New Research Shows the Power of Word Choice in Job Descriptions

When it comes to writing job descriptions, research has shown that word choice really matters–especially when it comes to connecting with female job candidates. Now a new report from LinkedIn offers details on the sort of word choices that can dissuade women from applying.

The report, based on surveys of more than 12,000 employees, 3,000 employers and analyses of billions of data points on LinkedIn’s own platform, finds that the word “aggressive” (commonly used to describe sales goals, the workplace or desired attributes) could discourage almost half of women from applying to a job. The research also shows that women are 16% less likely to apply to a job after viewing it than men. Currently, over 50,000 job descriptions on LinkedIn include the word “aggressive,” the company says.

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Here are some additional details from the report, titled Language Matters: How Words Impact Men and Women in the Workplace:

Using certain words in your job description will discourage women from applying to your jobs. 44% of women (and 33% of men) would be discouraged from applying if the word “aggressive” was included in a job description, and one in four women would be discouraged from working somewhere described as “demanding.”

Men and women characterize themselves differently at work. While the top 3 words for both men and women when describing themselves in a job interview were: “hard-working” (58% of women and 49% of men), “good at my job” (48% of women and 42% of men) and “confident” (42% of women and 40% of men),  women also prioritized terms that relate to their character to describe themselves in an interview, such as “likeable” (38% of women and 29% of men) and “supportive” (39% of women and 32% of men).

Both men and women think soft skills are their thing: More than half of women respondents (61%) associate the female gender with the term “soft skills” and interestingly, a majority of men (52%) associate soft skills with the male gender. Despite these findings, in practice, women are more likely to actively showcase their soft skills on LinkedIn, and men their hard skills.

When it comes to benefits, men and women want similar things, but women often prefer to talk about a role in the context of workplace culture: atmosphere, structure and benefits.  Positions that promoted flexible working (60%), working from home (30%) and additional medical benefits (45%) were most popular amongst women. However, flexible working is increasingly important for male workers as well (50% of men, only 10% less than the number for women).

Andrew R. McIlvaine
Andrew R. McIlvaine is former senior editor with Human Resource Executive®.