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Job Ads Sell the Role

Keep job descriptions to yourself, says 2019 SHRM Talent Conference & Exposition speaker

A woman is sitting in front of a laptop looking at it.

​NASHVILLE, TENN.—If your best friend asks about a role you're recruiting for, do you present him with the job description, or do you tell the story of the job?

"What you tell your friend is a verbal version of a job ad, not the job description," said Jon Drogheo, director of talent acquisition at Empowered Partnerships, a Denver-based organization that recruits for mental health roles.

Take a hard look at your job postings, he said at the 2019 Society for Human Resource Management Talent Conference & Exposition. "Do they have the keywords or phrases your candidates are searching for? Do they tell the job's story?"

Or are you using the job description—the outline of the day-to-day activities of the job. "It's full of dull and empty words," he said.

On the other hand, "a job ad is sales. It sells the role and talks about the behaviors needed to perform the job and what the culture of the organization is like. Job descriptions don't do that, but most companies still post their job descriptions" as job ads.

While it may be easy to just cut and paste the job description language from the applicant tracking system (ATS), job ads need to be engaging and appeal to people, often passive candidates who are already employed but curious about new opportunities.

Consultants say that effective job ads run from 600-900 words.

Here are some tips to create high-quality ads:

*Write about what your candidates are looking for. Determine the right keywords for the talent pool you're trying to attract. "Be the candidate," Drogheo said. "Include 'you' statements like 'You will be doing this' to get the candidate to envision themselves in the role."

  • Use clear job titles. Job titles are critical. You may have the most creative job titles at your company, but are your candidates actually searching for that title?
  • Describe the culture of the organization and performance measures for the role.
  • Define the optimal candidate. You do this by "looking at your best employees and defining what makes them the best," Drogheo said. "Ask the hiring manager what the best employees do that's different than anyone else."
  • Be honest. "If it's a hard, challenging job, tell them that. I used to recruit for detox workers. It's a tough, unpleasant job, but people do it because they care, they have a mission and drive to help people get through sobriety. They make an impact in the community." That's the way to appeal to the right candidates in an honest way, he said.
  • Measure the performance of your job posts. Find the clickthrough and conversion data. Measure responses from social media channels and other online sources of hire.
  • Ensure your job post shows up on Google Jobs search.

[SHRM members-only platform: SHRM Connect]

Case Study

Drogheo's former employer had a job description for a nurse practitioner that was four pages long. "It told you everything about the job," he said. Drogheo and his team interviewed the hiring manager and used word cloud technology to pick out the keywords from the job description that were essential to succeed in the job.

They also used Textio, an augmented writing platform that enhances the language in job postings. "It's basically a job ad creator," Drogheo said. It "spits out data about the language you're using and suggests optimal language for the type of person that you're looking for."

That four-page job description was turned into a 600-word ad.

Drogheo compared the job description and the job ad, based on job board performance, clicks, clickthroughs and conversions into applicants.

"There was a huge difference," he said. "There was a 50-percent increase [in viewers of] the ads over the job descriptions for the same jobs. We were converting 20 percent more into applicants too."


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