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Good, Bad and Ugly Job Adverts

Blog Post

Written by John Berry on 28th February 2019. Revised 26th October 2020.

5 min read

Crane Driver fancycrave-371066-unsplashHere’s one for you. It’s an advert for a head teacher.

  • "Demonstrate enthusiasm for, and commitment to, the role of head teacher; along with reliability, integrity and a passion for education."

Don’t you think that this is a waste of words? Could you imagine an applicant who would not at least claim those qualities?

Here’s another, an advert as a sales person.

  • “Make 15 prospecting calls a day, send 15 prospecting emails a day, make 15 calls a day to existing clients and send 15 emails a day to existing clients”.

Can you imagine what goes through the mind of an applicant thinking about applying? It’s certainly not, “That sounds interesting.”

  • And then there’s the boilerplate taken from an HR Business Partner vacancy. “We seek someone who’s motivated…, passionate…, driven…, committed…, with a work-hard, play-hard attitude.” “It’s all about attitude and passion”.

No comment.

  • And then there’s the gobbledegook. “We’re looking for someone who is commercially focused”. “With the ability to influence and challenge decisions at all levels”. “It’s a role that the you can really get stuck into.”

What do these words mean?

So, if these are a bit off the mark, what should a job advert say?

Simply, the job advert is there to create in the target person an emotional attraction to the job. They have to read and leave with the feelings of slight trepidation – because the job’s a little above that which they hold today. The advert must engender excitement – at the prospect of launching a new story in the applicant’s career. And it must tap feelings of confidence at the applicant’s ability to make an excellent application and win the prize.

So how does it do this?

First, the advert should convey some basic information about the firm or organisation, perhaps saying why the vacancy has arisen.

  • “The company, a leading financial services firm, is seeking to appoint an appropriately qualified Managing Director… to continue the good work of its current MD who is, after 7 years leading change and growth, leaving to take an academic post in a leading university.”

So, this shows that this post leads to other career possibilities. The previous incumbent went on to great things.

Second, the advert should say something about the structure and responsibilities.

  • “The school is a single form entry village primary school based in the heart of this rural county. We are privileged to have both a Forest School, an early years pre-school and we are a Teaching School.”

This immediately gives the applicant an idea of the scale of the job and the degree to which it is a step up from their existing job and hence a career progression. If so, they’ll read on.

Third, you might say something about the primary challenges of the job. Applicants are motivated by challenge.

  • So perhaps, “The MD will sit on, and report to, the Board of Directors and will be responsible for translating Board decisions from strategy into turnover and profit.” Or, “The head will understand the challenges that holding and sustaining an Ofsted ‘Outstanding’ rating brings.”

  • And there might be some note of short-term challenges like, “The MD will, in the short term, re-orient the sales capability to improve bidding success and reduce the research and development timeframes”, or, “The new head will be responsible for addressing the current Government expectation that schools will federate and will determine the school strategy on this”.

These indicate to the applicant that things are not static and that they will have an exciting life from day-one.

Then, having built the job and the organisation by way of the challenges that the job brings, it’s time to turn to the qualities of the person sought.

Now, here things get silly in typical job adverts published today.

It’s stupid to ask for competencies and behaviours that everyone and their dog has, or jolly well should have, or at least will claim. Don’t look for passion and attitude – you can’t measure those at interview, so stick to things you can assess. We need also to take care here. If we make a big list, no-one is going to read it. Remember that we’re trying to capture applicants’ attention, not put them off.

  • So, we might say that the successful applicant “will be able to demonstrate a good technical understanding of modern marketing methods and tools.” You might say that the applicant “should have proven experience in using and selling marketing technology products and services”.

Here you are signaling the essential qualities you seek and candidates can use this as a base for their application. You’re helping good candidates because they will know to provide evidence against those requirements.

And, don’t say anything about salary and benefits. A good advert with all those elements will already position the job at a level with a market-determined salary. Unless there’s a rigid structure, you’ll want the applicant to apply with the knowledge that you’ll be flexible. Negotiation on salary can follow later. In an environment where there are skills gaps and a dearth of good people, you don’t want to put applicants off, either by suggesting by way of salary that the job is beneath them or above them.

And finally, you might end by re-iterating the key benefit that the successful applicant will enjoy. You should have already said it early on since precedence might indicate otherwise that it’s a throw-away line.

  • But maybe you could end with, “Above all, the benefits of this job are in career enhancement, with the opportunity to become known as an educational leader county-wide” or your own equivalent. You get the idea.

At that point you want the potential applicant to be emotionally engaged. Metaphorically, their ‘tongue should be hanging out’. They should now be highly enthusiastic and intending to apply.

In summary, tap the emotions, even if it’s just a coffee barista your hiring. Tap the emotions with a promise of a great future.