Readability of job Websites

The muddle of Internet job searches

The great majority of jobs are found not through the newspapers or the Internet, but through personal contacts.

AFTER FOUR YEARS of a grinding recession, millions are still out of work and 30 percent of the shop equipment in the U.S. lies idle. In spite of that, in the U.S., there are still three million job openings unfilled.

We have to ask: "With all the great potential of the Internet to match workers with jobs, why is it so ineffective in doing this?"

One answer may be the difficult language used on job Websites.

The jobs-literacy connection

We have known for a long time the connection between unemployment and literacy. Reading skill is tightly related to job performance and unemployment. Reading difficulties substantially weaken labor-market outcomes, especially among women and minorities.

Those with reading difficulties are the last hired and first fired. They are the most apt to be jobless. Seventy percent of those in the lowest literacy levels are either unemployed or working in part-time jobs.

Lisa Davis is a life-long Kansas City resident. Now unemployed and writing as a Yahoo! Contributor, she was surprised at the high level of illiteracy among the unemployed. She writes:

"As our economy continues to struggle, we may need to look a little deeper than eliminating tax breaks for the rich and revising entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

"I recently signed up to be a volunteer tutor, helping adults to read. I had no idea what a big problem this is in America. The information provided about illiteracy in America was staggering.

"Not only do we need to create jobs in America, but we need to create Americans that can do the job."

Unemployment and stress

Long-term employment can be as stressful as the loss of a loved one, with life-long consequences.

Another persistent finding is that long-term unemployment not only causes discouragement, but can also adversely affect one's health. According to psychologist Jose Buendia, long-term unemployment often causes depression, physical and mental illness, alcoholism, substance abuse, and other social ills.

Dr. Buendia says, "Unemployment produces a deterioration of social status and this can affect the self-esteem of the person. If it is long-lasting it can even produce definite health problems, like mental disturbances or depression, but also heart attacks, and now there are even studies linking stress with cancer."

Countless millions lose their self-esteem, damage their relationships to spouses and lovers, friends, children, and other relatives. The personal results of long-term employment can last a lifetime. The costs of a deep and long recession will last for decades and incur countless losses for nearly everyone.

A recent study in Sweden shows that unemployement can reduce crucial skills needed for work by five percent, including reading skills.

Take the case of Soroush Ghaderi, a confident young engineer who worked for 10 years at Sun Microsystems before being laid off in Aprll, 2009. By April of the following year, Ghaderi had sent out hundreds of resumes, been on dozens of interviews, and received zero job offers.

Ghaderi said, "The answers to technical questions weren't as easy for me, and I was told by a couple of companies that they didn't think my programming knowledge was strong enough. Looking back now, I realize that my depression and negativity was probably a factor in some of my interviews."

The reading difficulty of job Websites

Considering the close connections between unemployment and literacy, one might ask, "How have job Websites have responded to these findings?"

Using the Fog Readability Formula to test the grade levels of a few company profiles on monster.com gave us these results:

Company Grade Level
Agfa Health Care 27
Amazon 19
Ameriprise Financial 19
Atlanta Journal-Constitution 17
Blue Cross-Blue Shield 19
Coca Cola 16
Conagra Foods 14
Costco 18
Charles Schwab 20
Dimensions Healthcare 18
Google 11
Hewlett-Packard 16
IBM 15
Intel 16
Kaiser Permanente 13
Kraft Foods 15
Microsoft 10
Ocean Spray 17
Philips North American 19
Raytheon 19
Stanley Steemer 14
St. Joseph's University 23
State Farm Insurance 13
Target 13

It has been stated that 75 percent of the unemployed have limited reading ability and 30 percent don't have the skills to use the Internet.

This is not surprising. As national surveys have shown, 21 percent of adults in the U.S. have limited reading ability, reading below the 5th-grade level. The average adult in the U.S. reads at the 9th-grade level. Most of the company profiles cited above would be very difficult for the average reader and more so for those stressed out by unemployment.

Job descriptions

When we look at online job descriptions, there is an similar disregard for the readers of the texts.

Monster.com has over 300 sample job descriptions that employers can use. They are all extremely difficult, with many written at the 20th-grade level and over.

Job descriptions in the real world are not much better. Here are the Fog Grade Levels of a few job descriptions on the Web:

Employer Position Grade Level
Home Street Bank Teller 15
Costco Sanitation Assistant 13
City of Baltimore Maintenance Worker 18
State of Alabama Administrative Assistant 19
Apple Inventory Specialist 12
Los Angeles County Sanitary Engineer 19
University of Washington Utility Worker 31
City of London Personal Support Worker 18
Waste Management Tractor Trailer Driver 15
City of Toronto Cook 12
City of Auckland Facilities Coordinator 17

We can see that the difficulty of the text often has little to do with the educational or reading requirements of the job being posted. Little attention is given to the reading difficulties of the unemployed or the need to adjust job recruitment to the reading levels of applicants.

The promise of Internet job searching

Santa taking a break at a local library. Free broadband and library computers can also be a big boon to the unemployed.

We can understand why several big companies have stopped using Websites to recruit. Instead, they are now using online social networks, at least for top-paying jobs. The language used there is much more direct, personal, and informal.

For ordinary workers, the use of the Internet seems to have a positive effect on their motivation to continue searching. One study by the Phoenix Center suggests that use of the Internet does serve as a source of information about jobs, employers, and relevant economic conditions. The authors write:

"The use of the Internet could discourage or encourage job seekers, depending on the nature of the information they find there... "

"If, as is often alleged, the Internet provides users with virtual communities that offer support, encouragement, and connection, then use of the Internet might lead to higher subjective evaluations of the job search process than a factual reading of the record would merit.

"This explanation would depend, of course, on the ability of the Internet to provide such affirmation. Our results suggest that use of the Internet by any technology, but especially Broadband and Public use, motivates the jobless to continue active job searches and stay in the labor force."

Addressing the reading skills and habits of the unemployed using the Internet will also greatly encourage them to continue searching, stay in the job market, and even find a job.

Plain language in the news

Plain-language terms of agreement: http://tinyurl.com/772rmy8

Judge prefers clarity over gibberish: http://tinyurl.com/8ecslu8

Readability of campaign speeches: http://tinyurl.com/9q2by4g

Poor readability driving people away? http://tinyurl.com/8t9tedv

Using "but" and "however" at the beginning of a sentence: http://tinyurl.com/92neacv

Fonts and driver safety:http://tinyurl.com/9nkxy4c

Plain language now required for health insurance: http://tinyurl.com/cafq3fk

Band of America adopts plain language: http://tinyurl.com/9v6l6za

U.S. Plain Language Act goes into effect: http://tinyurl.com/cc78qqa

The unreadability of patent law: http://tinyurl.com/8nzezd7

Britishisms in American English: http://tinyurl.com/9txmr77

Bad French used in park signs: http://tinyurl.com/99vho47

Irregularities in English: http://tinyurl.com/d2jlv5a

State budget cuts hit literacy programs: http://tinyurl.com/9e3k8zt

Businesses pay heavily for poor writing skills: http://tinyurl.com/8cn6rm3