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Business And Careers

The Importance of Language in Recruitment

Language is a funny old thing. Seemingly harmless phrases can be saturated with hidden meaning. Study after study has found that this can put talented people off applying for jobs and halt their career progression in the process. Added to that, poorly worded job descriptions and job adverts can cost businesses money.

Let me give you a few examples. An advert stating the candidate must have “strong English language skills” may sound reasonable, but you may put someone off from applying who is a fluent, if not native, speaker of the language.

How about this one. A requirement that candidates must be “clean shaven” could put off candidates who have facial hair for cultural or religious reasons. This also suggests the recruiter is looking to recruit a male.

As I’ve touched on race and ethnicity, let me expand on this. The inability of employers to fully appreciate BAME talent is costing them dear. According to the 2017 McGregor Smith Review of race in the workplace, if BAME talent were properly captured by the UK’s employers, it could add a cool £24billion to the economy.

Sexist Language to Avoid

Job adverts can also be unwittingly sexist. According to one academic study, frequently used words such as: Ambitious, assertive, decisive, determined and self-reliant are seen as masculine. Women are less likely to apply for roles described this way, not because they feel they’re unqualified, but because they don’t feel they’ll fit the working culture.

Conversely, words such as: Committed, connect, interpersonal, responsible and yield are seen as feminine words. Use these in an advert and you may reduce the number of male applicants.

Remember Essential Job Details

A much more basic mistake employers frequently make is to miss essential details from an advert. If a role is available on a flexible basis from day one, say so in the advertisement. Staff have many different reasons for wanting to work flexibly and if you don’t say so at the start, you’ll be reducing the number of applicants your role will appeal to. Remember also to include details of parental leave.

Back in the days when I worked full time, I would always look at a job advert to see if childcare vouchers were part of the employee benefits package. This can be a deal breaker for employees with children under the age of three.

In fact, I once got to interview stage with a job. I asked the interview panel what the benefits package was like. This was a trick. It was their chance to tell me if they offered childcare vouchers or to say something about the pension scheme.

The lead interviewer was flummoxed by my question. After a brief pause, he said “Well you get a salary.”

As I had the one child under the age of 12 months, I took this as a signal that I wasn’t going to fit in. Not that it mattered as I was never offered the job!

Age and Physical Ability

Age is something else to be wary of. To be successful you want a diverse workforce and this includes having older and younger workers. Don’t underestimate the knowledge and experience that older staff can bring. Phrases such as ‘energetic’, ‘work hard/play hard’ and ‘digital native’ could be off-putting for older, more experienced applicants.

Another population to be mindful of are those living with disabilities. Individuals with disabilities may have a greater need to work flexibly so make sure your job description makes this clear. Likewise, phrases to avoid include ‘able-bodied’ or ‘bending and crouching to install equipment under desks’ (someone with a disability may not be able to bend and crouch, but have other ways to get under a desk!).

Main Language points to Remember

Having outlined what you should avoid, here are the main points to keep in mind to ensure your job advert is inclusive and attracts applicants from diverse backgrounds. Firstly, make sure essential details such as right to flexible working, parental leave and childcare vouchers are in the advert.

Keep in mind various phrases display unconscious bias and will be off-putting to both women and men. Take the time to look at your job advert and question whether staff really do need to be clean shaven, have short hair or free of piercings. Such requirements could make you seem out of touch at best, sexist at worst.

Are you familiar with the phrase “show me don’t tell me?” Could you make a video about the job and your requirements? A video can do wonders to showcase your organisation’s culture. You may also get across more in a two or three-minute video than you will on paper and you’ll stand out from other employers.

The final point is just to spend time looking at each word and phrase you use. A ‘work hard/play hard’ culture may sound appealing to you, but it could put off the enthusiastic 60-year-old who could make all the difference to your business. You don’t want to miss out on recruiting them just because a phrase appeals to you.

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Business And Careers Careers Advice Parenting

Are universities too powerful in the modern world?

