Let's lose the jargon to make recruitment inclusive

Written by
Mary Appleton

02 Aug 2017

02 Aug 2017 • by Mary Appleton

For those born into families with no professional history, lacking in role models and without the networks to gain exposure to the workplace, applying for jobs can be overwhelming. Daunting application forms are exacerbated by job descriptions full of jargon-heavy “corporate speak”. 

Coupled with old-fashioned assessment methods and hard-to-navigate recruitment websites, it’s no wonder young people question their suitability for many entry-level roles. 

There is a real danger of excluding a talent-rich pool of candidates through your recruitment approach. 

Mystery shopping recruitment processes

Over the past year, Business in the Community (BITC), alongside the City & Guilds Group, has been running a series of workshops with young people across the UK asking them to “mystery shop” the accessibility of some 65 companies’ entry-level recruitment processes; organisations that collectively employ more than 1.2 million people nationally. 

Of those assessed, two in five of the job descriptions contained jargon or technical language, and three in five failed to outline the timeframe of the recruitment process. As a result, 66% of young people found the job description they were reviewing difficult to understand. 

“Jargon negatively impacts on young people’s confidence, making them feel they ‘don’t deserve’ a role or are ‘not good enough’ to apply, as they feel ‘intimated’ by the job descriptions or ‘unsure’ of what they’ll be facing,” comments Grace Mehanna, campaign director for youth employment at BITC. 

“This has implications for social mobility. Understanding jargon is not a measure of a young person’s potential. The prevalence of ‘business speak’ in entry-level job adverts could be screening out young people who don’t have previous experience in an industry, or access to people who do.” 

Here, we turn to three employers to get their take on the research findings and ask how they are working to ensure their recruitment methods are accessible for all. 

Are businesses missing out on talent due to outdated or jargon-heavy recruitment processes?

Stephanie Bishop, head of graduate and apprentice recruitment, Capgemini (SB):

We have all been guilty of assuming candidates understand businessspecific terminology. I was surprised to read, for example, that 20% of school students didn’t know what STEM meant – we sometimes use this term in junior job descriptions. 

We’ve historically screened out candidates at initial stage based on academic achievements. We are looking to change this; research has proven it’s not a good indicator of potential. In my opinion, it is not only a lazy way to reduce your pipeline, but runs the risk of eliminating candidates with broader skills who could be future stars. 

Students from disadvantaged backgrounds often have less access to work experience, so could under-perform in traditional competency-based selection processes. 

Shaun Meekins, head of early careers operations, Barclays (SM):

Removing criteria widens the net of future talent. Asking for experience in work and academically has a place, but a well-structured apprenticeship programme invites candidates to learn while in role, gaining valuable experience and qualifications. 

We don’t ask for experience or qualifications to join our apprentice programmes. Our primary channel is candidates not in employment, education or training (NEET). 

In removing eligibility criteria, we have benefited from untapped channels of talent including return-to-work parents, early retirees, military service leavers and those who have faced involuntary redundancy.  

Tyrone Jones, director of corporate responsibility and engagement, DWF (TJ):

Few companies have escaped the challenge of taking a complex business and simplifying it so everyone can understand and connect to it. This is never more important than when you are trying to attract talent. 

From unnecessary work experience requirements to a lack of transparency, there are structural barriers for young people in the UK. Technical language, jargon and a lack of clarity over responsibilities are the top barriers, preventing people from securing their first jobs and stopping many even applying.  

What effect might practices have on social mobility?

SM: Removing traditional eligibility criteria means you can open your doors to candidates from all backgrounds. But equally, the challenge of demystifying apprenticeships remains a key objective to driving inclusion. 

Minority social communities still consider entry-level opportunities as only available to candidates with experience and relevant qualifications, so we’ve built ‘real’ case studies of apprentices, share their background stories, and demonstrate that success is driven by motivation. 

SB: If business leaders are committed to inclusion, they must ensure their selection processes are not creating barriers to entry based on background, access to education or work experience. 

