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.