New research shows the power of word choice in job descriptions

A LinkedIn report highlights the distinct word choices that can discourage women from applying for jobs.
By: | August 20, 2019

When it comes to writing job descriptions, research has shown that word choice really matters — especially when it comes to connecting with female job candidates. Now, a new report from LinkedIn offers details on the sort of word choices that can dissuade women from applying.

The report, based on surveys of more than 12,000 employees and 3,000 employers, along with analyses of billions of data points on LinkedIn’s own platform, finds that the word “aggressive” (commonly used to describe sales goals, the workplace, or desired attributes) could discourage almost half of women from applying to a job. The research also shows that women are 16% less likely to apply to a job after viewing it than men.

Currently, over 50,000 job descriptions on LinkedIn include the word “aggressive,” the company says.

Here are some additional details from the report, titled Language Matters: How Words Impact Men and Women in the Workplace:

Using certain words in job description will discourage women from applying to jobs. 44% of women (and 33% of men) would be discouraged from applying if the word “aggressive” was included in a job description, and one in four women would be discouraged from working somewhere described as “demanding”.

Men and women characterise themselves differently at work. While the top three words for both men and women when describing themselves in a job interview were: “hard-working” (58% of women, and 49% of men), “good at my job” (48% of women and 42% of men), and “confident” (42% of women and 40% of men),  women also prioritised terms that relate to their character to describe themselves in an interview, such as “likeable” (38% of women and 29% of men) and “supportive” (39% of women and 32% of men).

Both men and women think soft skills are their thing: More than half of female respondents (61%) associate the female gender with the term “soft skills”, while interestingly, a majority of men (52%) associated soft skills with the male gender. Despite these findings, in practice, women are more likely to actively showcase their soft skills on LinkedIn, while men were more likely to show off their hard skills.

When it comes to benefits, men and women want similar things, but women often prefer to talk about a role in the context of workplace culture: atmosphere, structure and benefits.  Positions that promoted flexible working (60%), working from home (30%) and additional medical benefits (45%) were most popular amongst women. However, flexible working is increasingly important for male workers as well (50% of men, only 10 percentage points fewer than the number for women).