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Employing? Employ the right words

The way a job is advertised can affect who applies, despite our best efforts to stop this happening. The words themselves can send signals we didn’t expect.

 

Two recent field studies conducted by BehaviourWorks Australia looked at how women and minorities respond to job advertisements in the labour market. Both were what they call ‘natural field experiments’, where those taking part didn’t know it. Both revealed that the way a job is advertised can affect applicant responses.

 

Andreas Leibbrant, from the Monash Experimental Research Insights Team, presented his findings at the 2016 BWA Research Forum and it seems the rules, like many of the applicants, apply differently depending on what words are used in the job advertisement.

 

The first study involved gender divides in wage negotiations and the second involved the effect of equal employment opportunity statements on minorities.

 

Study 1 – Do women avoid salary negotiations?

 

Can we have a word about this job?


Two almost identical job descriptions were advertised in nine American cities, describing the job itself, the rate of pay and inviting the applicants to suggest their desired wage. The only difference between them was that half the ads said the wage was ‘negotiable’. That one word produced some intriguing insights, based on a gender difference around ambiguity.

 

Generally, men are okay with it and women aren’t. The first application gave no clues about how open the employer was to wage negotiation. More men than women applied, generally wanting a higher rate of pay.

 

Some of the women who applied were prepared to go lower. But in the second job advertisement, adding the word ‘negotiable’ suggested it was appropriate to apply for a higher wage. In this case, the gender gap shrank (more women and fewer men applied) and both genders wanted a higher rate than was advertised. One word affected the pool of job applicants.

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And in study number 2

 

The words used to open up the pool to anyone had the opposite effect.

 

An Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) statement is designed to encourage minorities that they won’t be discriminated against when applying for work. While they’re officially mandated by the US Federal Government, some job applications have them and some don’t.

 

Analysing the data has produced a surprising result.

 

Including EEO statements on job applications mean minorities are 25 per cent less likely to apply. And the higher the qualification of the person applying, the stronger the effect.

 

What’s happening?

 

No one likes to be stereotyped. When we feel we’ve been singled out and made to feel different or ‘special’ because of what we are (race or gender) instead of who we are, even for affirmative reasons, it’s known as stereotype threat.

 

EEO statements were meant to impact the way minorities behave in the job market. They can – but in the wrong direction. The outcome of this study is that they can actually discourage minorities; the EEO statement seems to signal that their identity is an issue, so many look elsewhere.

 

The lesson?

 

Recruiters need to be careful about the tools they use to influence the outcomes of job advertisements; out in the natural field, they can do as much damage as good. 

 

Wait, there’s more.

 

The researcher on this study is: andreas.leibbrandt@monash.edu

 

The slideshow is here.