Why Great Candidates Don't Respond To Job Ads

Anybody who has ever posted a job ad online knows the frustration: hundreds of resumes, yet only a precious few worth consideration. To amplify the problem, the coveted talent behind those worthy few is inevitably off the market by the time your umpteenth call triggers a ringtone instead of a voice mail. The money wasted buying ad space and time lost sifting through second-rate resumes is nothing short of maddening.

So why don't “quality” candidates ever respond to your job ads?

Because you’re posting the wrong content – that’s why. Many people don’t realize this, but there’s a distinct difference between a job description and a job ad. A job description is a business document created for internal use (i.e., candidate assessment, legal compliance, performance reviews, etc). Conversely, a job ad is marketing collateral used to attract applicants to a job opportunity.

The problem is that everybody is posting job descriptions and nobody is posting job ads. That’s why cyberspace abounds with dull job requirements and is devoid of compelling job opportunities. Is it any wonder the response rate from “quality” candidates is so dismal? It’s like a business trying to attract customers with its market analysis instead of with a demographically targeted and creative advertising campaign. How effective would that be?

Here are the three major drawbacks of posting job descriptions instead of job ads:

The Dreaded Laundry List

Job descriptions read like an arduous laundry list for what employers want and say nothing at all about what career-minded individuals want. The high caliber of talent you want to hire is not inspired by boilerplate job descriptions and endless bullet points of must-have requirements. While requirements are an essential component of a job description, they have no place in a job ad. I have covered this topic in great depth in my post aptly titled: Nix the Laundry List: Job Descriptions That Kill.

A Bland Format

The format of a traditional job description doesn’t pique the curiosity of passive candidates. The most important decision-making criteria to them are nonexistent or only vaguely hinted at. It requires a herculean effort in reading between the lines to speculate how having the job might translate into a career upgrade. Because a job description is a business document intended for internal use, its format obscures the value proposition inherent in the opportunity. In short, a job description masquerading as a job ad speaks to the wrong audience.

The Wrong Audience

Remember, a job description is a business document. It doesn't have any “curb appeal” for your career-minded target demographic. It doesn't describe what these individuals care about most: what your opportunity has to offer them. During the recruiting outreach stage, you're the seller (and usually a desperate one at that); and the individuals you seek are the buyers.

Sellers don’t make demands on buyers; they pitch the value of what they have to offer. They tout how what they have to sell (a job) will benefit the buyer (a career advancement).

It's a candidate's market and always has been for top talent. So your job ad must appeal to their (the buyer’s) emotions. Top performers already have a job; they don't need a new one. So the onus is on you — the seller — to make them want a new one — yours! If you succeed, the table turns; they become the seller and you become the buyer. If you don't, your job ad will only attract desperate applicants who only care about one thing — a paycheck!

As with any well-conceived marketing strategy, you have to understand the buying patterns of the demographic you’re trying to influence. With job advertising, you want your offer to appeal to top performers. Luckily, what top performers want is predictable — it’s etched in stone. Every top performer looks for the following criteria in a job opportunity — otherwise you are not talking to a top performer:

They want a Challenge
They want Important work
They want major Responsibility
They want a roadmap for Success
They want Recognition
They want to join a talented Team
They want to join an excellent Organization

How many job ads have you seen lately that represent an abridged version of this criteria? Probably not many!

Next up, in my third and final part of this “job ads that kill” series I will walk you through the process of transforming a dull job description in a compelling job ad that elicits a response from QUALITY candidates.

Views: 615

Comment by Chris Brablc on June 3, 2010 at 10:23am
Awesome post, Kevin! I couldn't agree with you more. Too often I see job postings that are all descriptions of requirements and skills needed while not including the reason why a top candidate should apply. I've looked and thought about this quite a bit and here are a few steps I follow when creating a job description:

1) Keep it short - When in doubt, always try to make your description shorter. This will make you take out information that is not crucial.

2) Use Bullets - Bullets are a great way to get more info down on a page while making it very easy to read.

3) Add a "Why Should you Work at [Your Company]" section - This forces you to come right out and say what is in it for the candidate.

