How to Write an Effective Job Ad and Get More Candidates

By Momentum |

Almost every organization in the world relies on people to reach their goals and objectives. It doesn’t matter whether you are a nonprofit, manufacturer, restaurant, tech company or governmental agency. Without competent employees you can’t get things done. It’s nearly impossible to find a company that doesn’t state that their employees are their greatest asset. Unfortunately, attracting, acquiring, and keeping talent has consistently been a challenge for businesses. Sure, there are some leading companies that work on the coolest things and get their pick of the litter when it comes to talent. Many are sought after by job seekers because of the value of having them on their resume. However, most of us employers aren’t Google, Facebook, Coke, EY, or Mckensie. Most of us are just normal everyday employers struggling to build and maintain the teams that are necessary to achieve our missions.

The War for Talent

A day doesn’t go by that I don’t hear someone complaining about a shortage of qualified talent. Unemployment is continuing to drop, baby boomers are leaving the workforce, and a new generation of workers are entering the workforce with their own ideas about the type of work they want to do. Add to that our immigration situation, and it makes for a pretty big problem for the average company to deal with. Simply put… businesses are struggling to find the competent employees they need.

It can be quite easy for management and HR to point the finger of blame at 3rd parties and unseen market forces. “It’s the government’s fault… They need to reform our immigration system.” “It’s the education systems’ fault… They aren’t teaching people the skills that we need.” “It’s our local economy’s fault… Job seekers are moving away because it is too expensive to live here.” “It’s because of unemployment… There just aren’t enough people looking for work.” “It’s our industry’s fault… Nobody wants to do this type of work.” “It’s just a part of life as a small business or nonprofit… We don’t have the money or benefits to attract the best people.” The excuses are never ending.

What Are You Going to do About it?

So, given your current situation, what are you going to do? Give up? Your organization didn’t get to where it is today by backing down from a challenge, right? If your company didn’t have enough customers, would you simply blame the economy and resign yourself to failure? If your products weren’t succeeding against your competitors, would you keep building the same things? Of course you wouldn’t. Your team would dig in, identify the problem, come up with a solution, and make the necessary changes.

But too many businesses are not even trying to fix their talent issues. They accepted their fate of being constantly understaffed, or staffed up with underperformers. While I completely agree that all of the above challenges have an impact on your ability to hire good people, I’ve found that there are plenty of things that a business can do to improve their hiring procedure. In fact, some business can even turn their talent acquisition process into a major asset that can propel their company forward.

Change is Necessary!

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result. I guess this means that the world is full of crazy people since the majority of organizations persist in using the same job ads, applications, and hiring processes that they have used for years. Somehow they believe that continuing with the status quo will suddenly start working. Far from that result, the adherence to this unproductive hiring methodology has seen a steady decline over the past 10 years. Simply put, it is time for a change.

The required modifications can be summed up quite simply: If your goal is acquiring talent, then why is your process all about you the employer and not about the candidate? Comparably, companies who produce first-rate products focus on the customer; In the same way, organizations that tailor their hiring system to focus on their target job seekers, attract the lion’s share of competent candidates. It really isn’t that hard to switch to a candidate focused hiring process, but it does take a willingness on the part of your HR department and management team to modify their approach.

Where to Start

The easiest place to start is by picking off the low-hanging fruit. Most companies don’t have useful metrics or tracking around their application process. They probably don’t even know that this low-hanging fruit exists. But trust me, it is there. On average over 90% of job seekers who read a job ad leave without applying, and over 40% of job seekers who start an employment application don’t end up completing it. These are two huge stats that are packed with low-hanging fruit.

The saying goes that you can’t improve what you don’t measure. The first step is for you to start tracking some metrics around your application process. I suggest that every organization interested in improving their applicant flow should be monitoring the following core metrics. Worst case, you should track these for your career site as a whole, but best case would be if you could track them down to the job level. These metrics can be tracked by installing Google Analytics on your careers page, or by using an Applicant Tracking System that understands application conversion.

Key Metrics:

Job Ad Views: How many people are looking at your job ads on your careers site, or job board?. Application Start Rate: Of the people looking at your job ads, what percentage started an application with your company. Application Completion Rate: Of the people who started an application, what percentage completed the application. Application Exit Pages: You get extra credit if you have a multiple page online employment application and can track which pages lead job seekers to leave the process.

