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A.S. Byatt once opined that “Vocabularies are crossing circles and loops. We are defined by the lines we choose to cross or to be confined by.” Words have meaning, of course – they convey information – but they also elicit responses – they touch nerves – that shape the perceptions of those who read them.
For that reason, the choice of words as much as their definition matters in recruitment. In the minds of the people who visit corporate career sites and read job postings, an employer is defined as much by the words it uses as it is by the information it provides or the practices it follows.
The impression is often unintentional, but it is real and potent nevertheless. And, one term that is now jargon to recruiters but anathema to everyone else on the planet is “job seeker.” It says an organization views prospective employees as supplicants for work.
To put it bluntly, both those who are actively looking for a new job and those who are passive prospects think the term “job seeker” signals an organization that may be prejudiced against them. After all, they read the same news reports that everyone else does – you know, the ones that report on surveys which find an unspecified number of recruiters who now view today’s job seekers as damaged goods.
Those actively in the job market may not be put off by the term – they have no choice – but to them it says the employer may well view them as Losers. Passive prospects, on the other hand, refuse to even acknowledge that the term applies to them and avoid the organizations that use it.
If you have any doubt about that latter point, do a survey of the visitors to your corporate career site. Ask about their employment status, and you’ll almost certainly find that the vast majority – 80 to 90 percent – are unemployed. And, yet, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, at any point in time, just 16 percent of the workforce is actively in transition. In other words, your site is plumbing the depths of the small cohort of the population that has no choice and missing out altogether on the much larger cohort of people who do.
So first, change the mindset of your organization to remove any conscious or unconscious bias against any prospective hire because of their employment status. That means ensuring a more inclusive perspective among hiring managers and receptionists as well as recruiters.
Second, change the vocabulary on your corporate career site and in your job postings to remove any impression that you view potential applicants as Losers. To have a lasting impact on the perception of your organization’s employment brand, however, that involves more than simply replacing one word with another.
For example, you might decide to replace the term “Job Seeker” with the more respectful word “Candidate.” Site visitors and ad readers will certainly notice the difference – it’s such a rarity among employers – but they may not understand why you’ve made the change. So, also include a visible statement – not one hidden six clicks deep in your site – that affirms your organization’s commitment to treating everyone as a valued employment prospect.
Jargon is often criticized for its lack of clarity, but in the case of the term “job seeker,” its impact is exactly the opposite. To active and passive candidates, it sends a clear (if unintentional) signal that the organization views them as damaged goods, and that impression, in turn, undermines the organization’s ability to recruit high caliber talent effectively.
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