How to write job ads top candidates can’t resist

By Minda Zetlin

What do you do when you need to hire an employee? Write a quick description of the job then post it to the handiest online job board? If so, you’re missing some of the best candidates, according to Michael Overell, co-founder of RecruitLoop, a marketplace for independent recruiting.

‘Remember that a job ad is still an ad,’ he says. ‘A lot of people forget that. You should be thinking like a marketer.’

As the economy improves and talented people with certain key skills become difficult to hire, your approach should not be: ‘If we post it, they will come.’ Instead, take the time to create a well-crafted job ad and carefully choose where to post it. It’s a small extra effort that will pay for itself when you start to find the best qualified job candidates. Here’s how to go about it.

1. Impersonate a job-hunter

Online, that is. ‘A common mistake is to just pick the most popular job board,’ Overell says. While a giant job board may attract millions of visitors, it might not be the best place for your job ad, any more than the site with the highest overall traffic is necessarily the best place for your product ad. In both cases, it’s better to pick a site that will reach the specific audience you want.

The best side for a job ad will vary, depending on the type of job and its location. ‘If you’re looking for an online marketer in a specific location, there are two or three different places that work well,’ Overell says. To find them, try pretending you’re a qualified job-seeker yourself and do a few searches, he suggests. Another strategy is to ask professionals in the field you want where they would look if they were job-hunting.

2. Check out the competition

‘Use all the tools that you would as a marketer,’ Overell advises. That means paying attention to things like keywords – what terms are your ideal candidates searching for? You can try using online keyword tools to find out, although they may not index terms on all job board sites.

You might learn more by looking at other companies’ ads for the position you’re seeking to fill. Review several of these and you should get a feel for which keywords seem most relevant.

3. Write an ad, not a job description

‘The two things have a lot in common, but they’re not one and the same,’ Overell says. ‘A job description is usually an internal document created to clarify what the role will do and to outline reporting lines. A job ad’s primary purpose is getting the right person to click “apply”.’

That means your job ad should probably skip a lot of detail about who reports to whom, and include some sense of your company’s culture and mission, the benefits you offer, and why it’s a great place to work.

4. Use subheads

‘A lot of people are guilty of writing a jumble of paragraphs that cover the right content but don’t make it easy to find,’ Overell says. Instead, think about structure and use subheads and bullet points. The ad should be divided into clearly labelled sections, for instance one on the job responsibilities, one on the qualifications of the ideal candidate, and one on the application process.

5. Pick the job title carefully

Here’s a little secret: The title you put in your ad doesn’t have to be exactly the same as the title a new hire will actually have. ‘The analogy is the marketing email subject line,’ Overell says. ‘It’s the only tool you have to get someone to click on your message. Almost the sole purpose [for the listed title] is to show up in search results, so it’s important to understand the terms that candidates might be searching for.’ The smartest companies optimise their job titles for search, rather than choosing a title for how it fits into their org chart, he adds.

6. Use your ad as a screening tool

‘It can save you a lot of time if you qualify out unqualified candidates,’ Overell says. ‘For example, if it’s a requirement that an applicant have working rights in this country, make sure to include that in the ad. ‘Will only consider application if A, B, or C.’

With fewer unqualified candidates in the screening process, you’ll have a less overwhelming pile of applications to get through on the first round, and you may be in a better position to spot the real gems.

7. Add a very specific instruction

Another way to lessen your workload – especially if you’re looking for a detail-oriented candidate – is to include a very specific instruction somewhere in the middle of the copy. For instance, write that you will only look at the application if the email contains a particular word or phrase in its subject line.

It may feel like you’re being slightly sneaky, but as Overell points out, ‘All you’re doing is filtering out the people who haven’t read the ad carefully.’

8. All done? Now have someone else read it

‘Don’t rush the ad out the door,’ Overell says. ‘It’s a common situation when you get the approval or the funds to go hire someone that the first thing you do is write an ad and get it out straight away. But it will help to have a few different people in the company read it to make sure it’s clear and says what you want it to say.’

Ideally, you should get at least one read by someone who has applied for the same type of position in the not too distant past. That way, ‘You can find out how the ad might be interpreted by someone looking for work,’ Overell says.

9. Make sure everyone gets an answer

Before you post the ad, set up a system that will ensure every applicant gets a response. It doesn’t have to be a personal response – though of course that’s always best. Even an auto-responder that thanks them for applying and says you will get back to them by a certain date if you’re interested in learning more about them is a whole lot better than no response at all.

Why should you care about the feelings of a faceless mass of job applicants? ‘You want candidates to have as good an experience as possible of your company,’ Overell says. ‘You never know where they might pop up in the future.’

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