Show, don’t tell: Getting job ads right

Let’s admit it: most job ads out there are pretty awful.

Often, they come across as bland, full of buzzwords and clichés, or end up having little relation to the job itself when the new employee turns up for their first day of work. The very worst ads get picked up and shared on social media under the hashtag #recruitmentfails.

Job ads matter. They have a direct influence on the type and quality of candidates you attract, and should support (rather than undermine) your organisation’s carefully-cultivated brand.

Mark Puncher, CEO of Employer Branding Australia, says recruiters can improve their job ads by focusing on the opportunity, the experience, and adding a healthy dose of honesty to make their employer brand shine.

Job branding and employer branding

Employer branding has really hit the mainstream in 2020. The aim of the practice is to create a pool of talent who are already following or engaging with your organisation by showing them that your place is a great place to work.

“We’ve gone from nearly zero employer branding in the past to too much employer branding today (otherwise known as ‘fluff’),” Mark says. “Yes, we need to promote who we are, our mission, purpose and why a potential candidate should want to be a part of it, but many recruiters fall into the trap of writing job ads that are mainly about selling the dream on culture and/or values and not enough about the opportunity itself.

“Job branding is about showing the opportunity in this particular role at this particular time. Even if you have an articulated EVP (Employee Value Proposition), it’s not enough just to copy and paste this into every job ad. You need to grab the opportunity to personalise key parts of the job ad to match that opportunity. Another mistake is to dig out the job ad used last time the same role was vacant.”

Instead, ask yourself why is this opportunity available right now, and what makes it exciting? Connect the dots between your EVP and the role itself. “It’s great that the job ad mentions the company’s purpose and mission, but potential candidates want to know how they are going to contribute to that mission,” says Mark.

“What do you want them to do? How will it feel to contribute? Everyone says that Millennials want purpose and meaning, and to know what their contribution will be. But don’t be fooled – most of us want those things. Job branding and employer branding are massively intertwined.”

Should you show the salary in job ads?

Writing inspirational words about your employer brand and values will not let you off the hook in regard to showing the basics: the salary, where the employee will work, and what the job entails.

Mark believes employers should always show the salary. “Show a range if you must, but avoid words like ‘competitive remuneration’ – most candidates sense that you’re actually saying, “we don’t pay very well and we’re too afraid to tell you.”

What does excellent job branding achieve?

Obviously, great job branding helps you attract top-quality candidates, but it’s also about dissuading the wrong people from applying.

If you are able to clearly communicate your employer brand, you will deter candidates who aren’t interested in the experience you offer and the corporate culture you describe. This will help you cut down on the time spent sorting through irrelevant applications, and avoid the cost of a bad hire.

“There’s no need to beat around the bush, Mark says. “Job ads can include a section on why this job might not be right for you.”

Consider using language such as:

  • “We’re great at x, but we’re not so good at y, and this is what we’d like you to bring to our team.”
  • “This isn’t for everybody; it’s a hard gig.”
  • “Here’s why we think you’ll love it … and here’s why you might not”.

Mark shares eight tips for writing top-quality job ads

  1. Start strong: People tend to write job ads like a speech, where there’s a crescendo at the end. In reality, most readers will never get to the end. Put your most convincing points at the top.
  1. Don’t rush: Don’t release anything that you’re not proud to put your name to. Although your stakeholders may pressure you to rush, it’s possible to excite people about how to do these things properly.

“It’s immediately obvious when a job ad is rushed or copied and pasted,” says Mark. “If recruiters simply dig out old job ads and repost them, what’s to stop them being replaced by machines? Job ads are an opportunity to be strategic and creative.”  

  1. Tailor your style for different audiences: Clarify who you’re targeting and understand what works for them. The job ad copy that will attract a recent PR grad is very different to what will engage a mid-career engineer. Not sure what will work? Talk to people in the existing team into which you’re recruiting.
  1. Show, don’t tell: How do you convey your culture? “Instead of relying on hyperbole or tired clichés like ‘values-driven organisation’ or ‘fun culture’ ask the team to take DIY videos with their smartphones where they talk about the role,” advises Mark. “Videos should show the team they’ll be working with, instead of the CEO who they may have limited contact with from day to day.”
  1. Use imagery: Use real photos of your team at work – never use stock imagery. Add flavour and meaning by captioning your imagery with a real quote from (real) employees.
  1. Don’t include too many requirements: A long shopping-list of skills and experience is a known diversity-killer, and will limit the number of quality applicants. Keep to the essentials, and focus on soft skills rather than hard skills and experience. “Most things can be trained for, but you can’t teach integrity or the ability to build consensus,” says Mark.
  1. Think about placement: The easiest solution is to just put a job ad on SEEK, but there are many more creative options. Post the ad on your own site and drive engagement through organic channels. Launch a content marketing campaign to show people that your organisation is a great place to work in the lead-up to publishing the job ad. Before committing to advertising in trade publications, ask your workforce what publications they read and what websites they visit.

8.       Partner with a third party: Partners such as Employer Branding Australia can minimise the likelihood of having to re-advertise a role, free up the time spent writing job ads, and provide step-by-step job ad templates that are a mix of standard copy (your organisation’s EVP) and parts that should be unique to every opportunity. But as always, be careful who you partner with. Insist on knowing who, specifically, you’ll be working with, and ask to see the work they personally have done.

A high-quality job ad will attract high-quality candidates who are motivated by the opportunity and see themselves reflected in the culture you describe. Job ads should help cut down on pre-screening and re-advertising time, strengthen your employer brand, and are the all-important first step in the candidate experience. With so much riding on the strength of a job ad, this is one step in the recruitment process that should never be rushed.

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