Assessing the quality
of space job adverts

Summary

  • We reviewed 50 job adverts from 50 space companies, and scored them against 10 criteria based on recruitment best practice for a maximum score of 100.
  • The average score was just 54 out of 100. The range was between 30 and 91.
  • Most adverts did well on the ‘core’ elements of job title, company background, job description, and person specification.
  • Most adverts did not provide information about salaries, benefits, or the application process, and did not have a diversity statement.
  • These are elements which can have the biggest impact on the range of candidates who apply, so improving them is key to improving the diversity of the space sector.
  • We recommend that the space sector commits to improving job adverts by stating salary and benefits, being clear about the application process, improving the quality of the writing, and including diversity statements.
  • Our Space Recruitment Toolkit contains advice and examples about how to write better adverts that follow the best practice described here.

Introduction

The UK’s space sector is growing at a rate of more than 3% per annum, creating hundreds of new jobs each year 1.

The quality of a job advert has a significant impact on the number, range, and quality of candidates who apply, and though nearly 40% of space organisations say that recruitment is a major barrier to their growth 1, the quality of space job adverts is generally mediocre at best.

In this report we analyse a representative sample of space job adverts and identify key areas for improvement for the sector.

We have not examined trends in how different types of jobs are advertised, as most of the differences between adverts is driven by which company is advertising them, rather than what role they are for.


Methodology and Results

Selection Process

We selected 50 job adverts from 50 different space companies. The companies and roles were primarily UK based (80%), or European companies hiring from the UK (18%). One American company was also included.

The adverts were selected largely at random, usually whatever happened to be open and appear first in search results. However we made sure to include a representative mix of types of functions (engineering, software, project management, finance etc.), seniority levels, and companies.

The characteristics of the datasets and its limitations are given in the Appendix.

Where possible, we tried to look at adverts on the company’s own website or recruitment platform, rather than on jobs boards, so that they were formatted as the company had intended.

Only the job advert was assessed. Supporting information on the company’s website was not considered unless explicitly referenced (e.g. ‘see this page for a list of our perks’). We chose to exclude this supporting information because it is not included when job adverts are shared outside of the company website, and is therefore not seen by most potential candidates.

Assessment Process

We assessed each advert against a preset list of ten criteria. We gave a score out of ten for each criterion, for a maximum total score of 100. The criteria were developed based on existing literature around recruitment best practices, and are described in more detail below.


Assessment Criteria

Job title

The job title should be short, simple, avoid jargon, and use standard terminology like ‘systems engineer’.

A clear title makes it easy for a candidate to decide whether they might be a good fit. A study by recruiment firm Monster found that 64% of applicants are put off applying for a job if they don’t understand the title 2.

Points were deducted for overly long titles and those that used non-obvious acronyms such as ‘TTC’.

Almost all jobs scored highly on this measure, with a mean of 9.6 and a median of 10. The sector seems to have settled on some standard titles like ‘systems engineer’ which make things a lot easier for job seekers.

‘Senior Software Engineer’ is an example of a good job title. It’s clear what the job is and what level of experience is being looked for.

Salary stated

The salary should be clearly stated.

82% of professionals think that salary is the most important part of a job advert 3. Adverts with salary details get 30% more applicants, and get higher quality applicants 4. Asking candidates to negotiate for a salary results in systematically lower pay for women and minorities 5.

Full marks were awarded for exact salaries and tight ranges of no more than 10%. Wider ranges were marked lower. Salary classification bands like ‘A2’ were scored highly only if it was easy to look them up. Nebulous phrases like ‘competitive salary’ were scored zero.

Most jobs failed this simple test. The mean score was 1.8 and the median was 0. Many didn’t mention salary at all, whilst others just said ‘generous’ or ‘competitive’. The main exceptions were graduate scheme roles and positions at government bodies like the UK Space Agency and RAL Space.

Company background

There should be a clear and concise summary of the company covering what it does, why it does it, its rough size, and a little about the team the position is in, who they are, and how they fit in to the wider company.

Candidates need to know which company and which team within the company they are joining. Millennials (who now represent 50% of the workforce 6) are particularly concerned about company culture and values, and want businesses to focus more on people and purpose 7.

