Why Your Recruitment Language Matters

Language is a powerful tool, and can attract—or repel—the best candidates for your organization.
By: | July 11, 2017 • 4 min read

Silicon Valley and startup culture have had a huge impact on the language of recruitment.

The word “hacker,” for example, is often included in job titles and descriptions for engineering positions and beyond. One company that included hacker in nearly all its job titles was the social media scheduling application, Buffer. As the company readied itself for expansion, it noticed something alarming: less than 2 percent of the applicants for its developer jobs were women.

They quickly learned the low application number was partly due to that one word: hacker. The vagueness of the term meant less people, especially women, were able to see themselves in the role, so they opted out of applying.


Today, Buffer uses the title “developer” to describe those same engineering roles, and its Diversity Dashboard says 9.5 percent of its tech employees are women—a low number, but better than 2 percent.

Other characteristic startup language can make applicants behave similarly. Since many industries are male-dominated, the use of terms like manpower, righthand man and others subtly reaffirm that gender bias, says Deb Liu, Facebook’s vice president of platform and marketplace. She herself started noticing her bias when she referred to a startup as “two guys in a garage.”

Overcoming Bias

So, which language should you use to be inclusive to applicants of all genders?

Hire Women in Tech, a site that advocates for more gender-inclusive wording, especially in tech ads, has a few ideas. Avoid adjectives like strong, dominant and superior. Instead, favor adjectives and verbs that ask for demonstrated skill, but also acknowledge the human element of applicants: proficient, sensitive, warm. The latter shows a company is looking not just for technical skills, but the soft skills that a broader number of people are confident they can bring to the table.

Recruitment language should be used to humanize your company and the people working there. You can show candidates that you value them as people, not just potential employees, by including mention of your company values and corporate culture. Focusing an ad or recruitment message on opportunities to learn and grow, as well as talking about your vision of where the company would like to go, are ways to make people feel as if they’re part of the team, even before they’’ve been hired.

Job ads and recruitment messages provide a lot of information, but one piece of useful information that’s often missing is the salary. As a recruiter, how many times have you written that pay is “commensurate with experience” or have not included any salary information at all? Even a pay range is difficult to find these days.

According to statistics published by Glassdoor, details about salary and compensation is the No. 1 piece of information job seekers look for in ads. That means you could ace the language used in your job ad, but if salary information isn’t included, talented applicants may still pass you by.

As Liz Ryan, CEO of Human Workplace, says in this Forbes article, leaving salary range out of a job ad is bad business practice. She says it makes candidates assume the company is trying to find the perfect applicant for a lower salary—something which often works.

So when it comes to the language of recruiting, consider including a line about salary. It’s not worth being coy and then discovering in the interview that company-candidate expectations around salary are off.

First Contact

The way a company reaches out to a candidate for an interview or writes a recruitment message will also make a huge difference.

When it comes down to it, it’s a good start to not send the same email to every applicant you’re trying to recruit.

Data collected and analyzed by Hired found that 87 percent of messages sent by recruiters were impersonal. Out of 7,818 emails analyzed, they found that just 60 were genuinely personal in nature. That’s less than 1 percent! At the same time, the data showed that 73 percent of people were likely to accept an introductory meeting with a recruiter or company if their message was personalized—compared to just 49 percent who would accept a request via an impersonal message.


So what does personal language mean? Personalization in recruitment is all about showing you’ve actually looked into a person’s unique experiences and skills. Bringing up an applicant’s current and past projects, publications and thoughts is key. It’s all about showing an applicant you’ve truly looked at their profile and value what they could bring to the table. Tossing in a reference to their alma mater or mentioning a past job isn’t enough to qualify a message as one that is totally personalized.

If you don’t have the time or capacity to personalize each recruitment email, you should at least make it sound enthusiastic. Including less formal language, active verbs, and details about the scope of the opportunity are all ways to do this.

As recruiters, the words you choose to describe your company matter. A job ad or recruitment message is your company’’s selling pitch to applicants, and that’s why it’s important that the language you use is enticing, but also inclusive, informative, and personalized.

Keep that in mind the next time you’re reaching out to an applicant or writing a job ad.

Chris Lennon is vice president of product management at BirdDogHR, overseeing its BirdDogHR Talent Management System.