University degrees are overrated. There, its out there and I am not taking it back! I have major concerns about the stranglehold universities have over both our children’s education and their future recruitment.

I first began to question the value of degrees a few years ago. When I was on the interview panel seeking, to recruit an individual for an entry level media relations role. Numerous graduates had applied for the job and every applicant’s CV followed the same pattern. Degree followed by 12-18 months work in either unpaid or short-term internships, often lasting around three months.

Discrimination against people both with and without University Degrees

This experience made me question what was going on in the world of recruitment. It seemed to me that there were so many graduates looking for work that employers could be hyper-selective. To the point that young adults who had left university tens of thousands of pounds in debt could find themselves working unpaid before securing their first entry level role.

Were they in a better position than someone who left school and went straight into work after school? At least the 18 year old school leaver would be earning a proper salary by their early twenties.

I heard of another horror story that demonstrates the negative impact mass university education has had on recruitment. Someone I know with 18 years’ experience working in IT management interviewed for a new job. One of the interviewers asked why his degree wasn’t on his CV. My friend explained he didn’t have a degree, at which point the atmosphere changed. He never heard from the interview panel again. I can’t say for certain what the problem was on this occasion, but I’ll take a guess.

Encouraging young people to finish school and go to uni has been going on for the past 25 years. Government policy was to get at least 50% of youngsters into higher education. This was only dropped in the past few months. The result is that we now have 25 years’ worth of graduates in the workforce. Many of them in managerial positions and recruiting staff. These managers naturally want to recruit their own kind and so graduates have the edge. We’re now in the ridiculous position where many administrative roles require you to have a degree.

For Universities, with great Power comes great Profit.

Universities are doing nothing to stop this. They’re making a fortune in tuition fees. It’s not in their financial interest to make degrees difficult or be fussy about who they let through the doors.

As if to prove the point, I recently bumped into an academic I know while at the supermarket. It was a typical lockdown thing, we hadn’t seen each other in several months and so spent the best part of half an hour, facemasks covering our faces, putting the world to rights while stood next to shelves of dried pasta (one metre apart, obviously).

During our chat, he admitted to me that some of the degrees his students study were bumped up to the Masters degree. The degree had been simplified so it could include modules on skills such as giving presentations, the kind of thing a corporate trainer teaches you in a day.

Students are leaving university around £60,000 in debt. What are they getting for that debt? If this is a typical example my friend gave, it suggests that many students are getting sub-standard degrees. They will spend a year or two in insecure, poorly paid work before getting an entry level job. I am not against universities or degrees, but I find myself seriously questioning the wisdom of mass, degree-level education.

Alternatives to University

Universities definitely have their place in the higher education system. What’s happened, however, is that alternatives are thin on the ground. I am just old enough to remember polytechnics. They were much derided, but with hindsight I think it’s fair to say they had an incredibly valuable place in our education system providing technical, vocational qualifications.

I’d also question whether teachers and career advisers do enough to encourage youngsters to consider apprenticeships or Higher National Diplomas. Modern apprenticeships, especially higher apprenticeships, look like a superb way to gain a degree and work experience without building up any of the debilitating debt (someone I know involved in recruitment tells me his organisation recruits apprentices and also has a graduate fast track scheme. He says the apprentices are often brilliant whereas many of the graduates arrive “with an attitude problem.”)

The Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has publicly said he thinks there is a “snobbishness” around vocational qualifications and that he wants this to change. I think he is absolutely correct and I am delighted to see the Government introducing T-Levels and is pushing to increase the profile of apprenticeships. For any dads wishing to give their kids some career advice vocational qualifications are something to consider.

The recruitment industry, however, has a role to play. If an employer or a manager says a role should only be open to graduates, recruitment agencies and HR professionals should ask why. Employers and managers need to challenge their own bias about non-graduates.

Mass, degree education may have seemed like a good idea when it was introduced. A quarter of a century later, I think we need to ask if the power unwittingly given to universities is doing more harm than good.

If you want to read more about this topic why not have a read of why the apprenticeship route is a smart alternative choice to university.