How to write engaging job ads (and why it still matters).


Job ads might seem like a strange thing for a recruiter to care about at this moment in time.

You’ll have noticed the changing dynamic in recruitment as we moved into recession. From a seller’s market, to a buyer’s market. 

We’ve quickly moved from every conversation in recruitment and HR being something like: “We must address the skills gap. How do we improve our employer brand and hire smarter?”, to: “We’ve never seen this much available talent on the market.”

Not a subtle change, as you can see. But this advice around writing effective job ads is as relevant today as it always was. Maybe even more so.

Why most job ads are terrible.

This part will probably sting a bit. It’s nothing personal and I’m sorry.

You’ve been given bad advice on writing job adverts since the dawn of the internet. This is pretty universal across the sector. Notable exceptions are the students of Mitch Sullivan and anyone with more than a passing interest in copywriting.

But if your job has anything to do with recruitment or HR, chances are you’ll write poor ads. Then you’ll go on to teach others to write poor ads, using that very same playbook. You might have even picked up articles online giving you advice on how to write ads, which you’d have been better off without.

If you’re an agency, you’ll probably reformat a job description to remove evidence of company branding. While at the same time, adding sweeteners like “market leading” and “fantastic” – to get those candidates wanting a piece of what you’re selling. For internal – it’s exactly the same but without the anonymity. Maybe with the addition of a section on company “culture” and benefits.

Both groups know it doesn’t work anywhere near as well as it should. Because, while you may place candidates from these efforts, you’ll spend much more time filtering unsuitable candidates. Which means it’s not an efficient system. 

But it could be.

Information overload (why the wrong candidates apply to your ads in droves).

It’s easy to moan about Kevin. The candidate who doesn’t have any relevant skills in your market but has seemingly set up an alert for your company. And so, applies for absolutely everything. 

But before playing the blame game, let’s consider how Kevin might have latched on to begin with.

You presented Kevin with a huge list of demands. The same applied to every other candidate who “really wanted a job” that day, because you followed the job board’s advice and stuffed in those keywords, to make sure your ad was as close to the top of each job board as possible.

That list was so boring and convoluted, you didn’t even read through to the end, so you know they didn’t. Instead, they optimistically read around your so-called ad. 

“Salary’s good. Location’s good. Says something about project management here – remember the time we did the garden? That definitely counts. Yeah, I’m not sure what this job is but I’m going to apply. Because I need a job”.

You want to make job advertising a more productive endeavour. Because headhunting full time isn’t right for you either, which is why you still use ads. You want to work smart, especially in this market. Your advert’s job is to sell. So why not try it some time? 

If IKEA sold their products the way most recruiters advertise jobs, it’d be something like this:

Available now – FANTASTIC POANG armchair. Must have a house, flat or other dwelling to utilise. Must have excellent dexterity to put together from scratch. Must have an Allen key and resourcefulness to know where to put it for successful erection. Must have money to purchase the product. Should be able to travel to a local IKEA. 

You see the problem? For a business as sales orientated as recruitment, it seems we’ve really lost sight of what it means to sell. Instead of doing that (ever again) – try the AIDA formula for your job ads:

  • Attention – a strong headline which offers an interruption from the mundane scrolling. Or talks directly about something this job or company has to offer that’s special.
  • Interest – build interest by speaking directly to the wants and needs of the candidate. You’ll also use this section to qualify the right candidate (and disqualify the wrong one). The important part? It’s engaging, so they’ll actually read it.
  • Desire – build desire by making sure you’ve fully covered what’s in it for them. Remember to be specific and stick to the facts. Your job isn’t just about attraction, but retention and reputation management too.
  • Action – make it easy to apply and be encouraging. Remember, you’re only trying to attract your ideal candidate. You want them to apply, so you get the chance to speak to them.

Don’t try and cram every detail a job description has into your advert because that’s not the advert’s job. Once you’ve shortlisted, you can send JDs out later.

Why will this stop Kevin?

The reality is, this won’t completely stop irrelevant applications. But when you write engaging ads that people actually read, it becomes less likely that the wrong people apply. 

But more importantly, given your objective, it becomes more likely that the right person will apply. And they’ll do it sooner. So you can close the ad and move on with your life. 

That means making more placements. Becoming more efficient. Which is music to any recruiter’s ears, no matter what side of the agency/internal divide you happen to sit.

And if Kevin still applies? Take the time to reject him. You might even give him some useful feedback which encourages him to channel his energy into something more beneficial. 

For him. And for you.

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