Four steps to writing a great job ad

Anyone who has looked for a job at any stage in their career can probably agree, reading job advertisements is a bore. It is a laborious task, scrolling through similar ad after similar ad on job boards, company pages and LinkedIn. “Amazing culture”, “incredible opportunity”, “generous remuneration” … it doesn’t really matter what the role is, descriptors like these seem to always appear.

Sympathy must be extended for those who are tasked with frequently writing job ads. From internal recruiters to agency specialists like Open Door, writing a lot of job ads can be tiresome and particularly difficult if you want to be consistently original.

Here are a few tips for all you internal recruiters and agency specialists alike, on how to keep your job ads fresh and readable.

One. Less is more

In the words of the late Mark Twaine, “I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead”. Indeed, sometimes it is easier to blab on. I’m tempted to do so right now. Yet if there is one thing you can be sure of; your reader has little time to spare, particularly in this digital age of rapid browsing and skimming. Further, ‘short and sweet’ leaves something to the imagination and imagination is a powerful thing.

Two. It’s not about you, it’s about them

I once worked with an exceptional recruiter and agency MD, Steve Ludlow of Harlow Group (if you need a sales person, look him up). He taught me an incredibly important idea. 99% of job ads are written from the position of “what we are looking for is…”. This is the wrong side of the equation to write from. Instead, hiring managers and recruiters should ask themselves the question, “what is the talent that we want?”, and write to that. You will always get John Smith from the local Fish and Chip shop applying for your Senior Project Manager role, but writing your ad to deter the people you don’t want is less effective than writing an add to attract the ones you do. That means writing from the perspective of the searcher, not the advertiser.

Three. Adjectives are not as good as facts

When you say “amazing, vibrant culture”, what do you actually mean by these descriptors? Try to connect these to examples or situations, which potential candidates can easily relate to. For example, a particularly successful job advert I wrote referred to the culture and brand loyalty of an automotive company being so strong that “you’ll find yourself wearing the company polo at your weekend BBQ”. Several candidates made mention of the ‘polo thing’ in subsequent interviews, affirming their desire to really want to like the company they end up working for.
Another commonly used adjectival phrase is “room for growth”, but what does this actually mean? Companies may have excellent strategies to ensure employees get quality mentoring and sponsorship from the next layer up. There are probably many great success stories to choose from but for some reason these great ad opportunities fall prey to bland and almost meaningless “excellent room for growth” type phrases, which do little to excite potential candidates. Seek to connect to real life situations, which inspire and excite people to apply.

Four. Write like a human.

This is especially difficult in large organisations where, to avoid scrutiny from others we tend to be “professional” in our communications. Interestingly, “professional” is neither engaging nor different. It is simply safe. If you want to stand out from the rest and grab a candidate’s attention you’ve got to write like a human. In the words of Seth Godin, “if you try and please everyone you will please no one”. Take a risk. Write like you were sitting opposite the candidate and telling them about the role.

In summary

It takes quite a significant change in perspective to truly write your job ad from the perspective of the searcher rather than the advertiser. Human nature is such that change can be incremental and difficult. Rather than implementing several of these techniques in one go, spruce up your job ads by initially just picking and fully implementing one of these strategies. Then monitor, adjust and test some more. Remember, you’re not advertising for who you want. You’re advertising for what who you want, wants. Something like that.
If you have anything else to add, please by all means leave it in the comments below. We can all benefit from a world with better quality job ads.

About the author:

I am a Founder and Director at Open Door Recruitment and Development. At Open Door, we are dedicated to doing our bit to make sure good people grow into great leaders and work where they can create real impact. I have been in people-centric roles my entire career and now leverage a passion for people, a belief in the power of leadership to change the world and a partnership with Dattner Group, to deliver recruitment that makes a difference. I am a passionate believer in diverse leadership. Not for equality or even economic benefit, but because diverse leadership is a necessity for the prosperity of us all.

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