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Liz Ryan Headshot

Why Your Job Ads Aren't Working

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"Liz, can you believe this job ad?" said my friend Camille. "This employer is giving us job-seekers 45 different requirements that The Selected Candidate must possess, and not one good reason why a person should take the job."

"I guess they think it goes without saying that a person should want the job," I said. "Meanwhile, the company's reviews on Glassdoor.com, the employees-review-employers site, are horrendous, and they've got a dozen job ads running at any given time. When you check out the profiles of the company's former employees on LinkedIn, you can't find anyone who's worked there for more than two years."

"Those two-year people deserve a medal," said Camille. "I interviewed at that place a few years ago, and the level of tension in the company was palpable."

"I love it!" I crowed. "Palpable Tension, Inc."

"Sounds like a heavy metal band to me -- Palpable Tension," said Camille. "Anyway, the word is out that no sane person with an ounce of self-respect would consider working for those turkeys."

We're in a new age -- the age of Employer Branding. Companies can't afford anymore to say "We have a job opening" and expect the cream of the crop -- or even the middle of the talent market -- to show up and apply for jobs. People have other options, either with different employers or consulting or contracting or cobbling together three or four revenue streams to replace the one full-time salary that most of us grew up with. People don't have to grovel and crawl over piles of broken glass to work for a lousy employer. So why do so many organizations keep pretending that they're still in the driver's seat where talent is concerned?

I see a few reasons why. For starters, HR people -- the very people in the organization who see (often more clearly than the hiring managers) where their organizations are missing the boat in the Employer Branding realm -- aren't always empowered to change the recruitment status quo. As one HR manager told me "My hiring managers keep asking me for rock stars and ninjas, when none of them have rock star or ninja-worthy positions to fill." Secondly, it can be hard for the leaders of organizations to put themselves in a job-seeker's shoes, and ask questions like these:

How many times does a talented job candidate have to be beaten down by insulting Black Hole recruiting systems before he or she gives up on that channel entirely, and relies strictly on search pros (third-party recruiters, that is) and friends for future job hunts? It shouldn't take the patience of Job to get a decent job, but way too many employers forget that as they subject job applicants to more and more trials, tests, interview rounds, background checks, work samples, and other hiring gates before extending an offer.

If I were a job-seeker rather than the leader of this company, how long would I stay in a Selection Pipeline that seldom if ever responded to my questions, that valued my time very little if at all, and that generally sent the message "You are just another job-seeker, to us. WE are the ones making an important decision"?

Why would a smart person -- a person with career options (presumably, the only kind of person you'd consider hiring) want this job, in the first place?

Employers need to wake up and smell the talent-market coffee. There are still millions of people out of work, but there aren't millions of qualified candidates for the mission-critical job openings that employers are desperate to fill. Insulting, talent-repelling job ads are one part of the problem.

A reasonable job ad should cover all 10 of these bases:

The job ad should share enough of the employer's story to make a capable person want to learn more -- not just list the job requirements and expect smart people to respond.

The job ad should give a feel for a day in the life of the person performing this job, rather than just listing tasks and duties. Tasks and duties are boring. Sharp and nimble job-seekers need to know: what's the point of the job? What problem does this person solve for the organization?

The job ad should give the reader (the prospective job applicant) a feel for the career path that's available once he or she has mastered this role. No career path? Expect to hire from the bottom of the talent pool.

The job ad should use a human voice throughout, not the usual robotic "We have an immediate need" garbage.

The job ad should incorporate the most appealing aspects of the job, from a job-seeker's standpoint. It's nice to have a 401(k) plan, but no one ever took a job just for that reason. If you, the hiring manager, don't know what's appealing about the job, how would anyone else know?

The job ad should make it clear that the applicant's time and expertise are at least as valuable as the company's decision-making process. The actual recruiting process, of course, should likewise value a job-seeker's time and goodwill very highly.

The job ad should direct a prospective applicant to a place (a page on the company's site, for instance) where he or she can learn more about the role or ask questions about it -- NOT just to an anonymous portal where s/he can apply for the job. After all, why should this person invest the time in filling out online forms if the company isn't willing to share more than a few hundred words of information about the role?

The job ad should include salary information. How could we expect a person to enter our tedious recruitment process without knowing whether a given job is within his or her target range?

The job ad should honor the prospective job-seeker by appealing to his or intellectual or creative side. That means avoiding language like "The selected candidate will possess..." (Why would we ever address our target audience member in the third person, for Pete's sake?)

Lastly, the job ad should give a feel for the culture of the organization, and I don't mean by saying "We have a fun and vibrant culture." Tell a story about your culture, instead.

If you want to save time reviewing applications, you can include a logical hiring gate right in the job ad. For instance, when I run an ad for someone to edit my online newsletter, I say in the ad "Check out the latest edition of our online newsletter, and send me your thoughts on it." I can tell in three seconds whether the person responding to that ad has a clue about newsletter design and content, or not. That way, smart people can rise quickly to the top of the pile, and I can send quick "No thank you" notes to everyone else. That makes the process quicker and less painful for everyone involved.

It's a new day in the talent marketplace. Employers who treat their job applicants like valued collaborators win in their competitive spaces, and employers who insist on talking down to talent and addressing them like livestock will get the more-docile-than-talented new hires they deserve.