04/05/2012 03:00 pm ET Updated Jun 05, 2012

What Is That Job Ad Trying to Tell You?

I collect job ads. My friends know about my habit, so they send me job ads. I got this one via email yesterday.

We're looking for a self-starting, creative, fun-loving content creation master with a tech-loving loving alter-ego that's capable of rocking social media, search optimization, video creation, and publishing all-around remarkable content. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to help our brand become one of the go-to sources for information regarding small business financing.

"What do you think of it?" asked my friend. It's good that this employer tried to break out of the tired "Results-oriented professional" mold for job-ad writing, but it also must be said that they didn't try all that hard. This job ad is full of corporatespeak boilerplate -- jaunty, lively boilerplate, but boilerplate nonetheless. They want a Content Creation Master, but they're branding themselves as glib and vapid. There's a grammatical error in the first sentence, but that's easily forgiven. We wish that this hyphen-loving employer would tell us something a little more substantive about the role or the organization than what we could have extrapolated from the job title.

People who get to decide where to work (which is to say, the smartest and most desirable new hires, the ones who can help their employers the most) require a different approach. Content-light job ads are not going to snag the most sought-after folks on the job market. If those people look at job ads at all, they're likely to pass right over the ones that signal a not-ready-for-prime-time organization.

Here's my list of five red flags most often seen in job ads -- the five clues that the employer behind the ad may not be as talent-aware as we could hope for:

The Robotic Tone
One of the greatest (in the sense of 'most ridiculous') job ads in my job-ad collection is the one that says "The Public Relations Director will perform his or her duties in accordance with professional standards for Public Relations professionals and in collaboration with the Public Relations staff." Seriously? Why not go whole hog and say "The Public Relations Director will breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide, continuously throughout the day"? Job ads that sound like androids wrote them are not appealing to switched-on job-seekers (and what other kind would you want?).

Delusional Requirements
A good job ad should spend at least half of its real estate telling a job-seeker why the job is worth his or her time to pursue. The worst job ads are the ones that use every available word and comma to tell the job-seeker all the ways he or she is unqualified for the job. When the job ad starts droning on about "Applicants lacking fluency in ancient and modern Greek, tap-dancing and semaphore will not be considered" that's your sign that real human beings need not apply. That's okay -- you've dodged a bullet.

The Onerous Application Process
A smart job-application process is one that lets the most-well-suited contenders for the role rise to the top of the pile quickly. When I'm advertising for an editor, for instance, I'll say in the job ad "Take a look at my latest newsletter at this link, and write to me with your thoughts on it." No resume, no application form. Why would I waste anyone's time on that stuff (or waste my own time) until I know whether each of these folks has the editorial judgment I need? A one-paragraph critique of my newsletter will give me tons more useful information than any resume would. Nothing turns away smart candidates faster than a burdensome application process. (Have you been to to apply for a Federal job? When you do, don't make any other plans that day.)

The Stonewall
Reading some of the job ads posted these days, you'd think that sharing any information at all about the company's operations is equivalent to posting its trade secrets on Facebook. Some of these employers are so circumspect in their job ads that you can't even tell what the job is about. A job ad that shares nothing of substance about the role gives you no way to evaluate your rightness-of-fit for the job, either functionally or culturally. Who benefits when ordinary human beings can read a full job ad and have no idea what the job entails, what would be fun or challenging about it, and what sort of person would thrive in the role?

The Endless Detail
Job ads that go on and on about the most minute administrivia drive away people of action, the very kevorka-tized employees companies need to prosper. We need to think of a job ad as a marketing message for your company. If you think of your company's job ads as branding opportunities, you won't be so quick to write insulting things like "Applicants who fail to follow the defined application process will be barred from consideration." Who talks to people like that -- especially the brilliant, talented people we're working so hard to attract?

We can recruit out of trust -- trusting ourselves to reel in the smartest and ablest folks in the ecosystem, and using every recruiting interaction as a community-building exercise -- or we can recruit out of fear, building bureaucratic processes to make it harder and more frustrating for the talented folks around us to reach us. There is no business benefit to the fear-based recruiting program, but Black Hole recruiting systems persist. After all, it is easy to sift and sort resumes according to their keywords. It is harder (but more fun) to go out and engage talent on the hoof, as it were. Is your organization choosing fear in its recruiting system, or trust?