hand writing a job description

How to Avoid Discriminatory Language in Your Job Postings

Have you ever written a job posting indicating that your open position was great for “recent college graduates” or ideal for “people over 50”? You may not have realized it at the time, but this language is considered discriminatory.

While you had good intentions (who wouldn’t want to encourage new grads to find their first jobs or help retirees return to the workforce?), your ad could deter highly qualified candidates from diverse backgrounds from applying.

In fact, age-specific language is prohibited by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which states that it is “illegal for an employer to publish a job advertisement that shows a preference for or discourages someone from applying for a job because of his or her race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability, or genetic information.”

The next time you write a job description, be mindful of unintentional or unconscious bias. Here are six types of discriminatory language to avoid when creating inclusive job ads that support fair hiring processes.


older woman writing at a table


1.  Age-specific Descriptions: As previously mentioned, specifying that your job is perfect for “new grads,” “young adults,” “retirees,” or “older workers” discourages candidates who don’t fall neatly into those categories from applying. Atop that, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) explicitly forbids age discrimination against people who are age 40 or older.

With more baby boomers staying in the workforce, employers should keep ageism top of mind when writing job ads and during the prescreening, interviewing, and onboarding processes. It’s also best to avoid phrases like “tech-savvy,” “fresh,” or “young and vibrant” that could dissuade older workers from applying.


2.  Gender-specific Terms: Hiring for a waitress, a salesman, a cameraman, or a foreman? Using gender-neutral titles – wait staff, salesperson, camera operator, or supervisor – will ensure the position appeals to a more diverse set of candidates. You may also consider using possessive pronouns, “they” or “their,” in lieu of “he,” “him,” “she,” or “her,” when talking about the ideal applicant. Plus, studies show that words with masculine undertones like “ambitious” and “competitive” may deter women from applying for a job. 


3.  Mentions of Race: Unless your business must abide by affirmative action requirements, never mention race in your job qualifications. If you are beholden to these requirements, you may disclose that you are an affirmative action program participant. Note that affirmative action also pertains to women, people with disabilities, and veterans.


4.  Religious References: Avoid specifying preferences for candidates with certain religious beliefs, except if you qualify as a religious organization under Title VII. Further, the EEOC states that “questions about an applicant's religious affiliation or beliefs (unless the religion is a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ) are generally viewed as non-job-related and problematic under federal law.”


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5.  Language Pertaining to the Candidate’s Nationality: Rather than specifying upfront that applicants must be U.S. citizens, consider saying that applicants will be required to complete an I-9 form to verify their eligibility to work in the U.S. (Get a copy of the I-9 form here.) Similarly, if you require candidates to speak a certain language, focus on their proficiency of the language rather than their nationality (“must possess excellent English speaking skills” is far more inclusive than “must be a native English speaker”).


group of diverse employees talking


6.  Verbiage About Physical Capabilities: While some jobs may very well require workers to lift 50 pounds or stay on their feet for eight hours, employers should be careful with how they describe these qualifications. Be as specific as possible about the physical requirements of the job’s duties, but avoid using words like “able-bodied individuals,” “fit,” “healthy,” or “strong.” The Americans with Disabilities Act’s website is a good resource for helping you maintain inclusive hiring and employment practices for people of all abilities.


If you’re ever unsure how to avoid discriminatory language in your job postings, err on the side of caution. Generally speaking, if the wording in question is not related to the role, leave it out of your posting. Instead, focus on highlighting the skills the candidate needs to succeed in the position, the job duties, and information about your company and its culture. Lastly, don’t forget to note that you are an Equal Opportunity Employer (EOE) and consider including a brief statement on your inclusive hiring practices.


To learn more about how to write a good job ad, check out the step-by-step guide in our eBook, “The Art of the Job Ad.”


Disclaimer: This article is not intended to serve as a replacement for legal advice. Please consult your HR department or legal team for more detailed information on inclusive hiring practices.


By iHire | November 10, 2020