A job description isn't a sales tool and never will be.

For reasons best known to themselves, many recruiters bemoan the absence of a decent job description and person spec from a client. I agree it’s frustrating when what you get is a series of seemingly unrelated one liners in terms of a job description and just the basic facts about the skills and experience you need in order to do the role, but, the emphasis should be on you, the recruiter to eke out the information from your client that will sell the job, not to cut and paste the bare bones of a dull and uninspiring JD and person spec onto a job board entry template. In short – the job description is not a sales tool, it’s merely a checklist of duties.

I know that some of them can be pretty dire (but often memorable), but imagine if every commercial break on television was filled with hideously dull advertising. For instance, instead of seeing Papa and Nicole prancing around the French countryside, you were faced with Sid, a mechanic in scruffy overalls, droning on about the technical specification of the latest Renault. Indeed, imagine that no decent tv ads had ever been made. No ‘vorsprung durch technik’. No meerkats, no Smash robots, no Boddingtons top bombing - just dull offering after dull offering after dull offering, every day and every night.

Now think about all too typical job board content. A lot of it is recruitment’s equivalent to listening to Sid and his monotonous tones. It seems that just as most product advertisers go to great lengths and expense to bring allure and memorability to their commercial offerings, so many recruiters pay little or no regard to the need to actually sell the vacancy they are trying to fill.

There is, of course, an argument that says what does it matter what you post? After all, people don’t read the ads anyway. Apparently they just scan them for job title, salary and location and then hit the ‘apply’ button. But what kind of candidate doesn’t actually read about the job they are applying for? The desperate? The ones with no eye for detail? The ones devoid of decent listening skills? Certainly not the good quality ones I would wager. But then so many recruiters make it difficult to want to read their job advertisements in the first place because they are just so deathly dull and boring. Particularly the ones that seem to think that a job description IS a sales tool.

I firmly believe that when it comes to advertising, any advertising, you get out what you put in. If recruiters let their people blindly cut and paste job descriptions and fire them scatter gun style then yes, they will get a response, but it will invariably be of extremely poor quality – and that will apply whether you put it on a job board or a link to it on a social media site.

Allure, intrigue, excitement, opportunity, challenge and reward, the feeling that the ad is talking to the job seeker, personally - all are essential ingredients to anyone who wants to get a good response from their recruitment advertising. Unless, of course, you’d rather see recruitment’s answer to Sid reading from his manual littering the job boards and social media sites? But if you would, I wouldn’t hold your breath for a decent response.

Some say the job board is dying. I don't believe it is, despite many recruiters doing their level best to kill them off by posting up really bad job ads. So, here it is, one last time - a job description is not a sales tool (so don't cut and paste them anymore, please)

Views: 431

Comment by Ginger Dodds on March 16, 2010 at 9:40am
I completely agree! Too often a client of mine that has done just that - posted the job description - calls me up to say they aren't receiving response to their ad on a job board. The first thing I do is look at what they posted. Does it talk about the company? The culture? What is actually expected of the role? Yes, a job seeker needs to know the skill sets needed for a position but that alone will not "sell" your job - or your company - to a job seeker looking for a career position. Maybe a job to get them by until the job market opens up again - but not that right-fit candidate that will become integral to your organization's success.
Comment by Alasdair Murray on March 16, 2010 at 9:47am
Thanks for the reply Ginger. It is refreshing to find that some people are on the ball and checking up on these lazy recruiters that can't be bothered to bring any creativity or imagination to bear in their job board posts. In fact I sometimes wonder if they even bother to take a brief about the company, the culture or the role. I honestly can't put my finger on why so many recruiters behave in such a way. it is totally alien to the actual concept of advertising.
Comment by Katherine Moody on March 16, 2010 at 1:19pm
This is a great post every hiring manager should read also. They are the ones who can help create a compelling marketing message. Our retained search firm creates a unique website for each of our searches. It's been a great recruiting tool to attract candidates. We've found it is also useful in encouraging hiring managers to work with us to create that all-important marketing message.
Comment by Ron Rafelli on March 16, 2010 at 1:27pm
It comes down to the fact that there are 2 distinct types of recruiters; the ones who come from a sales background and the ones who come from an HR background. The "sales" recruiters are usually the ones who have the best ads, in my experience. The ones with the HR background are bureaucrats, for the most part. They would most likely cut and paste the job description. It's not that they don't care, they just don't know any better. The "sales" recruiters aren't perfect, either, but for the purposes of this discussion they do post better ads.
Comment by Dave Hitchman on March 16, 2010 at 1:33pm
The thing most likely to kill jobs boards off is the insistance of many recruiters to post:
a) Ficticious adverts to trawl for CV's
b) The same advert for weeks on end - even long after the post was filled (assuming it existed at all)
c) The same advert as every other agency for the one job in the whole of Europe (or America)

I really don't care so much about creativity, as a potential employee I look for:
a) An advert that appears to be for an interesting, possibly relevant, unique job.
b) An employer and/or agent that appears to have a brain. I have a good degree, but its 25 years old now, with 25years experience behind me I find being asked what degree grade I got a little annoying, by now it doesn't matter at all, worse, many of the most capable in our industry have never been to university and so by insisting on a 'good degree' you are losing out on talent. If you have that sort of recruitment policy I worry about the type of company and don't apply.
c) An understanding that although this may be a recession, if you pay peanuts and manage to attract a monkey or two, these people will move on sharply if we ever get to the end of the recession. If you want to advertise for someone with a list of experience as long as war and peace and then offer half the minimum wage you aren't the people I want to work for.
d) Ability to see the experience, just because I am not working in the 'financial services industry' does not mean my experience is irrelevant and useless. Many of the 'top people' move from industry sector to industry sector taking 'valuable' experience (and an even bigger pay packet) at each move. Frankly it is the same 'in the ranks'. My experience in my industry sectors is VALID and USEFUL in another sector, such cross polination brings massive advantage. If you are so blind, narrow minded or stupid you don't want it, then I don't want to work with you either.

