How to write better recruitment ads.
Some job ads are plain nasty - but they needn't be. You can avoid writing a stereotypical recruitment ad by following a few simple points.
I was asked to write a recruitment ad recently. I enjoyed it because I spend a lot of time writing web copy, so I haven’t written a recruitment ad for ages - although I used to be a writer for an agency that specialised in recruitment and employee branding. Plus, the client was smart, and wanted the ad to sound like them, rather than like a stereotypical recruitment ad.
Oh yes, unfortunately there is a ‘recruitment ad’ voice. You’ve seen it a thousand times, it’s horrible, and it sounds like this:
Consumable solutions manager
As a key team player, you will help us to deliver consumables and drive results within an interactive client scenario. You will help us make our products the best of their kind, achieving consistent performance and layering new products and services onto our legacy infrastructure, leveraging the synergies that result.
With experience in this area, you will use the strength of our core assets to deliver world-class product and position us as a major player. Building solutions to customer needs, you will solidify engagement to drive value, change behaviours and deliver positive outcomes.
Apply with a CV and covering letter to firstname.lastname@example.org
We anticipate considerable demand for this covetable position. If you have not heard from us within 365 days, then your application has been unsuccessful.
Nasty isn’t it. Fortunately, it’s fictional, but some companies are used to seeing recruitment ads written in this way, so they follow suit instead of sounding like themselves. But the clever companies know recruitment isn’t just about telling potential job applicants what you want, it’s about giving them a good impression of you as a company. It’s even an opportunity to send a positive message to people who aren’t applicants. They may be potential customers, or they might tell someone else about the job. A job ad is a branding exercise as much as a communication tool, so it’s worth taking advantage of the opportunity.
So that awful ad above could be a lot better, even at its simplest…
We need a baker.
We’re a friendly local bakery, and we’re looking for a baker to help us bake great cakes, pastries and breads for our customers. And if you have some new recipes to add to our popular best-sellers, that’d be even better. We’re often told we make the best apple turnovers this side of the English Channel, but we don’t let it go to our heads. Well, not much – but we are proud of what we do.
So, how long do you leave bread dough to prove? What would you put in the perfect frosting? Are cronuts a good thing? Is Mary Berry actually a god? If you have enough experience as a baker to know the answers to these questions, we should sit down for a cake, a cuppa and a chat.
We’ll pay a good salary, for the right baker. And we’ll give you 28 days’ holiday, (plus bank holidays), a pension scheme and a friendly place to work. Obviously there’s the odd jam tart and cup of tea at break times, too.
If you’re interested, just get in touch. Pop your CV and a bit about yourself in an email, and send it to email@example.com by 8th April. We’ll email everyone – successful or not – by 22nd April.
Much better. There’s a dozen ways this could have been written, and they’re all better than the dull original. It’s not difficult either, just remember these 7 points and you’ll be on your way to hiring the right people in no time…
1: Tell the reader what’s in it for them.
Benefits are all well and good, but if you can, put the salary on the ad too. One of the main things you need to do for any ad – whether it’s for a job, a beer or a car – is place yourself in the audience’s shoes and say ‘what’s in it for me?’. They’re not coming to work just for the hell of it, they want to be paid. So don’t look as though you’re hiding something, tell people what you’ll pay. Even a range will do. Not only does stating a salary give people another reason to respond, it also filters out anyone you’d lose later in the process due to being a poor match for the salary, and makes you look more honest. As an employer, honesty counts for a lot.
2: Don’t use lots of jargon.
Yes, there’s the argument that people with experience in your industry will understand the jargon you use. But that doesn’t excuse the fact that jargon is just shorthand, and using it can make you look lazy. Also, using more straightforward language helps give the impression that work isn’t your company’s only interest. Speak as you would to another person you met in the street, and you immediately suggest that your company is human, and interested in looking after the people who work there. When someone looks at a job ad, they wonder about lots of things – the salary, the hours, whether they can do the job or not, what the people are like, what the benefits are, how they are with leaving early to pick up the kids…the list goes on. And most of the things on that list are of human interest – they’re not about KPIs or whatever. So write as if you’re talking to a person, one-to-one, and working for your company will look more appealing.
3: Try not to dictate.
A lot of recruitment ads use ‘you will’ at the beginning of every sentence listing the job’s tasks. ‘You will make the tea. You will meet key business goals. You will get sick of reading this ad before you get to the end.’ You will sound like the lovechild of some fierce dictator and Mrs. Doyle from Father Ted.
4: Dodge the job ad clichés.
‘Exciting new role’, ‘the successful applicant’, ‘dynamic’. Unlearn all these, and write what you mean. ‘Due to the organisation going through a period of growth’ could be ‘We’ve been doing well over the last couple of years, so we need to hire more people’. Or ‘We’ve put a lot of effort into our business, and it’s paid off. So now we’re looking for some clever people to join us’. Note the use of the first person instead of ‘the organisation’ – it’s that human thing again.
5: Keep it short.
When I was writing this, I looked at a couple of real job ads on a recruitment site. One of them had twelve bullet points on responsibilities, each with three sentences. The right person will know what the job entails, so just touch on it – full job descriptions can be placed online in separate documents. Even then, there’s no reason to pile all the information into bullet points, that just makes it hard to read (and doesn’t give a great impression of your organisation).
6: Use social media.
This goes without saying – just think of social media as a high-tech word-of-mouth. You’d be mad not to include it in your recruitment advertising.
7: Make your last words count.
‘Due to demand, if you haven’t heard from us within X days, then you’ve been unsuccessful’. Come off it. Okay, I can understand not wanting to lick several hundred stamps, but with email it’s really no problem to send a reply to every unsuccessful applicant with one click. The email you send can leave an important positive impression with those people. Who knows who they’ll tell about you – other companies, potential customers, other applicants? So it’s up to you whether you want to leave them thinking you really can’t be bothered replying to them, or you took the time to write a short, polite email from a ‘no reply’ mailbox. Not a hard choice.
Of course, you could always hire a good copywriter to write your recruitment ad for you. That's much easier.