Writing a job ad is just like writing any advertisement. You need to know your target audience, address them in the language they understand and offer them what they want.
There’s nothing worse than writing an ad for a position you are hoping to fill, posting it online or even running it in a local paper (yes … believe it or not this does still happen!) and then either not receiving any responses at all, or perhaps worse still, being inundated with applications from people who are completely not suitable for the role.
Improving the quality (as opposed to quantity) of your response starts by having a well-written advertisement (often the first impression a candidate has of your organisation) that is really going to target the appropriate audience.
Exactly who is your target audience? What are they doing now? What steps are they taking to look for a new opportunity?
Your job ad needs to speak directly to them. Otherwise you seriously may as well roam the streets like a 19th Century town crier calling out to every man and his dog in the hope that someone hears you.
An effective job ad is not just a job description. It is a carefully crafted message with the aim of attracting the best qualified candidates for your job.
Think of your job ad like a funnel where initially you are casting the net out wide to a broad audience. Then, as the readers make their way through your carefully crafted advertisement, they are either self-ejecting from the process or they are mentally ticking all the boxes because they can actually picture themselves in the role. In the end you really only want a handful of suitable candidates to apply.
What are the key steps to writing a compelling job ad?
Here are some ways to sharpen the focus of your ad, to the point where it only draws in the most qualified candidates:
1. Catchy Job Title
1. Be Specific About the Role
This will allow candidates to compare what is required with their own skills and experience and discourage those not qualified from applying. The job title (headline) has to be very clear and should in no way deceive or mislead the reader.
You should also try to incorporate three bullet points containing the “punchiest” (eye catching) benefits or incentives associated with the job. Salary (if it’s within or above market rate) is always a good one. Similarly whether there is on site parking available, the ability to work from home, or proximity to public transport will also grab the reader’s attention. You might even include something along the lines of “modern office; stunning harbour views; team lunch provided every Friday”.
Provide a salary range. If it’s not in their ball park, they won’t waste their time and yours by applying.
2. Distinguish ‘Must Haves’ From ‘Nice-to-Haves’
You also need to clearly articulate whether there are any essential qualifications, desirable skills, or any other “nice to haves” in terms of previous experience required in the role.
3. Don’t Exaggerate
When a job sounds too good to be true, it generally is and will only attract applicants who are gullible, unrealistic and non-performers. If you are looking to fill an Office Assistant or Accounts Clerk role, you probably shouldn’t have the heading “Job of a Lifetime”. Sometimes it’s best just to keep it simple. “Office Manager – 3 days/week. Ideal for a working Mum”.
4. Offer Challenges, Not Rewards
This is more likely to attract someone with drive and ambition, rather than someone just looking for an easy ride.
5. Tell Them About Your Company
Next you need to describe the company – but not in too much detail.
You don’t want the reader to get excited about the company and then not have any connection to the actual role. Remember it’s a job ad. Above all you want someone who wants to do the job in question. The fact that it’s for your company is an added bonus.
The information you include in the actual description of the job and the profile of the ideal candidate should come very easily to you – assuming you have written a proper job description and prepared a performance profile for the role. Select the key skills, core competencies and most relevant performance or success measures and include them. This is where you will eliminate those applicants who are not actually suitable for the role.
6. Provide a Phone Number for Enquiries
This can help you eliminate unsuitable candidates early in the process. Trust me … you can learn a lot from a prospective candidate over the phone.
7. Ask for a Cover Letter
This can provide useful clues as to character, education level, and communication style and allow you to filter out unsuitable candidates prior to interview.
When I was a hands-on recruiter, I would always ask for a cover letter as part of the application process. If a candidate submitted just their resumé without a cover letter, I immediately rejected them. Call me harsh – but it revealed a lot about their ability to follow a very simple instruction.
8. Talk to the Reader
When you are writing your advertisement, avoid phrases like “the successful candidate” or “the ideal applicant” since this will make even the most suitable candidate question whether they’re right for the role. Rather say something along the lines of, “In this exciting role you will be working with …” or “Coming from a strong sales background, you will be expected to …”.
Talk to the reader. Use the word “you”.
9. Nail the Short Description
And finally, when it comes to online job ads in particular, you should be aware that on average four times as many people read the short description than actually click through to the ad itself. So put some effort into what you write … even if you only have 140 characters in which to say it.
After all you don’t just want people reading the snapshot. You actually want people to read your entire advertisement … and of course you then want the best candidates to press “Apply Now”.
By the way you already have enough on your plate and you probably don’t want to have to send personal rejection emails to all those candidates who don’t make the grade. Right?
Here’s some suggested wording that you can always include at the bottom of your job ad as a bit of a disclaimer: “Only applicants meeting the strict criteria outlined above will be contacted as part of the shortlisting process”.