As companies we try to attract the largest possible pool of qualified applicants.

The Job description is still an important tool to do this. Lately an increased focus has been put on crafting inclusive language (to not exclude applicant groups).

Have you ever considered that another part is missing to create attractive Job Descriptions to attract the widest pool of qualified talent?

There is a somewhat obscure bit of research that gives insight into what that missing link might be.

According to the survey, more than 60% of women did not apply after reading the job requirements.

What stopped them applying was the way job requirements were communicated and/or perceived. A lack of clarity was the reason, not a lack of confidence (an assumption perpetuated by articles like this Forbes one “Men are confident about their ability at 60%, but women don’t feel confident until they’ve checked off each item on the list.”).

Sidebar: A widespread belief, that women don’t apply because they’re less confident than men, is debunked by the survey and by research. Analyzing more than 200 studies, Kristen Kling and colleagues concluded that confidence differences occurred in adolescence. From age 23, differences become negligible.

Clearly communicating what a successful applicant should be able to do, sounds like recruiting 101. I agree.

Yet many JD’s could benefit from focused articulation of outputs instead of fetishizing skills, experiences, academics and personality traits.
That was certainly the case with a client of ours. Client is a financial institute hiring project managers to implement a new data compliance program.

They called us in, because of a rejection trend at interview stage. A disproportionate rejection of female applicants.

In debriefs managers talked about how they asked applicants Series 63 type questions given the nature of the role.

The data showed more female than male applicants from a non finance background, thus lacking a series 63 license or immediate knowledge of topics covered by Series 63.

Sidebar: The Series 63 (known as the Uniform Securities Agent State Law Examination) is a registered exam that is required of all prospective registered representatives in most of the U.S. states. It intends to measure knowledge and understanding of state law and regulations.
6 out of 10 managers was surprised at how wide the gap was between what they needed and what the applicants could offer.

You see, two new topics were added to the series 63 in 2016:
social media use and cybersecurity and data protection

Given this was a data compliance program, series 63 became “ shorthand” for someone who would be able to hit the ground running, managing this project.

Using our elicitation process with hiring managers we uncovered the fear behind Series 63. What managers really thought a successful candidate should do.

“Successful cross functional management of company and time sensitive projects.”

This became the anchor for the job description. Everything in the JD should (in)directly make the applicant say yes or no to one simple question:

Can you manage cross functional projects dealing with company and time sensitive projects?

This question was translated into outputs that replaced a long list of responsibilities:

Secondly we boiled the job requirements down to three points.

The bold in point #2 was added after managers and HR agreed that series 63 was not a dealbreaker and should not be treated as such in the job description.

Applicants who scored great on all points besides data protection knowledge (or had knowledge based on work in a non finance context) were not automatic rejections.

After 2 pilot hiring cycles the rejection rate of female (and male) applicants due to a perceived lack of project specific knowledge has started to drop.

Management of company and time sensitive projects became the deal-breaker. Series 63 a tie-breaker.

The process of shifting minds from “what does a good candidate have to look like” to “what must a good candidate do” is a missing link to make job descriptions more inclusive.

It helps:

  • Change views on “who is right for the job”;
  • Transferable skills be judged “apples to apples” ;
  • Trim requirements to core outputs, which in turn;
  • Help recruiters communicate and match applicants;
  • Avoid qualified applicants not applying due to requirement misperceptions.