Low marks were given for generic phrases that could apply to any organisation, such as ‘we are a dynamic and energetic company’, for dry descriptions stating things like company revenues, and for exclusionary language like ‘we are the brightest and the best’ (see our article on why this is a problem). Comprehensive but overly long descriptions were scored 7 or 8.

This criterion saw a lot of variability, with a wide spread of scores. The mean score was 4.9 and the median was 6. Some companies wrote as much as 500 words, whilst others had just a single line.

Among the best was Open Cosmos’, which broke this section into three parts: the company, the people, and the vision, with about 50 words on each:

The Company

Open Cosmos are revolutionising space technology and opening up the cosmos to everyone. Our simple, affordable satellite missions give organisations the chance to use space technology as a tool to get your ideas into orbit. Our mission is to make the leaps in space that become the leaps on Earth.

The People

Compiled of 60+ people from over 15 nationalities, we have a culturally diverse workforce full of Engineers, Software Developers, Mission Managers, HR experts and even Recruiters! Beyond the office, we have bakers, long distance runners, climbers, rowers, golfers and mixed martial artists!

The Vision

By making space data more accessible and affordable, we want to be the platform that allows applicable solutions to be the prevention, not the cure. When tragedy strikes, Earth Observation satellites can be used to detect where resources would be most effective and map out the scale of damage to help decision makers rebuild.

Job description

There should be a clear and concise summary of the role, what will be involved, and why. Candidates need to know what their day-to-day activities might be and how they fit in to the wider company, without being overwhelmed by a long list of tasks.

Points were deducted for unexplained jargon but not for appropriate technical language. Comprehensive but overly long descriptions were scored 7 or 8. Top marks were awarded where the description also talked about the ‘why’, for example ‘analysing datasets’ would not meet this requirement, but ‘analysing datasets to provide insights to the business development team’ would.

This criterion also saw a lot of variability. The mean score was 6.9 and the median was 7. The worst descriptions left us unclear what the role involved, while the best, such as CGI’s, provided a clear breakdown of the role and how it fitted in to the wider business:

As a Java Software Engineer on our team, you will be working on a Mission Critical System that is part of the Galileo infrastructure. The system is characterized by a high level of complexity with the added challenge of it being operational and requiring next to 100% availability.

Your work will contribute to the security aspects and data protection of this navigation mission. Your main task is software development according to the component and element requirements, which includes investigation, solution proposal, implementation, and review of code.

Other responsibilities are performing peer-reviews, reviewing the required documentation and providing support on-site personnel from your expertise. You have to be willing to travel to client sites and other CGI offices around Europe.

Person specification

There should be a clear and concise summary of the kind of person the company is looking for.

Candidates need to be able to make a judgement about whether or not it is worth them applying to the role.

Low marks were given when it was unclear which skills were essential and which were only desirable, and when the list of essential skills was overly long or not appropriate to the role. Points were also deducted for requesting an arbitrary number of years of experience and for vague requirements like ‘a good degree’ (see our two articles on why these are a problem). Full marks were awarded where there was also some kind of supporting text explaining that candidates were not expected to meet every requirement.

Scores in this category were generally good. The mean score was 7.3 and the median was 7. Among the best was Deimos Space’s, which broke the requirements down into education, professional experience, technical requirements, language skills, and personal skills, with a couple of bullet points for each subsection:

Education:

  • A degree in computer science, physics, engineering, mathematics or similar is preferred although not essential if the candidate has the right experience.

Professional Experience:

  • The candidate should have some experience in software development. The position can be tailored depending upon the level of experience.
  • Industrial experience would be viewed positively.
  • Experience in ESA/European programmes is welcome.
  • Experience in the Instrument Processing Chain would be helpful

Technical Requirements:

Required:
  • Programming languages: Some experience of using C/C++. Experienced Java developers will also be considered and retained in C++.
Desirable:
  • Java, MATLAB and web service experience is useful.
  • Software engineering methods and techniques.
  • A good understanding of maths/physics is helpful.
  • Experience in developing or using computer simulations of real-world systems, or in analysis of data.
  • Knowledge of image processing techniques should be considered an asset

Language Skills:

  • High level of English

Personal Skills:

  • Self-organisation.
  • Ability to work in teams.

