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Liz Ryan Headshot

A Human Voice in a Job Ad?

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People send me job ads to read, because they know I like that sort of thing. It's really depressing to read job ads, because they all sound alike: boring, bureaucratic and peremptory. Job ads say obnoxious corporate-sounding things like, "The Selected Candidate will possess the following characteristics...."

Now, why would a company compose a job ad that's presumably going to be run or aired someplace where qualified job-seekers hang out -- in other words, a marketing message posted or published in order to reach the very population that the company hopes will apply for the job -- and then insult those same audience members? Why would they use the third person, talking about "The Selected Candidate," who obviously couldn't possibly be the person who's reading the ad?

No product or service marketer would run an ad that said, "The right customer for us is discerning and sophisticated." They'd talk to the consumer directly, saying, "You are discerning and sophisticated, a person with taste and style." Why wouldn't recruiting departments do the same thing as they market their jobs to job-seekers?

Instead, they send job-seekers the signal: "The Selected Candidate will be someone with all the qualifications listed in this job ad -- not YOUR sorry ass."

If we want to run job ads that smart people will respond to, we've got to do better. We can put a human voice in a job ad. Here's one I made up a few days ago (fictional job, fictional employer, sad to say) to demo what that would look like:

Job Ad: Acme Explosives

I'm Carl Johnson, and I wanted to tell you about Acme Explosives in case you are job-hunting or open to considering a job change. If I were in that mode, I'd want to hear from the guy who started the company, and that's me, so our HR folks let me (some of them would say "force me") to write our company's job ads, like this one.

I started Acme in 1992 when I got out of college, and I've been running it ever since with our massively talented team of designers, manufacturing and supply chain people, B2B marketers, admin/HR/IT/Finance folks and partnership/corporate development-type colleagues.

During those 20 years, we've grown from a tiny explosives-design engineering firm to a 400-person company.

We like things a lot at the size we've reached so far, and while we're always interested in exploring new business avenues and pathways, along with acquisitions and partnerships of all kinds, we're not looking to rocket into the Fortune 500 any time soon, or to go public. If our kind of company sounds boring and stodgy as you read about us, I get it, and I wouldn't blame you a bit for looking at faster-growing companies and sexier products than ours. Still, here's a little more information if you are curious what it's like to work in a place where your friends don't use the products and people don't know the company from Adam -- yet brilliant people get acknowledgement, top-drawer brainstorming, fair and ethical leadership and a mutually good deal.

At Acme we design explosives that are used in commercial and industrial applications and by civil engineering and construction teams all over the world. Our reputation is strong because of our huge investment in R & D and the quality of people we hire. I could go on all day about that, but my big message to you is that we take enormous care to build an environment here where great people want to be. Our employees know that whatever is happening in the company, good or bad, they're going to hear about it. We tell the truth to each other and don't let pointless bureaucracy grow like kudzu to stifle our employees' creativity. Our work is intellectually rigorous, I think, but for people who are looking for that our kind of place our environment is close to nerdvana.

Culturally I'd characterize this place (our HQ is here in Phoenix, and our distribution center in Gallup, N.M.) as quietly driven. We don't work people to death because it's bad business to do that, and because we work among our friends and wouldn't treat our friends that way. We work hard during business hours and then put the job aside, no joke, and do something else. Early on we decided to allow ourselves one policy for every employee, so by that yardstick we might have 400 policies in place right now, but we actually have 22. We don't believe smart people can be managed that way.

When it comes to growing the team, we do things differently from a lot of employers. We don't post our job openings one by one as they come available, because we don't want to subject job-seekers to the mad rush for consideration in the standard Black Hole paradigm. We just invite people who are interested in what we're doing to join our LinkedIn group and/or our Facebook group, and share ideas on the things we post (or post about the things they're interested in that might entice us too). If you're not sure where to start in that conversation, there are a bunch of handy conversational prompts on the site. There's a reading list there, too, of some of the books we like in case you need reading material or want to join a book-related conversation with us. We have webinars and other events fairly often. If we look interesting to you, we don't want to see your resume, but we want to hear from you about where your interests and ours could intersect.

We knew when we committed as a company to the No-Black-Hole way of growing our team that we'd need to be ready for a higher degree of chaos than a typical Black Hole recruiting scheme might produce. We figured that the payoff would come in the form of much more interesting and enriching conversations with awesome people than any Black Hole engine could generate. Our only request is that we don't get spammed via email or voicemail. Obviously that sort of thing would dampen our view of a person who wanted to work with us, no matter how heartfelt the spammy pleas might be. But you already knew that. I am not trying to talk down to you. That is the point of this job ad, in all honesty -- to make that equilibrium clear. At Acme, we truly understand that we have nothing if people aren't switched on about the work. We don't have a corporate motto at Acme Explosives, but if we did it might be "Our Little Zone of Sanity."

Notice that the CEO/job ad writer, Carl, doesn't just use a conversational tone in the job ad. The whole process of getting to know job-seekers is different at Acme Explosives, too. Carl and his guys have figured out that interesting and complex people don't tend to make it through Black Hole recruiting sieves. In fact, complex and interesting people don't tend to trifle with those things in the first place.

Can we blame them?