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Use the 4 P's of Marketing to Craft Winning Job Ads

A woman shopping in a supermarket aisle.

​What gets your attention when you're browsing the cereal aisle in the supermarket? The pictures and graphics emblazoned across the front of the boxes, right? What if the nutritional information was front and center, instead of Tony the Tiger encouraging you to buy Kellogg's Frosted Flakes?

Good job ads are like cereal boxes, and bad job ads resemble the nutritional information, said Amber Hurdle, an author, a brand expert and the CEO of Amber Hurdle Consulting. She recently presented at the Society for Human Resource Management People Analytics conference in Seattle.

"You need to get people's attention, be direct, and keep in mind who it is you're trying to attract," she said. "This is how marketing works."

The cereal's nutritional information is like the bulleted list of duties in a job description. Poor job ads are also rife with generic language and business clichés, or they're unclear.

Most people have an attention span of eight seconds—much too short to read and comprehend a bulleted list of job duties, she said. Instead, job ads must trigger job seekers' emotions. "Identify what it is about your company that makes you unique and attractive. What's in it for them? Why should they care?"

Hurdle applies her "velvet machete" branding strategy to the jobs she advertises. The "blade" cuts to the chase, and the "velvet" wraps the information in a way that is appealing to the audience.

"Every job post has a different audience. …We need to tailor each job ad to the ideal employee we hope to attract," she said.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Recruiting Internally and Externally]

4 P's of Marketing

Hurdle said the fundamentals of marketing—product, price, place and promotion—create a great framework for writing better job ads. "HR needs to become BFFs with the marketing department," she said.

Product. Recruiters and hiring managers first need to know who the ideal candidate is before coming up with an ad. "How do you know what you will sell to job seekers if you don't know who you are selling to?" she asked.

Marketing to people who have no interest in working for you or who would be a bad fit is just a waste of time.

Next, make sure you understand the position as fully as possible. "Is the job really two or three different jobs?" Hurdle asked. "Are you trying to hire a unicorn? You have to have an honest conversation about the job and benchmark it against industry peers."

Once you have the ideal candidate profile and the appropriate requirements for the position, it's time to craft the messaging and target the type of person you're looking for.

Hurdle recommended including input from a role-model employee when writing the job post. "Ask him or her questions like, 'How do we attract this person? What do you like most about the job? What is most meaningful for you? What five to seven things about the job do you own?' "

Price. Make the effort to conduct market research on salary. Describe total rewards, including benefits and perks, in the ad, Hurdle said.

Place. Be sure to talk up the attractions of the job's location—the physical workplace, city, state or region. If you offer a relocation package, say so, Hurdle said. The possibility of remote work is an important selling point.

Promotion. Talent acquisition professionals should think about how search engines will read the job post, Hurdle said. The content should be simple and use terms that people use when they search for jobs. Don't call your open job position a "goddess" or a "ninja," she added.

Use a call to action, such "Apply Now," that links to your careers page.

Hurdle advised developing a strategy to promote the job. Leverage the top-of-mind places—LinkedIn, job boards, industry trade sites—but expand those parameters to find new talent pools you don't normally reach, she said. Try participating in job fairs, hosting hiring events or joining Facebook groups. 

"Send your recruiters out networking," she said. "Have them join meet-up groups where the candidates spend time."

She also urged recruiters and hiring managers to keep another marketing concept in mind: The best way to acquire customers is through word of mouth. So use employee referral programs, and query your own network.


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