Preferred Skills: Yes or No In The Job Post?

In college, I was a server among other jobs. I loved it. Coming from a family that was pretty particular about service, I knew to watch the drink glasses. Look for the wandering eyes asking for help. And of course, to make sure the orders came out right.

That’s code for “I learned by being really embarrassed by my family.” I’ll say it: they were assholes to servers. I’m convinced some of them actually made a fuss just to get free food. I had no interest in having a conversation like that.

So no matter how specific or the preference, I would communicate the request explicitly with the kitchen and double check before taking the plate to the table. This was a long time before food allergies became so well known, but I was determined not to get into any conversations like the ones with my family. It paid off, especially in the tips from my regular customers. 

Preferences Are For Food, Not Job Posts

In a restaurant, preferences matter. You can, and should, have whatever you like. Not so much in a job post. Preferences should be for steak and shrimp, not a job posting.

I want to be clear I’m not saying you can’t make a list of requirements and identify what you’re really looking for, but I can almost guarantee you’re cutting your diverse, qualified applicant flow significantly. By adding a laundry list of preferred skills that aren’t necessary to be successful in the job, you’re making qualified candidates second guess if they should apply.

You’ve probably heard the stat that men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them. The finding comes from a HP internal report, and has been quoted in dozens of articles and books.

While some say it’s about women gaining confidence, I think it’s broader and deeper than gender. We live in a world where the playing field isn’t even and we still have so many firsts, whether it’s in the government, Olympics, at work, or in the world of science. While we still live in a world dominated with headlines remarking that no one has ever been there before, that’s proof there’s still a long way to go when it comes to equity. Proof that those preferred skills are still keeping people out instead of inviting them in.

Preferred Skills Aren’t Mandatory

Inviting people in means doing something different than we have for the last 100 years. It means deleting bias from your requirements (I’ll teach you how to do that here), but first it falls to the recruiter to actually understand the mandatory requirements.

Mandatory has taken on many different meanings with recruiters and managers so let me be extra clear: mandatory means without the help of God, Google, or a really great mentor you could not possibly learn this skill from if you haven’t done it before.

So step 1? Delete the preferred skills section. You don’t need it, especially if you’re out there preaching about DEI initiatives and diverse pipelines of candidates. Then, you need to work closely with managers during the intake to actually understand what’s mandatory.

The most effective way? Ask questions about requirements that help you understand the experiences that would qualify this person to do the job, not a laundry list of skills. We’re never going to ask “What are the minimum requirements?” Instead, you might ask things like…

  • What will this person do every day?
  • What tools will they use?
  • Who do they work with?

Then summarize those skills back to the manager versus asking for mandatory requirements by saying something like: “Here’s what I’m hearing. You need…” Push back on preferences and use the research to coach managers on writing better requirements.

Preferences are perfect for a restaurant meal but mess up the opportunity for someone to find their job when they’re incorporated in the job posting. Coach and ask questions to write a job post that begins to invite the best talent to apply instead of making them question if they’re qualified.

Job Postings recruiting

Kat Kibben View All →

Kat Kibben [they/them] is a keynote speaker, writing expert, and LGBTQIA+ advocate who teaches hiring teams how to write inclusive job postings that will get the right person to apply faster.

Before founding Three Ears Media, Katrina was a CMO, Technical Copywriter, and Managing Editor for leading companies like Monster,, and Randstad Worldwide. With 15+ years of recruitment marketing and training experience, Katrina knows how to turn talented recruiting teams into talented writers who write for people, not about work.

Today, Katrina is frequently featured as an HR and recruiting expert in publications like The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Forbes. They’ve been named to numerous lists, including LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Job Search & Careers. When not speaking, writing, or training, you’ll find Katrina traveling the country in their van or spending some much needed downtime with the dogs that inspired the name Three Ears Media.

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