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Job hunting is a challenging process. Not only is it time-consuming, it’s also tricky to determine whether a position is for you simply from the description alone. Sometimes, you’ll need to get to the interview stage before you can find out more about the employer and the workplace culture.
That being said, a job advert can give away more than an employer realises. And more specifically, it can reveal quite a lot about whether they hold any biased views — unconscious or otherwise — on gender, education, class and other characteristics. So how can you spot the red flags in a job advert?
Be wary of a long list of desired skills and expected experience
Of course, some jobs require specific skills or more experience than others. But an unreasonably long list of requirements for a job may be a warning sign. Research shows that women are unlikely to apply for a position unless they meet 100% of the requirements — while men will apply if they meet 60%.
“Whether you have a few months or years of experience, employers that feel it's fitting to ask for a minimum of five years of experience with a massive portfolio on a minimum wage is an immediate red flag,” says HR expert Will Capper, co-founder of the job search engine DirectlyApply.
“Not only does this mean you would be very underpaid for the level of tasks given, you will likely also end up fulfilling the role of two, perhaps even three people’s jobs, whilst still being rewarded with a disappointing payday.”
Check the language
It can be harder to spot, but certain words and phrases in a job description may indicate bias. The inclusion of certain words in job descriptions that are regarded as more “masculine” can lead to fewer women putting themselves forward for positions — particularly senior roles in male-dominated professions.
Last year, research by TotalJobs found that out of 75,000 job ads, 478,175 words were thought to carry a gender bias, with ads for social care and admin roles most likely to use female-biased language, at 87% and 67% respectively.
The phrasing of a job listing can also put off different generations from applying, too. Posting a job looking for “digital natives” may deter older generations from applying, without actually adding any relevant information or value to the job description.
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Check whether the advert mentions the company name
The chances are a job ad is that doesn’t mention the company name has been placed by a recruitment agency, not the company you would get to work for, Capper explains.
“This makes it impossible to research your potential employer, meaning you can’t look up their statistics, employee experiences or gather other information to prepare you for a potential interview,” he adds.
Having some prior knowledge of the employer can be really helpful when it comes to finding out about their culture. It’s worth checking out websites such as Glassdoor, which allows employees to anonymously leave reviews about their employer and how the company operates. It’s also helpful to look at the company’s website too.
“Senior employees at the top will usually dictate a company’s culture and enforce decisions — but how do you know how diverse a company’s leadership really is? Most employers will list who are in these positions on their website and it’s worth looking but if not, don’t hesitate to ask about it during an interview,” Capper says.
Matching the criteria but having to do ‘mandatory training’
Being trained in a new position is normal. After all, nobody can hit the ground running after starting at a new job with little instruction. However, forcing employees to do lengthy and unnecessary training may be a sign that the company isn’t all it seems — especially if you have to pay for it yourself, or do it in your own time.
“But if you have all the desired experience and they mention a mandatory purchase of classes that they provide themselves, this would be a good time to close the tab and move on,” adds Capper.
Finally, don’t focus on meaningless perks
Getting free breakfasts and napping areas at work is definitely a bonus, but it isn’t everything. Sometimes, it’s worth looking past the flashy perks to see what a company is really like.
A 2018 survey of over 3,000 professionals by LinkedIn found more people cared about core benefits, such as paid time off, flexible working and health coverage. When respondents were asked what factors were likely to keep them at their company for more than five years, 44% said strong workplace benefits, like healthcare and parental leave.
“An advert that lists benefits including ‘we have a ping pong table’ or ‘unlimited snack buffet available’, but fails to mention being inclusive or diverse is probably an indicator of an unhealthy company culture,” Capper says. “We all love the fun extras, but a solid foundation in inclusivity, diversity and team-building is a lot more important.”