More needs to be done to provide entry points for young people who may not be academically gifted but have high potential. 

TJ: Avoiding jargon and clearly outlining the responsibilities of a job ensures that a young person has realistic expectations about their role. For those young people fortunate enough to secure a job, many will have a poor experience of starting the job because it was different to what they’d expected.

How are you improving accessibility?

SM: In 2014, we introduced the traineeship model, to ensure young people can access pre-employability soft-skill and cognitive training before being assessed for an apprenticeship. It allows us to offer a voluntary entry point through which candidates can decide whether Barclays is a viable route to employment.  

All our trainees are classified as NEET; we were able to dive deep into society and source candidates who lacked academic or work experience. 

Traineeships were designed as a commitment to social inclusion; not just access to employment, but to skills and training. Business benefits include the opportunity to work directly with our trainees prior to assessing them for an apprenticeship, ensuring the culture, environment and nature of work is suitable for the candidate and they have a level of exposure before making an informed decision about their future. 

We often see a minimum of 1:2 conversion from those completing the traineeship and being offered an apprenticeship. 

SB: We use a strengths-based recruitment approach, assessing potential rather than past performance and are removing tech sector and company jargon, and are making information on our roles, locations and selection process clearer and friendlier. 

We’re changing our selection process to be more immersive, giving candidates a preview of what working here will be like and are looking to increase the number of level 4 apprenticeships for students, for those who may not want to study for a degree or have the academics required for our degree apprenticeship. 

TJ: We work closely with schools and community partners to develop the confidence, skills, knowledge and resilience of young people, including those furthest from employment, to prepare them to enter the workplace. 

This involves supporting people to challenge themselves, think differently, or do something new. We’re applying this same thought process to our own business in terms of attracting and recruiting emerging talent. 

Meaningful work experience and a growing number of apprentice roles has increased access to employment opportunities for young people. 

Due to BITC’s #JargonFreeJobs campaign, we are identifying and removing barriers. 

How can leaders ensure their organisation is fit for the future in terms of recruitment methods?

SM: There is an ever-growing need to diversify the approach to recruitment and remove barriers and terminology that create unnecessary worry or anxiety. 

Consider taking a strength-based approach to assessment; change the word ‘interview’ to ‘conversation’; immerse candidates in a journey that enables them to gain exposure before running a more formal assessment. 

This encourages a candidate to make informed decisions about their future. Traineeships are a great enabler for pre-training, upskilling and pre-experience. 

When marketing to young people, build ‘real’ case studies with existing apprentices, engage with their peer group. This has created the biggest impact for us. 

Mentoring candidates pre- and post-assessment also builds connectivity between existing staff and applicants. 

SB: Collectively assessing our talent strategies and reviewing how junior talent fits into business growth is how we will secure the future of our businesses and economy. 

It’s important to make creative use of the Apprenticeship Levy. I’d encourage organisations to consider mature, experienced candidates, such as returnships or ex-military. 

Consider offering level 7 apprenticeships and upskilling existing employees. Analyse what success looks like in your junior talent pool and design a process that assesses potential rather than current ability. 

Remove barriers to entry and be sure that you’re not expecting junior talent to be a perfect fit for their role upon joining – they will need coaching and support.

TJ: Future proofing your business means harnessing the value of a multi-generational workforce. 

Building and maintaining an emerging talent pipeline in a world driven by technology, automation and the desire to work more flexibly requires a “back to basics” approach to sourcing, attracting, recruiting and enabling talent. It requires a more agile approach and a redefinition of traditional roles as technology impacts them. 

Multiple entry routes must be available, recognising the challenge to secure the emotional investment that used to guarantee people would stay with an employer long term.

Realign roles in business that focus on practical skills that cannot be automated to build rewarding jobs that play to people’s strengths. 

Do not assume talent will gravitate to your business – nurture talent in schools and the wider community to build a sustainable pipeline.