So, don't just make the bullshit prettier, make the substance better, talk to the client and ask them why, and if the reason isn't good enough walk away, you are lining someone up for a massive disappointment, and will reflect badly on you!
Comment by Alasdair Murray on March 16, 2010 at 1:44pm
Ah, but job ad, or rather recruitment communications writing IS big business Kevin, just not amongst those penny pinching recruiters who post dross onto job boards, scratch their heads (or arses) when it flops like a wet fish and proudly declare that the job boards are dying!
Comment by Dave Hitchman on March 16, 2010 at 2:28pm
I think I agree with part of Kevins comment, most businesses aren't interested. The vast majority aren't interested in their products, customers, workers. The guys at the top are interested in bluffing their way to a massive debt to make the company look huge enough to propel them to the next over paid job bullshitting someone else. Middle managment tends to be content to try and keep their bosses happy - and thence keep their job. The poor workers at the bottom just get shat on until they leave, the company folds or they are 'given a fresh opportunity' somewhere else when the company suddenly realises it can save £2.50 by offshoring and forgets all the 'enthusiasm', 'commitment' and 'loyalty' it demanded of the plebs.
Does that sound a little cynical? It is supposed to. How many companies are at the moment jumping on the 'make a few redundant' then 'new positions at 10% of last years salary' bandwagon? All of them. How many are offering training, relocation (a tax saving for all concerned, but 10 minutes paperwork for the company), real advancement? None is the honest answer.
Comment by Steve Levy on March 16, 2010 at 4:31pm
Ah deja vu all over again...

1. In actuality, the purpose of the job description is to define compensation, not to market something or as a checklist against which a recruiter will source and assess. Performance of ads, postings, and recruiters improves significantly when they speak about the specific problems that will be addressed and solved by the person hired or the specific situations in which the person will themselves immersed. Either way, there is - or should be - an expectation of results. Then it WILL be closer to becoming a sales tool.

2. You don't need to be use a superstar copywriter when you're wordsmithing the truth... see #1.

3. The challenge is that obtaining this info is difficult - hiring managers don't know it, haven't thought about it, etc. - and recruiters typically don't know enough about the job to ask the right questions needed to drill down into the requirements. Recruiting as a whole has yet to get out of the shadow of crappy job descriptions (crappy is a highly technical word used in Recruiterville). Contrary to popular belief by the TPR world (well, and many inside the company too), HMs aren't idiots: They simply aren't accountable for things like recruiting results - anyone hear the phrase "service level agreement"?

4. In the end though, you're left with the reality that most companies are average and their opportunities are boring - imagine if all the companies whose website described themselves as being "a world-class leader in..." actually produced world-class results. Perhaps "boring" is a bit harsh but it fits with the scene I'm painting: Average companies tend to attract average people unless there is a value prop for being part of a real change initiative to improve average. Perfume to pig all you want with copywriting (see #2) but you're still going to obtain average results (okay, even a blind squirrel catches an acorn from time to time).

5. Dave sounds angry about the very small percentage of companies who pollute the river where everyone else swims. Fine - a few people pee in your river. Get over it; this won't change. What about the majority who don't? The job boards serve a purpose and that is about casting a wide net under the correct assumption that you might catch the fish you want.

6. To candidates who want employers to "see" past the words on the resume, nothing personal but you're lazy (BTW and so are the recruiters who don't read the resume in its entirety) - and arrogant. You sound like GenYs to me. Do you know how many of the same resumes we read? It's like snow blindness - help us out a bit. On the other hand, if a representative of the company is treating you poorly, my advice would be to move on to somewhere else; consider them to be like bits of toilet paper following you out from the bathroom - you know where these came from.

Nothing is easy folks...
Comment by Charles Van Heerden on March 16, 2010 at 8:39pm
Great comments and interesting points.
@ Alasdair - unless you have a good job description it is pretty difficult to write a good job ad. Good job descriptions should also cover outputs and competencies. Your point is very relevant that a lot of job ads are padded with boring and repetitive listing of functions, rather than covering the "good stuff". The bottom line of a poor ad is unnecessary calls to the recruiter, covering basics.

@Steve - What amazes me that we are still caught in the same format as print ads, though there is so much more opportunity to share relevant information, instead of expecting the applicant to do an extensive website search.

The reason for poor ads, particularly by corporate recruiters, is because this task is often delegated to a junior assistant.
Comment by Kevin Jenkins on March 16, 2010 at 11:01pm
I agree with Steve 100%. However, when a job ad describes the problems (challenges) the person will be expected to solve and what success on-the-job looks like that IS "marketing" in the eyes of A-player candidates because it speaks directly to how they will advance their career. It markets what they will Do, LEARN and BECOME in the role. Top candidates embrace accountability and new challenges and the more you can work that into the job ad the more effective it will be at appealing to the best candidates. An effective job ad is a shining example of good marketing (not sales rhetoric or boring business documentation).

I also agree that these types of job ads are very difficult to write because in most cases nobody has a clue what the real job needs are. Until managers are prepared to sit down and spend a couple hours talking to others and creating a comprehensive hiring needs analysis rather than throwing together a few bullet points of subjective technical requirements you will never have the basis for a quality candidate assessment -- that being a proper job description. Without a proper job description, there is no way to develop a compelling job ad.


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