Gendered language

The advert should not use language that has been demonstrated to deter women from applying.

The space sector has a historic bias against women, and certain words are gender-biased, which means that they are statistically likely to change the gender balance of applicants. For example, ‘determined’ is more likely to attract men, and ‘committed’ is more likely to attract women 8.

Adverts were run through a basic gendered language checker designed to assess job adverts. Points were deducted for adverts that were overly masculine or used gendered terminology such as ‘manpower’, ‘manned spacecraft’, and ‘he will’. Points were not deducted for jobs that were found to be feminine coded, because of the sector’s historic bias.

The results of the checker were reviewed manually to ensure that the coding was appropriate. For example the checker flagged ‘attitude’ as a masculine-coded word, but it was discounted as the context was attitude control of a spacecraft.

Scores in this category were generally very good. The mean score was 9 and the median was 10. Where there was bias, it tended to be very small.

Benefits

There should be a clear list of perks or benefits associated with the role, and they should be inclusive.

Benefits such as ‘after work drinks’ are often not appealing to candidates with family commitments. Women are much more likely to value flexible working 9.

Basic benefits such as holiday and a pension were scored poorly. Options for flexible and/or remote working (where possible for the type of role), and mentions of support for good work-life balance and for families all scored highly. We tried not to assess the quality of the benefits, and instead focused on how they were described.

The scores in this category were generally very poor. The mean score was 2.8 and the median was 1. Many adverts made no mention of benefits at all. Those that did usually only mentioned holiday allowance and pensions. Some listed “a full time position” as a benefit. Among the best was GMV’s, which talked about professional development opportunities, work-life balance, and team sports competitions:

  • Annual Leave of 27.5 days (+ 8 Public and Bank holidays).
  • Flexible working hours to promote work/life balance.
  • Extensive career development/promotional opportunities.
  • ‘Cycle to Work’ scheme to enable affordable, healthy travel.
  • Free car park.
  • Onsite modern, fully functional gym + classes.
  • Access to on-site restaurant and café.
  • Many more benefits including healthcare plans and childcare schemes.

Transparent application process

There should be a clear summary of the application process including key dates (closing, interviews etc.), what the assessment process will be, and whether or not candidates will hear back if they are unsuccessful.

The people who benefit most from transparent processes are people who come from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds, often the first in the family to go to university and to apply for graduate jobs. In 2016, the Civil Service made their Fast Stream recruitment process clearer and saw a doubling of applications and appointments of people from lower socio-economic backgrounds 10.

For this criterion we also included any text on any immediately obvious pages about how to apply, and on whatever page was shown when clicking any apply button.

The scores in this category were generally very poor. The mean score was 2.1 and the median was 1. Most adverts did not give any information at all about the application process, with many not even mentioning a closing date. The highest score in this category was 9 for the UK Space Agency’s, which gave a list of all the key dates along with a detailed explanation of the different stages of the assessment process:

At this stage, the expected timetable is:

  • Sift to be held by: w/c 14th September 2020
  • Assessments to be held: w/c 5th October 2020
  • Interviews to be held: w/c 19th September 2020
  • Interviews location: Virtually via Teams

If candidates are required to prepare a presentation for their interview, they will be given at least one week’s notice of the subject.

Candidates will complete a range of online psychometric tests - mainly personality questionnaires but often including aptitude tests.

Full details of the selection and assessment process will be made available to shortlisted candidates once the shortlist has been completed but will include a Independent Leadership Assessment and a Final Panel Interview.

Diversity statement

There should be a statement that the company is committed to hiring diversely and welcoming applications from anyone.

Good diversity statements give the applicant a sense that they will be valued as a member of the team, regardless of their background. Underrepresented groups are more likely to consider applying when there is evidence a company is inclusive 11. Adverts with good diversity statements have been found to bring in more applicants from all demographic groups, and to fill vacancies faster than those without one 12. Poorly worded statements can put off candidates from both underrepresented 13 and overrepresented groups 14.

