Winning Job Postings

By Kathy Gurchiek Nov 20, 2014
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You’ve posted the job opening but none of the applicants seem to meet all the requirements—the experience, qualifications, winning personality—that are listed. What’s going on?

Often the way the job ad is written is to blame, according to Anelia Varela, U.S. director of The Writer, a language consultancy in New York City.

“Especially in large organizations, there can be arrogance: ‘We are the largest X company. People should be knocking down the doors to come and work here.’ They don’t put the time and budget into doing these things properly, or they rely on a flashy campaign,” said Varela. The Writer works with companies to help them communicate better with prospective employees.

Varela offered the following tips for creating job announcements that attract the kind of candidates that employers seek:

Be specific. Hiring managers may complain that the resumes they receive look the same, “but they’re doing the same thing with the postings,” Varela said. It’s not enough to indicate “good organizational skills” are necessary for the job; indicate how those skills would be used in the job. Specificity helps job seekers know exactly what a company is looking for, while filtering out unsuitable candidates.

“If you put out ‘blah’ language, you’ll get ‘blah’ candidates,” she said. “What would you say if they were right in front of you? Bring that kind of language into the job [announcement], and you’ll get more interesting candidates.”

Watch your language. Typically, job ads sound stuffy. Is it any surprise that the resulting cover letters and resumes sound equally canned? Using formal language can come across as old-fashioned and corporate, Varela observed. Ask yourself whether that reflects the company culture.

“Listen to how people around [your] office speak,” she said, and advised reading the job ad aloud before posting it. “It should feel very natural … It’s human resources, human to human.”

Omit the company history and description. Instead, concentrate on describing the job opening.

A common misstep is to start a posting with a large block of text describing the organization. For example, she described one job listing of a national retailer: At 222 words, only 78 were about the job vacancy.

“People know who [the companies] are,” she said—or they can easily find out with a few taps of the keyboard. “Don’t tell me what I already know; tell me about the job.”

Reflect your company or department’s culture. A common problem is that job ads don’t convey the company’s personality.

Varela recalled one advertisement for a company that claimed to be one of the most exciting, creative agencies in New York, but that didn’t come through in the job posting.

“Use your culture as a filter. If you’ve got a really strong culture, make sure that comes across in the ad. It’s an incredibly useful way of sifting through the applications once they’re in,” she said.

Avoid overuse of adjectives. Instead of merely saying that your organization is looking for candidates who are “passionate,” “forward-thinking” and “results-driven,” give examples of what “forward-thinking” means for that job opening.

Tell the truth. If the job entails dealing with angry customers or working late hours, say so. Candidates “will want to know upfront, so [they] don’t waste [their] time or the employer’s time. It’s not that people [writing the posting] are lying, but [they] might leave out those details” that give candidates a better sense of the job.

She noted an advertisement that has been credited to Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton who was putting together a team for an expedition:

“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.”

While some historians think this ad is more myth than truth, the point is being clear about what a job involves is important, Valera said.

Kathy Gurchiek is the associate editor at HR News.​​

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