This article on making adjustments to your job ads to improve the top two metrics: Job Ad Views and Application Start Rates, but you might as well start start tracking the last two metrics now so that you’ll be prepared for our next booklet on improving application completion.

Our Results:

Most people I talk to don’t believe that changing their job ad can really have a substantial impact on their applicant flow. They come to me hoping that I will tell them about some new top secret job board that they’ve never heard of that they can tap into. They simply don’t understand how integral the ad is in engaging qualified job seekers.

After years of re-writing clients’ ads and comparing the results, I can tell you with 100% assurance that adjusting a bad job ad has more impact on applicant flow than any other thing I can suggest. We regularly see increases in applicant flow of 50% to 150% by re-writing their ad based on the outline in this booklet. Not only does an ad re-write require very little hard cost, you can quickly test it to prove that it will work without a major commitment on the part of your organization. Simply re-write one ad. Post it on your favorite job board, and see what happens. Worst case scenario, you can revert to your old job ad. You really have nothing to lose!

There are a few things that we need to get out of the way upfront before we can get around to writing better job ads. So let’s get started…

The Role of HR in Writing a Job Ad

HR managers are generally not known for their amazing creative writing skills. What’s more, because you aren’t a good fit for the job in question (unless it is an HR job), there is a good chance that you may not completely understand the requirements of the job. It is also possible that you will struggle to write in the same “voice” or “vocabulary” of your target job seeker if you come from a different educational or economic level than the target job seeker. Based on all of this, the proper role of HR in writing job ads is that of “editor.” You will be taking the language & content provided by your current employees (by asking them questions) and using that to build your job ad text.

Job Titles

It’s all fine and good if you have formal job titles at work (i.e. Accounting II) or that you have funny or creative job titles for your team (i.e. Sandwich Artist, Experience Creator, VP of People, etc) but you’ve got to be very cautious about using these type of titles on job boards. If a job title isn’t understood by your target job seekers, they may scroll right past your ad and never click to read it. The question to ask yourself is: Would potential job seekers not familiar with our company or industry understand what this job title means?

Job Descriptions Are Not Ads

Copying and pasting their job description, onto a job board or careers page, is one of the biggest mistakes that an organization can make. The goal of a job ad is to get qualified job seekers excited about the opportunity of working for your company, and convince them to apply for the job. Let’s be honest… there is nothing exciting or engaging about a legal job description. Sure you might feel that this makes your hiring process more “complaint” but it does so at the expense of applicant flow. If you truly feel that you must include your job description in your ads, then turn your description into a pdf, upload it to a file sharing site like Dropbox or Google Drive, and include a link to it in your ad. This will allow interested job seekers to click to read the full description without jeopardizing your applicant flow by using a boring ad.

Be Positive About the Opportunity

Sure you need to include the requirements of the job in your ad, but you shouldn’t write your ad with the goal of scaring away unqualified job seekers. Focus instead on writing a positive ad that will attract and captivate qualified people. Leave the task of screening out unqualified people to your job questions and resume review process. Sure, this might mean that you have to spent a bit more time looking over resumes, but that is much better than missing out on qualified people because your ad was too negative.

Job Ad Tone

One final thing before we get to the real meat of the job ad. You need to decide what type of “tone” you want to take with your job ad. Generally, you want to match this to your corporate culture. If your culture is stuffy and formal, then your job ad should be as well. If you have a laid back, informal culture (like most tech companies) then your ad should be very informal. If you don’t take yourself seriously, and tend to like joking around and having a good time, then you might want to write a job at that is funny and entertaining. If you have a great story to tell, and your company is all about its story, then maybe your ad should read like a short story. Since you want to attract candidates that fit into your culture, the tone of the ad can act as a drive or deterrent to job seekers. The best advice here is be authentic, and don’t try to be something that you aren’t.

Now let’s get to the real reason you are reading this booklet… to write better job ads.

Let’s Get Started

According to Albert Einstein, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” This can’t be more true than when it comes to your hiring process. If you are looking to make an impact on your applicant flow, then you’ve got to take steps to change how you are communicating to potential job seekers. Re-writing a job ad to be more engaging has been proven time and again to be the most effective approach to increasing both the quantity and quality of applicants. And the best part about it is that it won’t cost you a penny!

