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It starts with the message you’re sending

Everything in the County of Los Angeles is big. It’s the single most populous county in the US with over 10 million residents. It employs 111,000 people, from the sheriff’s office to the public library and everything in between. Finding the right people to fulfill the staffing needs of such a massive and varied organization takes a colossal amount of time and effort from a dedicated team of hiring professionals, and the sheer scale of that task had the County searching for innovative ways to reach out to candidates a meaningful, inclusive way. 

"We did not spend millions of dollars on a marketing company! We put in Textio. That’s our secret weapon.”

As a Forbes-ranked Best Employer, the County of Los Angeles is a highly sought after place to work. The county’s Board is a strong champion of workforce development, benefits are competitive, and there are many options for growth. So there’s no shortage of applicants. “We receive over 400,000 applications a year, so there are plenty of individuals who want to work with us. But we don’t always receive the right applicants for our open jobs,” explains Lisa Garrett, Director of Personnel for the County of Los Angeles. She’s seen firsthand the struggles of a government agency trying to hire at the County’s scale and set out to better understand what was really going on. She assembled a team and they dug into their hiring data.

One of the challenges they uncovered was a high number of unqualified applicants. Sorting through applicants that do not have the right skill set made finding a good hire far too difficult and time consuming. “Before we looked at [the data], I don’t think we really knew the volume of applications we received or realized the impact. We were averaging across the County a 37% rate for unqualified applicants, which is high, but when you have 400,000 applications, it is enormous.”

In case you don’t have a calculator handy, that’s 148,000 applications every year that are reviewed by a recruiter and ultimately rejected as unfit. “We had this realization of ‘we really need to start our process by attracting the right people.’ You can do that in a number of ways, but we all agreed that it starts with the message we’re sending in every job post.”

Sending the right message

With that insight in mind, Lisa and her team began reviewing the language in their job posts and found it didn’t measure up to their standards. These documents were 16 pages long and filled with “County speak” that was difficult for applicants to understand or just plain off-putting. As an example, the word “must” showed up an average of nine times in a single job post—a word that, according to Textio’s data, turns away qualified applicants. 

Bar graph labeled "Most frequently used phrases in job posts" with "must" as top phrase with an orange bar indicating increased time to fill. Other words and bar colors in the chart show gender bias and increased/decreased time to fill for certain phrases

On top of the inscrutable language, they found that the voice of the job posts didn’t reflect the culture of the County of Los Angeles.

As one of the most diverse counties in the US, the County of Los Angeles works hard to build a culture of inclusivity that values diversity as a business asset. The county’s career site is an excellent reflection of that culture, but the language within their job posts was very different. “On our website, it’s very, very clear. We talk about inclusion. We talk about diversity. We talk about an inclusive culture. But nowhere in our job postings did we ever say that,” shared Lisa.

It was shocking for Lisa and her team to see that words and phrases like “committed,” “inclusion,” and “valuing diversity” were showing up in less than 2% of their job posts, the thing that applicants are far more likely to read. They recognized that this disconnect was costing them. “The reality is that a bunch of people will go to our website, but 80% of applicants are only reading our job posts. And so, wow! What a big message lost, right?”

Bar chart labeled "Percentage of job posts using key value phrases" with examples like "committed" and "valuing diversity" compared to the County of Los Angeles' top competitor

With a deeper understanding of the problem, the County began looking for solutions to help them update their hiring language and make their messaging more consistent and clear, to attract the right applicants. They also wanted to make sure their job posts were free of any unconscious bias. They published recruitment guidelines which focused on gender-neutral language and recruitment techniques. Human Resources felt strongly that more recruiters and managers across the County would adopt the practice if it were made easy for them—if they had software that would assist them in finding the right words to attract the best candidates using inclusive neutral language. The solution they found to help them with all of that was Textio.

Showing the real County of Los Angeles

With Textio, the County of Los Angeles was able to deliver an enterprise writing platform across its entire organization. Now, writers at the County of Los Angeles lean on data from more than half a billion hiring documents and know which words and phrases have a statistical impact on who is likely to apply. Lisa commented, “It brought an incredible amount of legitimacy to what we were saying, and that really helped. The problem was, before we had Textio, we were guessing about that.”

Transforming all of the language of a massive organization like the County of Los Angeles doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and a commitment to change. But they’ve already seen that Textio is helping them solve the big problems they’d set out to fix. Those 16-page job posts are being reduced to readable proportions. The “County speak” is being replaced with more inclusive, engaging language. Phrases like “passionate about” and “integrity,” which statistically attract more qualified candidates, are being used at a greater rate now that writers have access to Textio’s writing platform. And those language changes are obvious to people familiar with the County.

Graph labeled "Changes in language usage since Textio subscription" showing a balancing of gender bias words and increase of words that reduce time to fill

Lisa ran into someone who works for a “competing” county recently. They’d noticed a change in how the County of Los Angeles job posts were written—they were different, unique.The person asked if the County had hired a marketing company. “No, we did not spend millions of dollars on a marketing company!" Lisa said. "We put in Textio. That’s our secret weapon!”

Candidates see themselves at County of Los Angeles

The mountain of applications from people who don’t fit a role is beginning to shrink. “I’m already seeing a reduction in the number of unqualified applicants. And for us, that’s a big deal because the volume is mind-blowing.” County of Los Angeles writers are using Textio’s insights to be more intentional with their language. They’re using language to paint a clearer picture of the job they’re trying to fill, which makes it easier for candidates to imagine themselves in that job and make an informed decision on whether to apply.

“Who we are hiring is important,” explains Lisa. Police, firefighters, social workers, doctors—the people doing this work keep our society running.” It’s something that employees of the County are mindful of, including Lisa. “The nature of our business is a little bit different. Every organization is important, but our employees are literally changing people’s lives, so it’s kind of a different story.”

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