Generic phrases like ‘We are an equal opportunities employer’ scored poorly (see our article on why this is not enough). Statements that were clearly specific to the company and that mentioned specific actions the company was taking to encourage diversity scored highly.

The scores in this category were generally very poor. The mean score was 1.4 and the median was 0. Most adverts made no mention of any commitment to diversity, and those that did paid lip service. The highest score was 8, for the Open University’s:

We value diversity and we recognise that different people bring different perspectives, ideas, knowledge and culture, and that this difference brings great strength. Applications from candidates with protected characteristics are welcomed. Where you start in life doesn’t dictate where you go.

Formatting

The advert should be easily readable, free of typos and grammatical errors, well formatted (headings, bullet points etc.), and accessible by those using assistive devices such as screen readers.

Typos and poor formatting can make adverts difficult to read and to understand. Certain formatting, such as poor contrast between the text and background, can also make an advert inaccessible to those with visual impairments and conditions such as dyslexia 15. 50% of web traffic is now on mobile 16, so adverts should be easily readable on small screens.

Well formatted, typo-free, and accessible adverts scored highly. Marks were deducted for typos, formatting errors, and aspects of the website which would reduce accessibility.

The scores in this category were generally good. The mean score was 7.9 and the median was 8. There were generally few typos, but formatting was more variable with some adverts changing font halfway through, being strangely laid out, or having very low contrast (for example grey text on a black background) that made reading difficult. No advert received a perfect score, but many received a 9.

We hope very much that this report would get a score of 9 or 10, but if you do find any issues, please do let us know.


What does the data say?

The mean score was just 53.6 out of 100, while the median was 52. The range was between 30 and 91, and one standard deviation was 12.4.

Distribution of total scores. The line marks the median. Green dots (8%) are ‘good’ with a score of 75 or more. Orange dots (48%) are ‘mediocre’ with a score of between 75 and 50. Purple dots (44%) are ‘poor’ with a score of less than 50.

Most adverts did reasonably well on the ‘core’ of job title, company background, job description, and person specification. This is unsurprising, as these are the elements most often emphasised in guides about how to write job adverts, and are the vital elements without which the company would get few applications at all.

However, most adverts also did very poorly on salary, benefits, diversity statements, and process transparency. These are elements which are much less often mentioned in guides, but are also the parts which can have the biggest impact on the diversity of candidates who apply.

Violin plots showing distribution of scores for each criterion. Crosses mark the medians. Ticks mark the interquartile ranges.

The best adverts came from public bodies such as the UK Space Agency, the Met Office, and universities. They had a mean score of 73 and median of 78, compared to 50 for both for private companies. We suggest that this is because they tend to be larger with set processes for recruitment, and are under more scrutiny as public bodies.

Mean total scores by employer type.

Large companies did perform slightly better on average, but this difference was not statistically significant, and there was otherwise very little meaningful variation between either the average scores for companies in different sizes or segments.

Mean total scores by employer size.
Mean total scores by employer segment.

Recommendations

Hiring is key to ensuring the UK space sector meets its goal of a 10% global market share by 2030. It is vital that companies follow best practices in hiring to ensure that they aren’t losing out on attracting good candidates. We already know that the space sector is some way behind other sectors in doing this 17, and our previous work has shown that the space sector is particularly competing with the tech sector for talent 18.

The issues described in this report are not difficult to address. The sector has an opportunity to quickly and cheaply make significant improvements to its hiring processes to attract more higher quality applicants from more diverse backgrounds. We make four key recommendations:

  1. State salary and benefits. The vast majority of applicants want to see salary information, and clear and inclusive benefits bring in applicants from more diverse backgrounds.
  2. Be clear about the application process. Clearly outlining the process benefits everyone, but especially those from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
  3. Improve the quality of the writing. Clear, concise, and specific information about the company, the job, and the desired candidate helps applicants decide between adverts and whether they should apply.
  4. Include a diversity statement. A good diversity statement makes it clear that an applicant will be valued as a member of the team regardless of their background, leads to more diverse applicants, and results in the vacancy being filled faster.

Space Recruitment Toolkit

We have developed a toolkit of articles with advice and examples designed to help companies write better job adverts that follow the best practice described above. The toolkit can be found here.


