Position Description

Drafting Inclusive Job Applications 

An inclusive job description captures as many applicants in the hiring pool as possible, but also provides the search committee with valuable insight for how to select within the pool to hire the applicant with the best job performance. Departments can do a handful of things to make their job descriptions more inclusive:  


Search committees should evaluate the qualifications for the position prior to drafting the job application.   

Job descriptions should be written broadly and with a focus on the “essential functions” of the position.   

Essential functions are core functions that the employee must perform to be valuable to the company in their role.  

The following are some barriers to diversity and equal opportunity that can be created with a job description that lists competencies as qualifications, abilities, or requirements rather than preferences. The first barrier this presents to hiring is that applicants from marginalized communities may not apply unless they meet all qualifications or abilities requested for the position. To the extent additional criteria are listed, they should be listed in an expansive list of preferences rather than qualifications. This makes these additional qualifications less of a deterrent because it gives people from varied experiences make their case to prove their value.  

If the search committee defines the characteristics it seeks in the successful candidate before interviewing candidates, then it is much less susceptible to being influenced by bias. 

The search committee should rank each qualification and preference - even after it has differentiated qualifications from preferences.  

If the job description is ambiguous regarding the importance of the underlying qualifications, the search committee may become susceptible to bias to fill in gaps[i].

There are a couple ways in which the search committee can improve language usage in position descriptions. The first is to use gender-neutral pronouns like “they”, “them” or “theirs”, and to avoid the use of “he/she” or “s/he” in descriptions.

Additionally, the search committee should not describe the position in a way that uses terms that have historically been used in gender stereotyping, which discourages persons who identify otherwise from applying[ii].  

For example, the search committee should avoid using words to describe the successful candidate in the job description that are masculine-gendered such as: aggressive, ambitious, assertive, athletic, autonomous, boasting, competitive, confident, decisive, dominant, forceful, headstrong, impulsive, opinion, outspoken, reckless, stubborn, or superior. Adhere to gender-neutral descriptors such as “engineer”, “project manager”, or “advisor”.

Marginalized communities may be seeking a community that affirmatively states it is working on creating a diverse, inclusive and welcoming department[iii]. Some departments have already developed their own diversity and inclusion statements at Iowa State University. An example of a model statement is used by the College of Veterinary Medicine: 

In recognition of the importance and value of diversity in everything we do, Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine is committed to actively promoting diversity and inclusion that embraces the value of the many areas of the veterinary medical profession, and the value of varied cultural backgrounds, ethnicities, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientations, ages, religions, physical and mental abilities of our students, faculty and staff. 

The job description should emphasize a preference for the successful applicant to have the ability to help the department and Iowa State University create an inclusive climate. For instance, a job description could state, “Candidates who have experience interacting with diverse populations are encouraged to apply.”