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Modern Approaches to Job Postings

This morning, I posted to Twitter. First time! But seriously, I don't interact with Twitter directly very often, so this must be important.


Though the tweet says the important stuff (that can reasonably fit in 280 characters), the idea of how to get people engaged with a new job opening in this day and age is one with which all employers are struggling right now. Getting the word out about an open position is only one part of it, you also need to look holistically at the package you are offering and attempt to level the playing field at each step.

It is true that the UW-Madison Libraries do awesome and important work, but if there is too high a barrier to entry, qualified candidates may never even apply. Add to that the fact that the work we do necessarily is 100% hands-on and on-site; garnering interest for these commitments will always be an up-hill battle now. But I have little control over those parts of the equation. The changes I can make that may in fact add significantly more equity to those entry barriers are in the systems of the posting itself.

As an aside, this discussion uses a current posting in my unit as an example, but these ideas and methodologies can (and should) be used for any comparable job opportunity. The process to search, apply, and interview for jobs is unnecessarily complex and includes enough barriers as it is without adding additional layers that could be removed.

Here are a few steps we have taken to open up this new position to the largest possible candidate pool; note that I discuss each bullet in the paragraphs that follow:

  • We accept student experience.
  • We are not requiring a college degree.
  • We kept our list of required qualifications short.
  • We listed preferred qualifications in priority order.

The first required qualification on our list notes that student experience will be considered. Opening up this requirement to student experience not only allows us to look at recent or upcoming graduates for this position but shows an understanding that the work of student help desk employees is valuable and valued by our organization. As a general rule, I don't like relying on pipelines to bring in full-time staff, but the institutional knowledge that a student can bring in can be invaluable as well. Note however that this should not be characterized as an indication of the complexity of the job nor the difficulty of the work; students help desk employees can be rock stars and they can handle complex tasks just like seasoned veterans.

The job description is accurate and the work detailed is complete. There are qualified candidates for technology jobs in particular that may have decided not to go the college route. That is why we aren't requiring a degree. There are plenty of (now likely remote) jobs that have taught the standard approaches to troubleshooting, the resourcefulness needed to problem solve beyond that, and the foundations of customer service. We can build on that, just as we would with a person with a degree. The specific contexts of any workplace require a natural level of training and engagement that must happen no matter the incoming credentials. Just make sure that you set your expectations for the onboarding process and timeframe up front; we give it a year before expecting someone is completely up to speed and there are situations (pandemics, as an example) that affect this timeframe.

We intentionally kept our required qualifications a short and approachable list. There is no reason everything listed in a job posting needs to be required. The likelihood that there is a "unicorn" candidate that matches all of your listed needs (and is actively looking for a new opportunity precisely when your job is posted) is basically zero. Distilling the legitimate needs of the job into as few list items as possible enables more people to even think about applying and statistically speaking will help with pool diversity. (An old statistic stated that women apply to positions less often than men, especially if they don't meet 100% of the qualifications. The pandemic has likely only thrown this disparity into sharper contrast.)

We used the preferred qualifications as a way to further define the position, along with the notion that this list can be set in an order that shows our professional priorities. (After all, we own this part of the equation.) Customer Service made the top of our list and that should be something that is prioritized in any technology support setting, followed by the general needs of our unit currently and in the future. But we also don't expect all the preferred to be met. The difference between required and preferred qualifications should be pronounced even as they complement each other. Additionally, none of the qualifications lists arbitrary timeframes that would otherwise force people who have the experience to further question it.

All of this to say that while this is an on-going search and I cannot state whether these shifts in our side of the equation have made a dent in the engagement problem, we can (and should) continue to look for ways to lower barriers and ease an overly complex process in the attempt to produce equity and gain diversity in our hiring.