Acknowledgements

We are grateful to Kat Matfield for the development of the ‘Gender Decoder for Job Ads’ tool, and to Matt Jukes for his article on scoring job adverts, which partly inspired this work. We would also like to thank Áine O'Brien, Rob Garner, and Jacob Smith for spotting some formatting errors and typos of our own.


Licence

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You can copy, redistribute, and adapt what we’ve presented for any non-commercial purpose. However, you must give us credit and link back to this page. If you want to use it in a commercial context, get in touch with us.


References

  1. Sadlier et al. (2019). The Size and Health of the UK Space Industry 2018. London Economics.
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  3. CV Library (2019). Research shows employers DON’T KNOW what professionals want from a job offer. CV Library.
  4. Innovantage (2013). The neglected details - Salary information in recruitment ads. Innovantage.
  5. Hernandez, M. and Avery, D.R. (2016). Getting the Short End of the Stick: Racial Bias in Salary Negotiations. MIT Sloan Management Review.
  6. PwC (2011). Millennials at work Reshaping the workplace, p3. PwC.
  7. Deloitte (2017). The Deloitte Millennial Survey 2017, p1. Deloitte.
  8. Gaucher, D., Friesen, J., and Kay, A. C (2011). Evidence that gendered wording in job advertisements exists and sustains gender inequality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
  9. Government Equalities Office (2019). Employment Pathways and Occupation Change After Childbirth. Government Equalities Office.
  10. Social Mobility Foundation (2018). The Social Mobility Employer Index 2018: Key findings, p15. Social Mobility Foundation.
  11. Zalis, S. (2019). Inclusive ads are affecting consumer behavior, according to new research. Google.
  12. Sanchez, C. (2020). How to write a job description in 2020: Best practices from half a billion job postings. Textio.
  13. Leibbrandt, A. and List, J.A. (2018). Do Equal Employment Opportunity Statements Backfire? Evidence From A Natural Field Experiment On Job-Entry Decisions. National Bureau of Economic Research.
  14. Dover, T.L., Major, B., and Kaiser, C.R. (2016). Members of high-status groups are threatened by pro-diversity organizational messages. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
  15. Sethfors, H. (2017). Web accessibility according to people with disabilities. Royal National Institute of Blind People.
  16. StatCounter (2020). Desktop vs Mobile vs Tablet Market Share Worldwide. StatCounter.
  17. Space Talent (2019). 2019 Hiring Trends, p18. Space Talent.
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Appendix

Limitations

Selection process

We were only able to assess job adverts that were available online at the time. Since COVID-19 has affected hiring across all sectors, we may have had access to a smaller sample of job adverts than would be usually available.

Assessment process

Whilst we have tried to be as objective as possible in this assessment, the nature of the variability in adverts means that some subjective judgement was required. We may also have overlooked some typos or formatting errors, and missed some information.

The tool we used to check the gender bias of advert wording is limited and inexact. Some necessary technical words will have been incorrectly gender coded, and it is likely that there is gendered language that is not covered by this tool. More comprehensive tools exist, but were beyond the budget of this study.

Dataset characteristics

Employer Segment

We used segment definitions that are broadly the same as those used by the UK Space Agency 1.

Employers were only classified into one segment. Employers whose activities spanned more than one segment were classified into the most relevant area, but we recognise that this will not always be a perfect fit.

Distribution of adverts by employer segment.
SegmentNumber of adverts
(count)
Number of adverts
(%)
Upstream2244
Downstream1836
Ancillary714
Academia36

Employer Type

We classified universities and governmental and intergovernmental agencies as public bodies. No third sector organisations were included in this data set, as no suitable adverts were available at the time of the study.

Distribution of adverts by employer type.
TypeNumber of adverts
(count)
Number of adverts
(%)
Public body714
Private company4386

Employer Size

We used the OCED’s definitions for business size based on the number of employees 19 for our classification.

Distribution of adverts by employer size.
SizeNumber of adverts
(count)
Number of adverts
(%)
Micro (1–9 employees)714
Small (10–49)612
Medium (50–249)1125
Large (250+)2652