What follows is our proven process for writing a killer job ad. Changing just one ad, to test out this process, is all but painless and just might change your hiring results forever!

Define Your Goals

The first step in writing a killer job ad is to clearly identify what your goals are, and then use these goals to drive your entire ad writing process. There are 3 goals that you should have when writing a job ad:

  1. You want people to find your ad on the job boards. Since job boards are really just search engines, this
    means that you need to use “keywords” in your job ad and title that are most likely to be searched for by your target job seeker. (ie part time job seekers search for the word “part time” not “pt”)
  2. You want the people who find your ad to actually read it. Legally reviewed job descriptions, full of legal
    language and loaded with bullet point requirements and duties, are not that interesting or exciting to read. Your ad should engage the job seeker and make them want to read the whole thing.
  3. You want the people who read your ad to want to apply. That’s right, the job ad is about convincing the
    job seeker about how great it would be to work for your company and how awesome the opportunity will be for their career. What’s more, you’ve got to ensure that you have answered most if not all of the questions that the job seeker will have about the job before asking them to invest their precious time and energy applying. (ie don’t post a part time job but not include the work schedule, if you won’t display the pay rate at least display a pay range, etc)

Reality Check Your Requirements

I’m sure that your managers are completing a requisition form of some type when they need to fill a position, and HR probably doesn’t feel it is their job to question the requirements that the manger has laid out, but this step is vital to ensure that you are being realistic with your requirements. Instead of having a long argument filled with opinions and assumptions, why not simply validate your requirements list against real people. You this by identifying 3 top performers currently in the role. (If you don’t have top performers because it is a new role, then find the LinkedIn profiles of people currently doing the role at one of your competitors.) Next, document out the education level, experience, and skills of each of these people at the point that they first moved into this role. Finally, compare each person against your job requirements and ask yourself these two questions.

  1. When comparing this individual against our job requirements, would they have made it past our screening and selection process?
  2. Would this person have even applied to the job if the ad had included all of these requirements in it.

Keep in mind that some job seekers, especially females, are not likely to apply to jobs unless they feel that they completely check off every requirement in the ad. This becomes even more true if you are not an “employer of choice” in your area/industry or if your application process is long and difficult.

Understand Your Target Audience

Are you ready to write an extremely engaging job ad that will drive job seekers to want to apply? Before you jump in and start typing up an ad, you should first learn a bit about your target job seekers. We call this a job seeker persona. It basically documents out the type of people you are targeting, their goals, motivations, etc. You can do this by doing a quick study of your current employees who currently hold the job title you are focused on. (If you don’t have current employees doing this job, you can also do the study on employees at other companies by looking at their LinkedIn profiles or resumes.)

The following questions about your best current employees:
  1. Why do they work? (breadwinner, part-time job for school, second income, etc)
  2. Why do they like working for your company? (culture, benefits, location, size, industry, etc)
  3. Why do they do the job they are doing at your company? (love the job, means to an end, putting in their dues to move up, close to home)
  4. What are the most important factors to them when looking for a job? (pay, schedule, flexibility, close to home, advancement potential, how it looks on a resume, benefits, etc)
  5. What was their highest level of education when they started working for you in this job?
  6. How many years of relevant experience did they have when they started for you in this job?
  7. What job title(s) (and industry) did they have before this one that prepared them for this job?
  8. What skills did they have when they started for you in this job?
  9. What type of words do they search for when looking for a job online?
  10. What hiring source brought them to your company?

Gather Content From Employees

As I said previously, the role of HR in this new ad writing approach is that of editor not writer. The majority of your content should come directly from your best employees currently in the position you are looking to fill. This is important for a few key reasons. First, employees use the same vocabulary as your target job seekers, because they are members of your target audience. Secondly, employees can provide an authentic and realistic description of what the job is really all about. Finally, your employees understand your culture better than you do, and they will describe your company in a way that will make sense to job seekers. This task is simply an extension of the job seeker persona project. After building your personas, make sure to collect a few paragraphs of information about the job duties & requirements by emailing your employees the following 3 questions. How would you describe what our company does and our culture to a friend or family members? Describe a normal “day in the life” in your job? What are the requirements for someone to be successful in this role?

