This is the fourth in a series of TalentRISE tips to help businesses secure an edge over competitors by evolving their HR and recruitment practices in the digital era.  

Key Takeaways

  • Job ads are like any other type of ad: they must sell, tell and compel the reader to action
  • You don’t need to be a journalism major to write great ad copy
  • Some research, a compelling value proposition, attention to detail and maybe even a bit of humor can go a long way to write an outstanding ad

Most of us skim the headlines before deciding whether to commit to read an entire news article. Likewise, you need to craft job ads that grab the attention of job seekers. This doesn’t require a journalism degree; just a bit of creativity.  Or, as I like to put it, you need to sell, tell and compel people to action…often using a limited number of characters.

Here are a few tips to inspire you…

First, check the competition. Start by looking at job ads for jobs similar to the one you seek to fill. Fifteen minutes spent doing research, while pretending that you are the job seeker, on public job boards such as can help you crystallize your thinking about what makes your job stand out. This could be a number of things – the location, the opportunity to work remotely or your cool reputation.  Remember too that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery so if you see something you think will catch the attention of applicants, go ahead and borrow it.

Be different, in a specific way.  Once you’ve determined your unique value proposition, use it both as a differentiator AND also as a screening tool. What do I mean by that? Here’s an example: Instead of titling an ad: “Level I UX Programmer”, aim for something like “UX Programmer, Automotive Applications, Chicago”.  Search word optimization will generate more specific hits and you will find yourself fielding resumes from candidates with the desired background and a desire to work in Chicago, thereby narrowing down your applicant pool. Fewer, but more qualified, resumes is the goal.  

You’ll also note that, in the example above, the level of the position was eliminated from the title. My advice is to include that info in the ad – but below the headline. And, again, be very specific about the level so unqualified people will opt out of applying and thereby limit the number of applications. Bottom line #1: someone with 15 years of experience is not going to apply for a job advertised as “entry level”.  Bottom line #2: if someone is unsure of whether their experience matches what you are looking for because your ad is unclear about the basic requirements, they won’t take the time to apply.

Related to the point above, do write about your culture.  This is especially true for companies that may not have a well-known brand. Focus on what it is about your culture that will appeal to a certain type of individual.  Better yet, embed a video link in the ad. Short, to-the-point videos using products such as Sparcstart will engage younger audiences and make it easier for prospects to share the video via their social networks.  Videos that are authentic and creative may even go viral to share news about your openings. I’ve seen short videos, less than 2 minutes long do an incredible job of “selling” a corporate culture and the opportunity.   

Kitschy and catchy can work. Not every organization will feel comfortable doing something really radical – like using made-up funny titles – in an ad. But if your culture is open to it, give it a try; even if you just go for something light-hearted rather than far-out rad (go here for more). Even if you aren’t willing to go to that extreme, it’s worth adding some pizzazz to your ads. As I’ve always said, “snooze ‘em and lose ‘em”.  Lou Adler, one of the original experts at writing compelling job postings, always reminds us to highlight the PERFORMANCE expectations of your role.  Using Lou’s approach, you’ll learn how to paint a picture of the top performance indicators according to which the hired person will measured and then, how you can best interview candidates for performance.  For a sample of one of Lou’s “performance job profiles”, click here.   

Encourage, don’t discourage. Never focus on something negative in your ad. I often see copy, for example, that states, “don’t apply if you have less than 3 years of experience”. Likewise, if your job requires travel five days a week, rather than write “Requires extensive travel”, convert that phrase to “Want to see the world?” or “Travel bugs wanted!”.  In other words, appeal to the type of person who will relish that aspect of the job. Don’t, however, over-embellish or fall into the trap of over-selling the job. Always remain truthful and authentic.

Proof and double check. It’s fine to use abbreviations for words that everyone in your industry knows and understands. But avoid acronyms that are too specific and always avoid typos or other errors that occur easily enough in cutting/pasting info from one site to another — especially when you are trying to fit copy into the allotted number of characters.  As a final step to ensure your content engages, as opposed to repels, your target job candidate, use free tools like Mosaic Track that harness the power of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to scan your job posting and flag words and phrases that could be worded better.  You simply cut/paste your ad into a form and the site generates an overall job ad engagement score. It also identifies words that are positive and engaging; those that are perceived as negative and repelling, as well as words or phrases that may be perceived as corporate jargon.    

Call to action.  The whole point of the job ad is to compel someone to apply. That’s why you need to end the ad with clear info on how to get more information and/or apply immediately. The most HR compliant manner is to direct job applicants to apply via a single method which typically is either (1) to email a resume to a recruiter directly OR (2) to click a link to complete an online application form.  Offering multiple ways to apply for a job can cause redundant work for you and the job candidate so stick to offering a maximum of two options. Some people won’t be ready to fill out a lengthy application so you may want to state: “To apply now, click here (with a link to your online application) OR if you have questions or want to be considered for future opportunities, click here to chat with our virtual recruiter Abby!”.  Many employers are offering the job candidate the ability to engage with an AI enabled chatbot like HireAbby or Olivia with that are programmed to ask a few basic questions to determine whether the person is qualified and interested today OR to engage and pre-screen for a future need and recruiter follow-up.

Finally, be sure that your ad is compliant with the law and doesn’t promote bias. Know the new regulations in many states (and the list is growing!) that make it illegal to ask about salary history. Also avoid using language that may – directly or inadvertently – signal a form of bias to a job seeker. Free tools like Gender Decoder can review your job ad content and identify if the job ad has a gender bias. This can be as simple as choosing pronouns more carefully.  More on bias – and how to avoid it in the pre-interview recruitment process – in a future tip.

Need more info? Contact Carl Kutsmode, Partner, TalentRISE.