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The Language Of Hiring: Choosing The Right Words To Find The Best Tech Employees


by Alaina Percival, Head of Developer Outreach for Riviera Partners and CEO of Women Who Code

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Now more than ever, the increased competition for talented engineers is forcing technology companies to optimize their hiring strategies. The language used in job listings is particularly important, as that acts as the first barrier to entry for any potential employees. This is where you want to try and create a positive image of the organization so that you can attract the most qualified individuals. At the same time, it’s important to avoid any terms that might deter applicants.

Hiring managers often use phrases in job listings without understanding the exact connotation of the words. Flashy superlatives such as Rock Star, Code Ninja, Unicorn, and Code Monkey are meant to be positive and upbeat, but they’re actually not respected among much of the engineering community and can hurt your chances of acquiring talent. This is especially true of women who are often conditioned by society to avoid that kind of pomp and self-promotion.

“We work hard and play hard” is another phrase that should be avoided. While at first glance it seems innocuous enough, an engineer will often read that as saying that the company will expect them to work extended hours. It also implies that they will be required to spend their free time socializing with their colleagues.

While there is nothing wrong with promoting the idea of your company being an exciting and social place to work, you have to look at it from the point of view of the potential applicant. They are not yet friends with your employees, so the idea of being forced to interact with them outside of the office can come across as another drain on their personal life, and isn’t something you should lead with when trying to entice engineers.

The main thing to remember is that you don’t want to give anyone a reason not to apply. Your company may drug test or require a credit or background check, but you shouldn’t mention that in the job listing. Instead, say things that cast the organization in a positive light. The idea is to make the position sound so desirable and accessible that you get flooded with resumes. It’s better to make your HR team work harder rejecting 10 unqualified applicants than to miss one that is perfect.

Using the right language in a job listing can make the difference between finding the best person for the job or just settling for whoever shows up. You want to eliminate any barriers to entry that you can, and avoid language that may unintentionally offend or exclude potential employees. In this way, you will get the most applicants possible, giving you the decision-making power when it comes to finding the right engineer.


alaina percival

Alaina Percival is Head of Developer Outreach for Riviera Partners, a leading technical recruiting firm. She is also CEO of Women Who Code, an organization dedicated to inspiring women to excel in technology careers.