9 Red Flags in Job Listings that Prevent Candidates from Applying

by John Calderon (NEOGOV) on January 25, 2022

Recent research by GovernmentJobs.com found that public sector applications are down overall even though hiring is on an upswing. This poses a problem today for agencies who are looking to fill critical vacancies. While offering unique perks and benefits, as well as a more stable work-life balance compared to the private sector, are great things you should be highlighting in your job listings, you should also consider what may be turning job applicants off early on in the hiring process. Doing everything you can to shine a light on what makes working for your organization special will help you get the best talent. Let’s take a look at nine red flags in job listings that prevent candidates from applying to a job.

  • Your careers site is not engaging. A boring or old school-looking careers site is likely to turn job seekers off. When someone is searching for a new job, they are looking for a new and great opportunity to advance their career, and something worthwhile of leaving their current role. Make sure you’re using compelling photos (avoid stock images and instead use real ones of your office site and employees, whenever possible), videos that talk about your agency’s unique goals and ways it serves the community, and provide concise copy on what its like to work there. Chances are, there are hundreds of the job types like those you're posting elsewhere on the internet -- people want to know the place they work is as rewarding as the actual job functions they perform.
  • You lack a cohesive and appealing employer brand. Your employer brand will be critical to attract talent. As we mentioned, there are probably similar job listings at competing agencies as well as in the private sector that you’ll be competing against. Build your employer brand around not only want you do to serve the community your agency belongs to, but also what makes it a special place to work for employees. Talk to current employees about what they love most about working at your agency. Record these statements for written or video testimonials that will speak to what a great candidate is looking for in their next place of employment. This is also a great opportunity to demonstrate your organization’s values around diversity, equity, and inclusion, since 70% of job seekers value this in a job, according to The Manifest.
  • Your job listings are difficult to access or read. If a job seeker lands on your website, but it’s not immediately obvious where to access the careers page, they are much more likely to lose interest. Similarly, if your jobs page is difficult to read (too much text, small fonts, or poor design), job seekers will navigate away from the site. This is especially true if your careers site is not mobile-friendly -- some 61% of all applications came from mobile-devices in 2020 according to Appcast, so keep that in mind if your careers page is clunky via smartphone.
  • Your jobs are too difficult to apply to. An application process that isn’t user friendly is likely to turn job seekers off from applying. If you’re asking them to jump through too many hoops, or requiring the repeated entry of the same information, this can frustrate applicants to the point of abandoning the process. 
  • Your job postings use the wrong keywords. A spunky or clever job title may seem like it will set you apart from the competition, but remember that job seekers are not usually searching job boards or Google for those names. Instead, stick to a more generic job title that effectively explains the job’s functions but is easily found by search engines. You can get more creative within the actual body of the job posting, but remember to use the accurate and most commonly titled job functions in the post.
  • Your job listings use gendered or buzzword language. This is another mistake employers make when crafting job descriptions -- using gendered or highly specific language with regards to the job can make qualified applicants feel unwanted. In addition to avoiding language that seems overly aggressive (or stereotypically masculine), you should consider speaking in terms of “we” and “you” instead of third person descriptors (e.g., “You bring to our organization extensive experience in public speaking,” instead of “The ideal candidate will have extensive experience in public speaking”). This small change can increase a feeling of inclusivity for job applicants.
  • Your job requirements are over the top. Stick to what’s actually required for an applicant to be successful on day one rather than incorporating unrealistic nice-to-haves. Particularly for the public sector, pay is generally lower when compared to the private sector. You should not be requiring advanced degrees for a role that doesn’t truly require it, or expect X amount of years of experience if the pay is on the lower end of the scale. You should also think about what, if any, job functions can be learned on the job by the right candidate, which will open your applicant field up dramatically.
  • They’ve applied to one of your jobs before and never heard back. Job seeking is stressful and time consuming. There’s nothing worse than putting blood, sweat, and tears into the perfect resume and cover letter, only to never hear a peep from an employer. Don’t assume a job seeker who has applied to your organization before and didn’t get the courtesy of some sort of response will be willing to apply again to you in the future. Politeness aside, keeping applicants in the know about where they stand in the process or that you’d like to consider them in the future for other positions lessens the likelihood that a candidate leaves applying to your organization with a bad taste in their mouth.

  • You’re not being transparent. With so many job seekers reevaluating what they want out of their careers in light of the pandemic, it’s important that you’re as direct and transparent as possible about what your job entails. Don’t dress it up to be something it’s not, and make sure you aren’t leaving out critical details, such as whether the job is eligible for remote work or not. Being honest about the salary range will also help both you and the applicant decide whether or not they are a good fit or it is outside of their desired range. Like we’ve mentioned before, job requirements shouldn’t be prohibitive, but they should also be an accurate representation of what it looks like to hold down a position.


If you’re looking for even more ways to avoid these types of job listing red flags, check out our list with 29 Hot Tips for Improving Job Postings to Attract the Best Talent.

John Calderon (NEOGOV)

John Calderon is the Content Strategist at NEOGOV. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from University of California, Los Angeles and has spent over a decade creating content as a marketing professional and journalist. Contact John: jcalderon@neogov.net

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