No matter where I go in my travels as a diversity consultant, everyone from recruiters to hiring managers to even CEOs ask me the same question: “If diversity is important to drive our ability to innovate and succeed, how do we make changes to attract the right people today?” A company fully committed to diversity and inclusion has to make an ongoing effort to make it a priority, often requiring major initial systemic changes and continuing revisions. But you have to start somewhere, right?
With that in mind, I want to share some simple changes that will not only put your best diversity foot forward to your candidates, but might just serve as the spark that gets your company to take the required steps to becoming a more inclusive and diverse workplace. The quickest way to show that you are prioritizing these efforts in your company and to attract the right folks is to stand out from the crowd, and the best way to do that is by refreshing your hiring funnel strategy because it’s often a candidate’s first glimpse into your hiring and work culture.
Despite this, I’m continually shocked at how hostile and arbitrary the majority of job descriptions are. They often contain long bulleted lists of buzzwords, skill requirements, and obtuse language that filters people out instead of in. Candidates almost always get their first impression of your hiring and work culture by reading your job descriptions, so I always recommend hiring managers start by reviewing each job description thoroughly. Well-written job descriptions are so important I’ve dedicated the majority of this list to tips for improving them!
Job descriptions should be an invitation to join your team, so make sure the hiring team’s goals and the company’s overall mission are described well enough that candidates can imagine themselves joining. Even better, list some examples of how someone who joins the team will make a positive impact, particularly if there’s a skill that you’re desperately in need of to round out your team. Some examples of welcoming language include “You’ll find a good fit here if you love …” or “Our team is looking for someone to help us with …”, or even “We’d love to hear your ideas about how we can improve …”. Ultimately, you want to entice candidates to learn more about you and imagine themselves already a part of your team, not discourage them with a laundry list of arbitrary requirements. More on that below.
Slow down on hyperbolic adjectives in your job invitations like “Join an insanely innovative team!”. Instead of aggressive and grandiose generalities, channel your excitement into a passionate description of the company and the team — tell your candidates why you’re excited to work where you do. Hyperbolic statements intending to drum up excitement in your audience typically have the opposite effect.
Without realizing it, your job description is likely using language from your affinity group that can tell the reader who you are as a writer. Many job descriptions are plagued by this “coded language” that often prevents candidates from applying at all. It takes practice and self-reflection to get better at improving your writing voice, but it will serve you well in many other endeavors beyond your hiring funnel. If you’re looking to attract a broader candidacy, a great way to start is to have as many team members as possible review your job invitation before posting it. I’ve spent a long time helping others edit and develop an inclusive writing style and tone, so if you have any doubts, please reach out. I’d love to help.
Make sure you have a clear understanding of what skills are truly necessary before adding them to your openings. Make a list of “must haves” versus “nice to haves”, or better yet, describe the tech stack in both historical and aspirational terms. What kind of impact will a successful candidate have, and how is impact on the team assessed and rewarded? A senior engineer may not have expert knowledge of your legacy technologies, but they may be an expert in a technology you’re trying to move to. Adding every programming language under the sun to your list of “must haves” will not only drive down diversity, it reflects poorly on you as an organization to not be able to hire for realistic roles with relevant skills. Even worse, 40% of women and People of Color will not apply to jobs if they feel they don’t have every requirement completely checked.
On the engineering side, make sure to let senior candidates know you’re flexible about specific languages too — if you’re looking for someone who’s an expert in microservices but doesn’t necessarily have expertise in the platform or language you use, they could still be a great fit if they’re interested in learning something new and bringing their experience to your team. Passionate engineers learn on and off the job, and many skills (especially programming languages and design patterns) are transferable. Make sure to plan for your teammates’ career growth accordingly.
If you’re looking for a senior individual contributor role you should absolutely consider developing a remote work policy if you don’t already have one. Many of the people I talk to with any seniority have reached a point in their career where they care about the flexibility to work remotely for a majority of the time rather than being placed into an ill-fitting on-site mentor or manager role. If you do have a remote work policy, it’s essential to have it noted in your job invitation — senior candidates will include it in their search terms and filter you out if you don’t.
For non-entry-level positions, expand your description to include the previous level of experience. For example, if you’re looking for a Senior Software Engineer, try “Mid-Senior Software Engineer” for the title. Or, even better, remove specific titles like “senior” or “lead” and allow the description itself to outline the kinds of help you’re looking for. You’ll find you’ve widened your candidacy net by a mile, and you’ll be surprised to find even more applicants that fit your requirements applying. Many candidates are looking for new gigs because they’re stagnating at their existing jobs, and don’t even realize that their skills have progressed to the level that you’re looking for. Certain affinities of people (especially those coming from toxic work environments) do not consider themselves “senior” or feel hesitant about whether or not you would consider them “senior”. Every individual will have a range of different skills and focus on how they’re growing in their career, so be flexible with titles and responsibilities, and use your interview process to determine skill level and aptitude to place them at an appropriate level to succeed.
Stop putting barriers up that reduce the number of places you receive candidates from. By only looking in one place (like only working with “feeder” schools) or only looking for folks with a specific length of experience (10+ years of SQL? Honey, please.), you’re obviously going to drive down diversity. Here are a few examples I’ve seen in the wild:
Remember, standardization in the hiring process disproportionately penalizes women and People of Color. Don’t fall into the trap of letting past performers dictate your hiring strategy forever, or you’ll end up with a lot of the same people solving problems in the exact same way without any new perspectives or innovation.
Hiring managers and recruiters by and large are both guilty of excluding good candidates for bad reasons. Imagine a female recruiter at a tech conference telling a female software engineer with a disability to hide it from the hiring managers if she wants to get a job — true story! Avoid behaviors that don’t support your values as a company. If you’re hiring through a recruiter, be clear that you won’t be interviewing anyone until you have a diverse pool of candidates to choose from. If you’re dealing with an internal hiring manager, set annual diversity goals for the company and tie a bonus to hitting those milestones.
Don’t use standardized technical coding tests that someone on your senior team didn’t have a hand in creating. If you don’t have a senior team, or you don’t know how to create your own strategy that tests the things you are actually looking for — we can help you with that too. We recently had a candidate solve a problem in the complete opposite way we thought we wanted, but because we knew what we were looking for as a team, we knew that she would be a huge asset to the company we were hiring for. AI testing solutions might be cheaper, but the technology just isn’t developed enough to intuitively handle humans and all our infinite complexities just yet. AI is built on standardization and repeated results, which we already know is the enemy of diversity.
If your candidate pool consists of only one type of person, be brave enough to mention it to your team as a problem and come together to create solutions for it. The most untapped source of diversity knowledge within a company is entry to mid-level, so talk to your staff and support them with the right tools and resources to make better decisions moving forward.
I hope I’ve made it clear that truly making diversity and inclusion a priority in your hiring funnel is difficult, because it is! These guidelines are only the tip of the iceberg about the kinds of things we need to be thinking about to build up a more inclusive and diverse team. We need to continually analyze and unlearn many of the processes we’ve faced ourselves in the past and accepted as the norm, from job descriptions to the interview process to having a solid growth-oriented career track strategy in place.
As you become a voice for diversity in your own company, don’t be afraid to take the leap and open yourself up to something that job descriptions historically have never done — openly admit that companies need employees just as much as employees need jobs. It’s time to start treating job seekers as potential members of our team, instead of a bunch of candidates who need to pass a gauntlet of tests to “earn” our time as employers. A two-way street is good for your people, and good for your business.
In today’s hyper-competitive world, every company needs to diversify and bring in new perspectives and approaches. Your team (and ultimately your company!) depend on it.