People aren’t reading your job ad. Here’s why.

25 Feb 2020

If you’re not getting enough quality applications from your job postings, it could be down to your advert’s readability.

What is readability?

Readability is a measure of how easy a piece of text is to read and understand. One way of measuring readability in job ads is to analyse reading age.

Reading age looks at things like sentence length, syllable density and vocabulary to score the level of education a person needs in order to comfortably understand a document. The higher the reading age, the more difficult your job posting is to understand.

Why does readability matter in job adverts?

We analysed the average reading age of 8,500 UK job adverts from a range of industries, from engineering to education. And what we found is pretty eye opening. Take a look:

Table showing average reading age of job adverts by industry

The average reading age of a UK job advert is 19.3. It varies slightly depending on industry, with hospitality coming in at 17.7 and Public Sector recruitment ads topping the list with a mind-blowing 20.5. In fact, 14% (or 1 in 8) job adverts we analysed were harder to understand than Charles Darwin’s “Origin of Species”.

1 in 8 job adverts are more difficult to read than Darwin's Origin of Species

This is a real problem for recruiters. Up to 16 million adults – that’s nearly half the workforce – have the reading and writing skills expected of a child leaving primary school.

Add onto this the 4.2 million people that speak English as a second language, the 1 in 10 people with dyslexia and the 1.5 million with ADHD, and you’re instantly making your role inaccessible to 20-40% of the entire UK population.

“But I’m hiring rocket scientists” I hear you say. “I’m looking for people who have high literacy skills”

A 2012 study by Christopher Trudeau found that as education levels increase, so does the preference for plain language. And the impact of this is significant. Research by renowned UX consultancy Nielson Norman Group showed that reducing the reading age of text on a website can increase conversion rates by 37% for most users - 78% for lower literacy users.

How can you make a job ad more readable?

There are many factors that affect readability. Here are some of the steps you can take to lower your reading age and improve the quality of applications from your recruitment campaign:

Reduce sentence and word length

The Plain English Campaign suggests an average sentence length of 15 to 20 words. Stick to one idea per sentence and prefer shorter words wherever possible.

Vary your sentence length to give rhythm and pace to your text

Be punchy. Try mixing longer sentences with shorter ones to give your writing rhythm and keep your readers interested.

Write in an active voice – it’s clearer and more direct

You can work out whether a sentence is active or passive by identifying who or what is doing the action. A passive sentence won’t state who is doing the action or will put them at the end of the sentence. Here’s an example:

PASSIVE: The performance of the team will be monitored PASSIVE: The performance of the team will be monitored by you ACTIVE: You will monitor the performance of the team

Use ‘you’ rather than ‘the candidate’ and ‘we’ to refer to your company

Your job advert should always focus more on the jobseeker than on your company. Addressing candidates directly will help them identify with and imagine the role.

Use everyday English as much as possible

Take a step back and write exactly what you mean. You’re not looking for an ideas engineer, you’re looking for a designer; blue-sky thinking is thinking creatively; and buy-in is support or backing.

Don’t worry too much about being grammatically correct

Forget what you learned at school. Split those infinitives. Start sentences with conjunctions, like and, but and however. And don’t worry about ending a sentence with a preposition – it’s often clearer.

Do you consider readability when writing your recruitment ads? If you'd like to see how your ads compare, then get in touch for your free readability assessment and report.

Get my free readability report