Why Aren't Diverse Candidates Applying to My Jobs? 6 Reasons

by John Calderon on October 28, 2021

It’s a refrain we hear often from frustrated HR professionals -- “We are actively searching for diverse talent, but we are not getting qualified candidates.” The truth is that while the intention may be there, more goes into recruiting a diverse workforce than just the desire. 

If job seekers from underrepresented groups view your organization’s culture, website, or even the job listings as limiting or exclusionary, they are much less likely to apply. While some changes to an agency’s culture may be harder fought, there are other factors you can change with a little effort to increase the volume and movement of diverse talent through your hiring funnel. If you’re wondering why diverse candidates aren’t applying to your jobs, here are six aspects to consider.

Employer branding that doesn’t speak to applicants. Gone are the days of asking solely what an employee can do for you. GovernmentJobs.com data from 2021 demonstrated that despite hires being up by 22% year-over-year, applications per job are down by 23% when compared to 2020. This is generally consistent across the board when you drill down by ethnicity, race, or gender. 

Thinking about what makes your organization appealing to you and your colleagues -- especially those from underrepresented groups -- and then stringing those attributes together into a story about why people enjoy working there is more likely to yield quality applicants than career pages devoid of any personality. 

Think of what you can offer as an employer to all candidates, but especially diverse ones that might feel alienated at their current organizations or skeptical about the prospect of objective upward mobility. As you develop your employer brand, ask these questions: Are there opportunities for mentorship and developmental growth? Are superstar employees recognized, given more responsibility, and regularly promoted? 

Another factor important to many candidates, including diverse ones, is whether your agency’s mission statement strongly aligns with serving the community, and, more importantly, is that expressed clearly on the website and career pages? 

Of course, you’ll want to highlight any great benefits or perks your agency offers, but putting your best foot forward when it comes to conveying the culture of your organization is much more likely to attract diversity.

Lack of an obvious presence of women, BIPOC, or other underrepresented groups. A progressive employer brand that has values of equity and service is a great start, but it must also be tangibly present in the organization. A lack of diversity in an organization may allude to the fact that there is an institutional problem with equity, which is likely to turn job seekers off. When a potential applicant is researching an organization’s website that includes people who look like them -- as well as people from all backgrounds -- it implies they’ll feel accepted and welcome, thus leading to more interest from diverse candidates. 

It’s important to remember that representation should be reflected across the entire organization. If you have many Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) employees in one role or department, but all the leadership roles belong to White men, don’t assume it will be overlooked. It signals to the applicant that there is only room for growth for certain types of employees; namely, not them. This is obviously a change that can’t be made overnight, but taking serious stock of what the agency can do to put more diverse employees into senior leadership roles should begin in earnest.

Narrowly-worded job descriptions. Coded language in job postings is rarely intended by recruiters to be restrictive, but using gendered or othered language can make applicants question whether they’d fit in at your organization. You should always use gender neutral pronouns in job descriptions, and stay away from terms that are stereotypically associated with masculinity or a “boys’ club” culture. Terms used like “ninja” or “wrestle” -- or anything associated with aggression or fighting -- were more likely to alienate female applicants, according to a study by University of Waterloo and Duke University.

Excessive or unrealistic prerequisites. When reviewing your job descriptions for exclusionary language, you should also examine whether or not the requirements for the job are exclusionary. Make a list of what’s an acceptable requirement for each job and which are just “nice-to-haves.” Do you really need to know what someone’s GPA was? Is a candidate who has an MBA absolutely necessary for what the job entails? These arbitrary eligibility factors may be driving qualified diverse candidates away, especially those who may have not had the opportunity to go to costly educational institutions or obtain advanced degrees.

Consider what a candidate may be able to learn on the job vs. what skills they need to get started on day one. If a candidate has limited experience but shows an aptitude for learning, you may be opening up your applicant pool significantly to more diversity.

Lack of flexibility in location. With the sweeping changes to work that came along with COVID-19, job seekers are much more likely to be looking for remote or a hybrid work schedule. A lack of flexibility may imply to job seekers that the agency is resistant to change and has archaic ways of thinking. When opening up a job req, consider whether full-time, on-site employment is mandatory. Likely, there are at least a handful of jobs that can work remotely at least part of the time.

Offering some level of flexibility opens up a greater available pool of job seekers, especially diverse ones. Perhaps the immediate surrounding area of your agency doesn’t have much diversity; however, you have a qualified diverse candidate who lives further away but is more than capable of doing the job from home. If you insist that an employee for a given position to be local, consider factoring relocation stipends into your hiring budget to attract more diverse applicants.

Limited sourcing for candidates. If you have a lack of diverse candidates applying to your agency’s jobs, it may be time to consider where you’re sourcing candidates from. Are you holding job fairs, posting jobs online, and advertising in places where diverse candidates are likely to see them? Consider targeting specific institutions such as Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), or professional groups and job boards that cater to specific types of underrepresented candidates. 

Using an applicant tracking system that allows you to see the leading sources of diverse candidates can be a huge help. You can then put more time, effort, and advertising budget into these sources, if appropriate.

Once you’ve adjusted your approach so that more diverse candidates are applying to your jobs, you’ll want to make sure you’re continuing the work to ensure diverse employees are happy and confident after they’ve joined the agency and for years to come. To get started, check out these 16 Reasons Diverse Employees Feel Slighted so that you can avoid bias pitfalls in the workplace.

John Calderon

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