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How to write job adverts.

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If you ask the internet for advice, the internet will deliver. The problem is, lots of that advice sounds the same. And often, it isn’t very good.

Maybe that explains why so many job ads follow the same, tired formula – and as a result, end up sounding exactly the same.

The thing is, job ads cost money. And when they don’t work, they cost even more money. I’m not cynical enough to suggest that companies like CV Library are aware of this and therefore motivated to keep rehashing the same bad advice.

But, I do want to draw attention to one of their articles.

The title is ‘How to write a job advert (with examples)’ and it was written last year. I’m not going to link it, because it’s terrible.

What does this advice look like?

First, the article stresses the importance of taking the time to get the advert right. Time generally isn’t a friend of the recruiter, but there’s nothing wrong with this advice. It’s just a little ironic, given what they go on to say.

They continue with this strange line: ‘Some recruiters are choosing to come up with creative ways to advertise jobs through gamification and other techniques’.

Not only does this read like a shallow attempt to shoehorn the word ‘gamification’ into the article, they’ve managed to spectacularly miss the fact that creativity and advertising go hand in hand.

Instead of trying to be creative, readers are advised to follow their handy structure. Which looks like this:

  • Job title
  • Salary
  • Location
  • Introduction to your business
  • Role and responsibilities
  • Key requirements (qualifications and skills)

Can you see the problem? It’s all about the employer. Not one point considers the needs, desires or even the attention of the candidate. At one point, they do ask the right question – “Why should talented candidates come and work for you?”

But, here’s the example that immediately follows:

“{Your company name} specialises in {your industry or niche} and has an exciting opportunity for an enthusiastic Marketing Executive to join our dynamic team. This permanent position is well suited to an individual that is looking to advance their career in marketing and gain hands-on experience in a thriving and supportive workplace.”

Count the clichés. I got seven.

There are problems with constantly asking for people who are ‘enthusiastic’ (or passionate, motivated, etc.) These terms are generic, and suggest that the profile hasn’t been written with the role or candidate in mind.

Not only that, they reveal an unconscious bias towards extroversion. If you don’t think that’s you – that’s OK. But, that’s also what someone who isn’t conscious of something would say.

Another problem with words like ‘enthusiastic’, ‘motivated’ and ‘exciting’ – is that they are used so frequently in job ads, they’re losing their meaning. You stop noticing them or you stop believing them. Either way, they’re not a great use of your advertising space.

Next, we have this fascinating example:

“Based within the marketing department, you will work closely with all areas of marketing, to assist with the design and production of exciting campaigns and helping the team to achieve agreed targets. This exciting position offers opportunity to progress into a bigger role.”

That first line. Spelling out that a marketing role is within a marketing department working with a marketing team. Why would you write that? It tells the reader nothing. It makes the advert sound vapid. To make matters worse, they go on to use the word ‘exciting’ in two consecutive sentences. They already used ‘exciting’ in their intro example.

Are you excited yet?

I feel like this is a good time to remind you, these are not bad job adverts I plucked off the internet. This is genuine advice, written fairly recently, by a company that markets itself as the UK’s favourite job board. If someone Googles “How do I write a job ad?” – this comes up first.

I’ll carry on, because there are almost no redeeming features. They suggest breaking role responsibilities down into bullets – at best sounding like a JD and at worst like a ransom note.

Then, requirements. I’m going to skip their advice and go straight to their example:

  • Degree in marketing, business or another relevant subject (minimum of 2:1 qualification)
  • 2-3 years marketing experience in a similar company
  • Knowledge of {industry} is advantageous but not essential
  • Proficient in all Microsoft programmes
  • Excellent project management skills and attention detail
  • Good communication skills

This is such a great insight into setting a horrible example. They’ve given no real reason for anyone to want to work there but 2:2’s need not apply. The years of experience is indirect age discrimination – something recruiters learn as part of their REC award.

Pointlessly asking for proficiency in all Microsoft programmes – ‘Sorry Sharon, I can see you’ve never used Microsoft Dynamics so I’m ending the interview now.’

There’s a beautifully ironic typo where it should say ‘attention to detail’. Better still, there’s a point about not being sloppy and proofreading your work later in the article.

Finally, they ask for a single soft skill. The only soft skill that anyone needs. ‘Good communication’. But don’t worry, there’s no extroversion bias here. What does that even mean?

The trouble with saying nothing.

By now, the penny should be starting to drop. Everyone is taking their advice from the same (terrible) handbook.

You might think the only problem here is that if your ads don’t stand out, you’re not attracting the best candidates. But that’s not true. It’s one thing – but it’s not the only thing.

Here’s a bigger problem that often gets overlooked. If all adverts are using the same, empty language – we’re not even asking for the right candidates, never mind the best ones.

In many cases, an employer’s wish-list can be reduced to two things: “Have they done the job before somewhere similar?” and “Will they fit in?”

The result is a lack of divergent thinking and companies depriving themselves of the talents and perspectives of the types of people they don’t normally hire. This is bad for business. Some are starting to understand this, which is why we now see neurodiversity campaigns from the likes of IBM.

Here’s Mitch’s take on the subject, which I love:

What to do?

To me, the answer is simple. Soft skills should make a comeback. They need to become meaningful again. Rather than choosing ‘good communication’ because it’s already in the template, why not consider the attributes actually needed to do a great job?

If they’ll be working with customers – wouldn’t it be good to know that they are empathetic? If they’ll be following a rigorous process – wouldn’t it be handy to know that they are methodical and practical in their approach to life? If they’ll be managing others – wouldn’t it be helpful to know that they are adaptable and self-aware?

You might even start to think less about the role and more about how a person’s talent and way of approaching a situation can plug gaps across your business – achieving a sort of mastery in enlightened hiring by today’s standards.

Once we become mindful of this inherent criteria, we can develop a more rounded view of the candidate. The focus moves away from rehearsed answers about prior experience, and towards learning more about the person.

This is important because contrary to popular belief, it’s not what the person did before that offers value to the business. It’s the actual person.

So, that’s what I’m here for. I want to make soft skills exciting again.

Who’s with me?

This blog originally appeared on LinkedIn:

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