4) Include a presentation or video within your apply process. This is a great way to highlight certain aspects of the job and benefits that you can offer in a fun interactive format.

There are tons of other ways to improve your job ads as well and I look forward to what you come up with for your next blog article.

Also, love the series title "Job Ads That Kill"! That's great!
Comment by Patricio Carjuzaa on June 3, 2010 at 2:31pm
Everyone has a good point so far, let me add one more: many candidates never receive a reply of ANY kind to their applications... not even "Thank you, but no thank you." - wouldn't it bother you to just hear your own echo?
Comment by Sunil Suri on June 12, 2010 at 6:53am
Kevin's article is not about who got laid off - whether they were competent or jerks. In the current economic situation, maybe the paradigms are different. But in general a job ad should do the selling. Give enough details to trigger the interest and make the passive or active candidate to call the recruiter to explore further. This is important for senior/strategic positions. I do not believe in key word search. As a candidate I would like to have a small chat with the recruiter/hiring manager, before sending the cv.

Another way to cut on the ‘casual candidate’ is to have a small online filter with 3-4 questions. Most of the job portals give this feature with some additional charges. My views.
Comment by Kevin Jenkins on June 12, 2010 at 8:48am
It sounds like you have a great business going, Sandra. You just post a few typical job descriptions and the $200k + active job seekers beat a path to your office door; and you place them; and send out five fee invoices in a single night. Everybody is happy. And I'm really happy for you. But that is far from reality from most people who post standard job descriptions and receive hundreds of second-rate resumes they have to waste their valuable time screening. We get it. It's communicated in every pretentious comment you write on this site. YOU ARE GREAT! But for the rest of the people out there who are interested in learning tips on how to improve the quality of their ad responses, I think my advice is solid. You clearly don't need it, so don't use it.
Comment by Sally Raade on August 28, 2010 at 1:15am
Great post Kevin! I've always have written job ads. It's only after I find the right candidate that I would share the job description.
Comment by Alasdair Murray on August 28, 2010 at 5:16am
I missed this at the time when it first came out but couldn't agree more. I am a copywriter who specialises in recruitment communications. Accordingly I am employed to write advertising copy that sells a role, not just goes through the motions by listing line after line of duties and person spec. Before my current role i worked in advertising agencies servicing clients who used to spend thousands, sometimes millions on their recruitment advertising activities. Some of them were big household names, tohers were recruitment consultancies who were leaders in their field. What they all had in common was that they realised that you get nowhere (and no one) from 'advertising' a job description. It would be like a leading car manufacturer scrapping their sexy tv advertising and just posting a PDF of their manual online. No one would buy their cars.

People like allure. They like to be spoken to on a one to one basis ('you', not 'the successful candidate'). They want to know what's in it for them. They want development, challenge, responsibility - to further their career. But, as Kevin says above, how many ads do you see online that satisfy those criteria? Sure, the jobs market is so desperate right now that any ad will get a response, but only the quantity, not the quality. What's better, 30 good CVs or 150 mediocre/poor ones? I think we all know the answer to that, but unless recruiters up their game in terms of what the post on job boards or social media outlets, the results will remain the same, i.e. poor.
Comment by Igbinadolor Osa on August 30, 2010 at 5:08am
Hmm...Quite an interesting article from kelvin, i must commend him on a great job done. And also to all numerous recruiters out there..please keep the flag flying. However, there is one aspect which kelvin did not take note of..and that is Demography, race, tribe and ethnic value. Am a recruiter practicing presently in Nigeria. What candidates always look at for is what the job is all about. Even when you post the job description and make all the specs clear, they still go ahead to send CVs which do not conform with what you are looking at for. I just imagine you posting a brief of what you are looking at for, then you are in for a lot of challenge, you know why? Because unwanted CVs will flood your mail box. If you will ask me, the best way to get the best candidates out there is still by referrals and through poaching. Most senior executives wont respond to adverts due to many reasons. One major reason which is the fear to let out their vital information which could be used against them if it gets to the wrong hand.

Osa Igbinadolor


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