How SMEs can break down recruitment barriers and lead a talent revolution

Rebekah Wallis reveals how confusing job descriptions are preventing young job seekers from entering the workforce, and what can be done.

The use of impenetrable ‘business-speak’ in job descriptions has now become a ‘major barrier’ for young job seekers attempting to enter the workforce for the first time. A recent study from the Business in the Community and the City & Guilds Group found that jargon-fuelled job descriptions are acknowledged as one of the primary obstacles preventing younger applicants from entering the workforce for the first time.

Of the 4,000 young people surveyed in 2016, 43 per cent said that having access to a clear job description made the recruitment process easier, and 32 per cent who had a poor experience of starting their current job said it was because it was different to what they’d expected, in part due to jargon in the job descriptions.

Not only must young people battle tooth and nail against countless other candidates for entry-level job roles, but they are also forced to contend with confusing job descriptions that fail to detail effectively what positions entail; the skills, expertise and experience required for them; and, what their duties will be should their application be successful.

An intimidating experience for candidates

For those young people applying for entry-level roles, the experience is intimidating enough and the move to a professional environment after years in the education system no doubt has its difficulties. The business community must hold itself accountable and be responsible for ensuring that this transition is as seamless as possible for young people, doing away with unnecessary recruitment practices that are a detriment to both applicants and employers.

Being able to grasp this jargon does not reflect an individual’s suitability for a role, nor their superior ability compared to other candidates. Job seekers who are the least likely to have adequate support preparing for job applications are typically those from disadvantaged backgrounds. On paper, these individuals are the least likely to have a relative, friend or acquaintance who works in the company or sector they are striving to break into. Consequently, these individuals least likely to overcome these needless language barriers. The maintenance of this unnecessary jargon only serves to stigmatise the notion that white collar professions aren’t being made attractive enough for these individuals.

Employers should be focussing on both setting realistic expectations for applicants across the economic spectrum, and ensuring that the young people applying for jobs – particularly for entry-level roles – have all the information they need to make informed and educated choices about their career path. Businesses across the board will be doing themselves a huge favour, both from a responsible employer perspective and for the benefit of their talent pipeline if they commit to instilling a jargon-free tone in their job descriptions.

In order to recruit responsibly, employers need to break down the well-established barriers preventing young job seekers from entering the workforce by presenting the details contained within job descriptions as clearly as possible.

Unfortunately, the findings from the study do recruiters and HR teams no favours. For example, a key statistic unearthed in the report highlighted the fact that basic information about job roles was not being included in the external job description itself. Specifically, one in three descriptions failed to mention salary; two in five did not state the required working hours; and, one in seven did not mention the location of the role. These statistics were also collectively compounded by the severe lack of transparency in the application process as a whole, which was cited as a key issue across the board.

Making the reality match the description

To combat this, recruiters and HR teams need to stop ‘talking up’ roles and ensure that the practical realities of these opportunities match up to what junior applicants are to expect if successful. This is a two-way street, affecting both employer, and employee. Internally, companies must implement procedures of checks and balances to prevent jargon from slipping unconsciously into job descriptions. Job descriptions must be scrutinised rigorously, written concisely, explaining acronyms clearly, and, free of any technical language that diverts away from the day-to-day tasks and responsibilities.

The business community needs to practice the responsible approach to commercial activities it preaches in its approach to recruitment too. Establishing a well-nurtured pipeline of talent can be achieved by expediting unwarranted obstacles for young talent navigating the path into the workplace. Offering suitable formalised training and apprenticeship schemes are both part integral to this.

HR departments – the engine room of the recruitment process – are the key. Slow moving HR departments that lack the agility to rectify these problems are allowing their more agile competitors to swoop in and take a lead in the war on talent. They need to be well-oiled machines that can facilitate the much-needed changes to the ambiguous, superfluous and overly technical job descriptions plaguing their firm’s recruitment practices. This is where SMEs can speak up and state their credentials loud and clear.

The layers of bureaucracy existing inside the larger corporates can leave recruiters’ hands tied. SMEs however, do not have this problem. The key benefit of smaller business’ more contained approach to recruitment means they can be nimble in the face of negative trends dogging their hiring process.

Although multinationals when compared with SMEs have the capacity to develop a more structured, scrutinised means of recruitment to negate the issue of jargon, the pace at which they are able to incorporate these changes is to their detriment. Rigidity is their recruitment kryptonite.

By integrating a jargon-free recruitment strategy, SMEs can fill the void left by multinational corporations and recruit faster, more effectively and more efficiently. Simplifying the online application process is a key part of this as, in the majority of cases; it represents the first point of contact between companies and young applicants. Doing so will have a lasting positive on young applicants’ prospects, paving the way for SMEs to steal a march on the big business hegemons in the talent market.

Rebekah Wallis is director of people and corporate UK responsibility at Ricoh UK.

Further reading on recruitment

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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