What NOT to Write in Your Next Job Posting - Senior Executive
Hiring 4 min

What NOT to Write in Your Next Job Posting

Word choice matters. Be sure to exclude certain words and phrases to attract a greater diversity of applicants and create a more inclusive workplace.

by Michelle Lodge on January 20, 2023

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  • Attracting top talent is a challenge in the current job market. A strong job description can help you compete.

  • Prospective employees say certain buzzwords such as “ninja,” “guru,” and “rockstar” are among the most annoying to find in job descriptions.

  • Also watch out for gender bias in your word choice, and opt for neutral terms such as “sales representative” rather than “salesman” or “saleswoman.” Words like “analyze” and “collaborate” have male and female connotations as well.

A job posting can either attract the candidate you want to hire or someone for whom the fit is wrong, or it could send others scrambling as far away from your firm as possible. 

What makes the difference? The wording. If the posting contains words that are outdated, downright offensive, hyped-up, or lacking in useful information, you have a problem. 

It’s Not the Employers’ Market

“There are literally millions of job postings out there right now, so competition for readers’ eyeballs is ferocious,” says recruiter Ed Han, who calls himself the “Talent Acquisition Geek.” “It’s imperative for an employer to provide strong copy that resonates with the target audience — just like any other form of writing.”

With the current tight job market giving many employees the upper hand, a miss in the posting is a losing strategy. “There are more jobs than there are people to fill them,” says Julie Schweber, senior HR knowledge advisor at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

Avoid Using Buzzwords That Turn Off Applicants

Unless you’re managing a rock band, an ashram, or a military operation, don’t use titles in the ad like “rockstar,” “guru” and “ninja,” which, according to the talent acquisition site JobSage, are the most annoying words to prospective employees in a job posting. “Hacker” and “superhero” also are no-nos. 

For starters, those words don’t spell out what kind of job you’re advertising. Rather, it conveys that the workplace may be sexist, prize immaturity, and even promote a culture that is hostile to both women and minorities. Instead, opt for descriptive titles like “engineer,” “project manager,” “developer.”

Watch Out for Gender Bias

Be sure to keep those job titles gender neutral. For example, it should be “sales representative” instead of “salesman” or “saleswoman.” Also, always use “they” rather than “she” or “he,” as a singular pronoun, notes Han.

Other terms could be impacted by gender bias less directly. The jobs site Glassdoor maintains that certain words convey male or female traits. Among male-biased verbs are “analyze” and “determine,” whereas “collaborate” and “support” sound more like female characteristics. Verbs that carry the same meaning with no gender bias are “study” and “establish.” 

Superlatives, such as “expert,” “superior,” and “world-class,” can put women off because they tend not to brag about their accomplishments the way men do. Avoiding over-inflated language and expectations is key “to hiring women who self-deselect if they don’t meet 100% [of the] requirements of the role. No, your receptionist doesn’t need an MBA,” says Dorothy Dalton, an international talent management strategist.

If you’re stumped about which words are gender neutral, run potential job postings by a diverse group of employees — different genders, ethnicities, ages and nationalities. Or  try software programs designed to root it out. One option is Textio, available by subscription. Another is the free Gender Decoder, which gives you instant feedback on a job posting. 

Switch Out Alarming Words for Non-Triggering Ones

Words that suggest age are a no-no, too. Such words and phrases include “young at heart,” “mature,” “seasoned”, “energetic,” and “recent college graduate,” none of which need replacements.

SHRM’s Schweber also notes that such phrases as “‘great opportunity,’ ‘come grow with us,’ ‘great benefits’ without explaining what they are, and ‘great pay’ without indicating a salary range” will likely limit candidates. Instead, spell out what the job entails, what the benefits are, and what the salary range is.  

Headgear can come into play, too. When an applicant reads that “in this job, you will wear many hats,” they might swiftly move on. 

A few other problematic words and their replacements from The Writing Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill include:

  • man,” to be replaced by “person” or “individual;”
  • chairman,” to be replaced by “chair,” “chairperson,” “head,” or “coordinator;”
  • policeman,” to be replace by “police officer.”

Keep It Real

“The most important thing in writing a job posting is to keep content real, which means managing the demands of the hiring manager,” says Dalton.

In any situation, super-humans need not apply.


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