Job Ad Outline:

Now we can get down to business, and start assembling your ad. Your ad should include most if not all of the following sections. You can play around with the order of the middle sections, to get the flow the way you’d like it, but leave the first section (introduction) and the last section (how to apply) in place where they are.

The introduction

The introduction is a short paragraph (2 to 3 sentences) that is at the very top of the ad. This is important not just because it gives the job seeker a quick introduction into what you are hiring for, but also because it is generally the only thing that shows up in the search results on a job board such as indeed.com. This should be short and sweet and contain just enough information for the job seeker to quickly know the most important points to your job offering.

Company description:

Don’t use your About Us page on your website for this one! This needs to be written from the perspective of what a job seeker would want to know about your company, not what a prospective client wants to know. Don’t use industry specific terminology here since some of your job seekers might not understand it. The easiest way to get content for this section is to ask a couple of employees the following question: “How would you describe our company to a friend or family member? Specifically: what we do, how we do it, why we do it, what our culture is, etc.”

A day in the life as a [insert job title]:

This section replaces what would normally be the “duties” portion of a job description. Get rid of the long list of boring bullet points from your job description, and replace it with a narrative provided by one of your employees of what their average day looks like. This section can include more than just duties. Employees might talk about meetings, how their manager interacts with them, work environment, extra circular office activities, etc. To gather information needed for this area simply ask a couple of employees who currently perform the job in question: “Describe for me in 1 to 2 paragraphs the average day in your job from start to finish.”

What you need to be qualified for this job: or “what are we looking for”

Here is the one part where you can include some bullet points, but use them very sparingly and only for hard job requirements (not just preferred ones). You still might experiment with leaving the bullet points out and writing this in paragraph format like you were explaining it to someone in person.

Work Schedule: (Optional.. Generally, for part time or flexible jobs)

You don’t want to leave questions unanswered in the mind of your job seekers who read your ads. This is especially true if the questions are fundamental to the job seeker deciding if they are even a fit for the job. One of the biggest mistakes we find are employers who post part time jobs but don’t clearly list what the required work schedule will be. This section doesn’t need to be long, but it does need to be included if your work schedule will be different than a normal 9 to 5, 40-hour per week job.

Are you ready to join our team? or “How to apply”

Sure your applicant tracking system might have a clearly visible apply now button, but if this ad is also on a job board that might not be the same process/flow. What’s more, this section is not to simply say “click the apply button and submit your application”. As much as possible, you should explain to the job seeker what the application and hiring process will look like. If your initial application is short and easy, then telling the job seeker about it will drive them to apply (because many employers make applying long and difficult, if this describes you then maybe you should re-think your apply process.) If your hiring process includes assessments, multiple reviews, video interviews, etc, then telling the job seeker what to expect will reduce some of their anxiety at this point. Simply put, the more transparent you can be with the job seeker the more likely they are to be patient with your process after they apply.

Legal Job Description: (optional)

If you feel that you simply must include your full job description out of some concern for compliance or legality, simply convert your job description into a pdf file, upload it to your favorite file sharing host (Dropbox, Google Drive, etc) and include a link to the job description in the ad. Say something like, “If you’d like to read the full job description, click here to download it”.

Final  Review

Now that you’ve got your ad written, and ready to post, it is important to look over it one last time to make sure that you didn’t miss anything. Beyond checking spelling and grammar, make sure that you also ask the following questions about the ad:

  1. Is there anything in this ad that might confuse the job seeker?
  2. If I read this ad as a job seeker, would it make me excited to apply for the job?
  3. Is there anything in this ad that might not be understood by a job seeker who is unfamiliar with our company or industry?
  4. What questions might the average job seeker have after reading this ad that could stop them from applying right away?

Posting Your Job

Now that you’ve got your killer job ad ready to go, it is time to get your hard work in front of as many qualified job seekers as possible. Certainly job aggregators like Indeed, Glassdoor, ZipRecruiter, & Beyond are a great place to start. You might even post it to your local Facebook help wanted group. Don’t forget to post it on your corporate website and send it out to your employees with a link they can use to share it on their own social media accounts.

If posting to all of these places sounds like a ton of work, we are here to help. Momentum has the ability to take your new job ad and post it to over 500 job boards. What’s more, we’ll even provide you with a mobile friendly career site and online application that will maximize the number of applications you receive by making it super easy for applicants to apply. We’d love to let you take our system for a test drive.

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