but can make a big impact. Here are a few:

  1. Create a Careers page on your company website that is inviting to EVERYONE. I’m always blown away at how you can click on “Jobs” on many company websites and it’s just a list of open positions, and nothing else. Nothing about the culture or benefits, no pictures of actual people beyond the executive team, no sense of why you’d want to come work there. I’ve had clients who’ve said it’d take too long for them to create, yet didn’t seem to have a problem spending months and months before engaging my services on trying to fill a position. So, what’s “inviting”, you ask? Here’s one super easy thing you can do with your cell phone: Take pictures of your team! No, not overly formal portraits, but candid snapshots of people in the office, at company and customer events, etc. Display rotating profiles of employees on the page, and of course make sure it represents your team’s diversity, from age to color to gender and more. I so frequently see company “About Us” pages showing just the executive team members – how is that representative? How is that “us”? And it’s not to say the executive team page is not important – it is. I know when a prospective new client reaches out to me to help them hire for their company, the first thing I do is check out this page. Why? I want to learn about their backgrounds, to see if there are any women and/or people of color on the team, and if there are, are the women just in Customer Service, Marketing, and/or HR? Is the sole person of color working in Diversity (or if in tech, do the only people of color happen to be men from ethnic groups already well-represented in the industry)? Ask yourself this: “Is a potential hire likely to look at the faces on your team page and feel that their application would be welcomed? These pages often just reflect management, not the broader employee base. And, they might also erase diverse workers who are present in the workplace.” (from 25 Tips for Diverse Hiring) Another? Talk about who you are, what you value (ahem – including a diverse workplace!), and how you take care of your employees. Ironically, a lot of companies put some of this on their job postings…but not on their actual Careers page. In 13 Ways to Attract a More Diverse Candidate Base, companies are reminded, “Different people value different things. Go beyond traditional compensation and focus on lifestyle compensation (for example, benefits that make candidates feel comfortable working there). Mention how the work helps others, what your family policy is, the makeup of your team or what you’re doing to make it more inclusive. The goal is to help candidates imagine being happy working at your company.”

  2. Do Not Rely Strictly on Referrals for Hiring Got a serious lack of diversity at your organization? Often it’s root problem is that nearly everyone working there came in through someone they know. While referrals are great for the overall candidate pool, your employees are NOT the hiring manager for the role and while they often can lead to qualified individuals, “Network hiring unfortunately leads to a less diverse recruitment, because most people interact with people who are “like them”. Therefore the chances of hiring people who are similar to the current employees are higher when practicing network hiring.” (International Society for Diversity Management). So, make sure your hiring team and recruiter(s) are sourcing for diverse talent – not just hoping your employees will find them or that a woman or person of color will suddenly find your ad on Indeed amazingly exciting.

  3. Get Involved in the Community! This sounds so basic, but is rarely done. I work primarily with tech startups, and so many of the companies in the tech industry seem to think that going to a few meetups or hosting usergroups and parties at their company is all they need to do to attract a diverse candidate pool. Sooooo not true. I have hired so many people who do not go to these events – and they are super talented individuals!!!

Remember that: Many networking events are held at night when not everyone is available – or interested! People have lives beyond their jobs. Respect that, and organize events at a variety of times, both on weekdays and weekends. Many industry events are targeted towards young, single white men (Microsoft Xbox brogrammer, anyone?). Many networking mixers are centered around alcohol – something that many people find of little interest (including myself – I actually pulled out as one of the founder’s  of a local women-in-tech group because they were insistent it be “happy hour”). Many of these aforementioned events are in places lacking accessibility and/ or flexibility – i.e., no parking, difficult bus access, no childcare (or in child-unfriendly environment, like a bar), or worse, charge a fee (hello event organizers, get a corporate sponsor!). — And with that, many, MANY people simply do not like big crowded networking events. Hell, I’m a recruiter and it takes a special amount of yoga breathing just to get my arse into most events – I only go to a couple a year, and only if I a) am speaking at it, b) have people I’m planning to meet there, and/or c) have a “job” to do there (stand behind a table, introduce someone, etc.). Honestly, I’m a one-on-one type of person, and I know I’m not the only skilled professional who’s the same way.

So with that, there are other ways to get involved in the community to increase your outreach to diverse groups! Reach out to your local educational programs, from community colleges to code schools to community education instructors. Reach out to nonprofits and other organizations whose main focus are the groups you are trying to reach out to. Go see them, speak at their career workshops, and invite these people to your company for tours.

And get involved with youth as well – along with getting them interested in your industry and your company for the future, I’ve found it a fantastic way to find summer interns, not to mention getting existing employees revved up and excited about working there. It’s also great team-building, and has a bonus of increasing your reach as an employer (not to mention killer PR)! In Portland, check out organizations like iUrban Teen, Oregon Tradeswomen, Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center, and the Business Education Compact, just to name a few.

And There’s So Much More…

Always much more to do to make our companies more attractive to prospective talent, more inclusive for all of those in underrepresented groups, and ultimately, because of these two things, brings greater success – and a stronger reputation –  to your organization.


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