One of the most common challenges facing anyone recruiting staff is effective job advert writing. This doesn’t mean the job specification, but the advert for the opportunity.
We recently reviewed more than 200 job adverts for a variety of mainstream and niche roles across various industry sectors, picking 3 leading job boards and selecting the top 5 results for 40 unique job titles.
We were looking for evidence that advertisers were applying the basic rules of successful advertising. We were not being subjective, just looking at structure, style, content, and keywords, and determining whether the copy could be considered an advertisement for the opportunity or if it was more a specification of what was required.
173 of the job adverts that we reviewed would have failed any basic assessment. It is evident that the majority of ‘recruiters’, whether ‘in-house’ or ‘agency’, do not understand how to maximise their response rates and attract the best applicants.
When you consider that over 90% of all job-related searches are performed by people who are already in employment, you can recognise the importance of appealing to these passive online job seekers in an engaging way. Here, we run through some of the basic job advert writing tactics anyone can apply, and improve their conversion rates from ‘view’ to ‘apply’.
What is a job advert?
But first, what exactly is a job advert? It’s important to understand that a job advert is very different from a simple job description or job specification. A job specification will often list specific requirements that an employee has to fulfill and how they will be measured.
A job advert, on the other hand, highlights key benefits and features of a role, in an effort to get the candidate to buy into your organisation, culture and opportunity. Writing an advert is all about selling the role to potential applicants, and attracting the right kind of talent to your business is an exciting and engaging way.
How to effectively write a job advert
First, you need to re-frame your mindset around job adverts writing. Ideally, you want to get out of the habit of trying to screen out unsuitable applicants in your advert, and instead think of it as having the goal of attracting the very best candidates currently working with your competition. This may be challenging if you’re used to writing a simple job specification, but changing your mindset will have a huge payoff.
2. Avoid screening
It is very tempting to outline your requirements for the role when writing job adverts, but you need to remember that you are not writing job specifications. You are writing adverts. Only desperate applicants will apply to that type of job advert.
The reason that recruiters try to screen applicants out is to avoid having to sift through dozens of unsuitable CVs / application forms. The problem with this strategy is that it tends to result in very uninspiring job advertisements that put off the very best candidates.
Remember, it’s a massive decision for most candidates who are currently in employment to even consider another job, so the content of your advert is actually very valuable real estate that needs to be utilised effectively to highlight every positive aspect you can think of about this opportunity.
3. The salary
You should always try and include a salary banding when writing job adverts. This is because many candidates won’t actually apply for a role that doesn’t list the salary, and job board filtering options now also allow them to avoid these kinds of ads displaying.
If you don’t want to list an exact salary, listing a salary banding is hugely beneficial to ensure you still appear in the search results.
4. The introduction
Your job advert introduction should grab the reader’s attention, mostly because this is what will be displayed in the search results when someone searches for a role.
You can treble the number of prospective applicants simply by optimising the opening section of your job advert. Just try and make it sound as appealing and persuasive as you can, to encourage that initial click onto your full listing, for example using questions or persuasive language.
5. Use the Essential and Desirable criteria section
This section of the job advert is where your qualifying criteria can go, so use it properly. Candidates are far more likely to refer to this if they like the sound of the opportunity you are advertising.
5.1 Essential criteria
Only list what is absolutely essential here. If you overload this section when writing a job advert it can be overwhelming and put candidates off. It’s very rare that a potential candidate will match every essential criteria you list, and this has even been shown to discourage female applicants from applying in the first place. If you must include additional criteria, it’s better to include these in a ‘highly desirable’ section.
5.2 Desirable criteria
Anything that would be useful for the candidate to have should be listed in your desired criteria section. This may include a list of tasks the person will be required to perform, or perhaps operational roles that don’t have specific terminology. Just be sure to highlight that nothing on this list is essential.
6. Sell The Opportunity
The biggest question being asked by the vast majority of applicants reading your advert is “What is in it for me?” Over 90% of people reading your advert already have a job, so one of the first sections of your copy should be dedicated to selling the opportunity. To think that people will apply for your job just because they can do it is naïve at best.
Most candidates will be motivated by the perception that your opportunity represents a positive change for them, and will need to justify the subsequent job application and interview logistics that lay head accordingly if they progress.
Consider what the opportunities are that you can highlight in your advert: To learn something new; to develop or improve their skills; to experience something different; to join a bigger, more highly skilled team; to join a smaller team where they can become a bigger fish; to progress their career; take on more responsibility or to earn more money. The list goes on.
Unless the applicant believes that your job can satisfy the ‘what’s in it for me’ question, they will not hit the ‘apply’ button.
7. Make the job sound ‘sexy’
An important section of job advert writing is the job description and this is where the temptation is to revert to spec. You really need to focus on what is interesting, challenging, and is likely to be seen as ‘sexy’ to your prospective applicant.
What the candidate will be doing at this point is weighing up and comparing their current role against what they could be doing with you. Consider what can make the job sound more interesting and appealing: Previous or current or future projects; technology and tools; clients; the people; the team; the culture or anything about the company that is worth shouting about.
If you get stuck, think about how you would try and sell the role to a friend in the pub.
8. Keyword optimisation
Most job search engines decide how relevant an ad is based on the number of times keywords appear. Choosing the right job title and keywords that you want to be found for is essential, especially for highly competitive jobs. The difference between getting your job onto the first page of results and the second can be as high as ten times the number of views.
The job title
It’s critical to use a job title that will attract the best and most relevant talent to fit your role. This really depends on the type of role you’re recruiting for. For more generalist roles, picking the most common or searched for job title can have a dramatic impact on application numbers. For more specific roles, it’s better to select a very specific job title, which may bring in less matches, but these will be of a higher quality.
The job title is the most important keyword to use throughout your job advert copy, and should be used around 4 or 5 times in a typical job advert of 100-150 words. Try not to overuse it though, and ensure the copy flows naturally or you may be penalised.
9. Structure your job advertising copy
How you structure your job advert is important. Placing information in a logical and appealing order is not only easier to read, but helps you focus on adding the right kind of content to your job ad.
Here is our recommended structure:
A Powerful Intro (The elevator pitch)
The Job Description
Following this structure makes the task of writing job copy much easier. It also helps avoid filling your advert with content that has limited value to the applicant or in helping you, the recruiter.
There are many other advanced tactics to further refine your job adverts and improve application responses, but I hope this list will get you started on improving the quantity and quality of your application results.
Don’t feel like doing it alone? The Smart Recruit Online talent acquisition platform comes equipped with all the tools you need to write an effective job advert and attract quality talent to your business, including job advert generator tools and multi-poster technology. Interested? Book a demo with us and we’ll show you how it works.
September 1, 2021
Mark has worked in and researched the HR & Recruitment landscape for over 20 years. His key focuses are how recruitment technology, evidence-based processes, and human behavioural science can be used to optimise recruitment performance.
He is a serial entrepreneur, previous winner of the prestigious Chambers of Commerce 'Innovation in Business' award, and founder of Smart Recruit Online Ltd, and Corporate Wellness & Mental Health UK Ltd (Corpwell).
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