Writing Effective Job Adverts
The best techniques for writing effective job advertisements are the same as for other forms of advertising. The job is your product; the readers of the job advert are your potential customers. The aim of the job advert is to attract interest, communicate quickly and clearly the essential (appealing and relevant) points, and to provide a clear response process and mechanism. Design should concentrate on clarity or text, layout, and on conveying a professional image. Branding should be present but not overbearing, and must not dominate the job advert itself. This article relates mainly to designing and writing job adverts to appear in printed newspapers an magazines media, although the principles apply to other media and methods. The information must be communicated effectively one way or another to the target audience.
Job adverts and recruitment processes should follow the classical AIDA selling format: Attention, Interest, Desire, Action.
This means that good job advertisements must first attract attention (from appropriate job-seekers); attract relevant interest (by establishing relevance in the minds of the ideal candidates); create desire (to pursue what looks like a great opportunity), and finally provide a clear instruction for the next action or response.
Job adverts written by people who fail to follow these vital principles will fail to attract job applicants of quality in quantity. I generally try to avoid pointing out what not to do. Positive examples generally work better than negative ones, however it is useful to point out some common pitfalls for writing and designing job adverts - the quality broadsheets are littered with examples every week, and you will do well to avoid these traps:
- Over-designed graphics (distracts and slows reading)
- Extravagantly presented layouts and words (distracts and slows reading)
- Difficult to read quickly or at all for any reason
- Font (type-style) too small or too large
- Capital-letters (upper-case)
- Lots of words in italics - they are a lot more difficult to read quickly
- Strange-looking or fancy fonts
- Printed in daft colours or tints against a coloured, patterned or picture background
- Clever or obscure headlines
- Coded and idiosyncratic communications
- Too much technical detail about the job or the company
- Too many words - they are a real turn-off - keep it simple
- Uninspiring, boring descriptions of roles and ideal candidates
- Too much emphasis on the job and not enough on the person
- Adverts in reverse (mirror) or upside-down (not permitted anyway by most media)
- Weird advert box shapes, for example wide and flat or tall and thin
- Huge half-page or whole-page or double-page spreads - a waste of money
If you use a designer to create and produce artwork for your job advert I urge you to control their creative instincts - a job advert is advertising a job, it is not a CD cover or a bottle of shampoo.
Here's a reminder of the essential writing tips for advertising and for clarity of business communications, in the context of writing and designing effective job or recruitment advertisements:
Use one simple headline, and make the job advert headline relevant and clear. Normally the logical headline is the job title itself - this is after all what people will be looking for.
If the job title does not implicitly describe the job function, then use a strapline to do so. Better still, if you find yourself writing a job advert for a truly obscure job title which in no way conveys what the job function is, then consider changing the job title.
An effective alternative main headline - especially for strategic roles with a lot of freedom - is to describe (very succinctly - and in an inspirational manner) the main purpose of the role, which can then be used with the job title and organization's name serving as secondary headings.
If the organization is known and has a good reputation among the targeted readers then show the organization or brand name prominently, as a strapline or main heading with the job title, or incorporated in the job advert frame design, or in one of the corners of the space, in proper logo-style format.
N.B. Some organizations prefer not to tell the whole world that they are recruiting, in which case, if this is your policy, obviously do not feature your organization's name in the job advert. On which point - if you use a recruitment consultancy, examine the extent to which your job advert is promoting the recruitment agency's name, and if you think they are over-egging things perhaps suggest they contribute to the cost of the advert, or reduce the size of their corporate branding on your advert.
Make the advert easy to read. Use simple language, avoid complicated words unless absolutely necessary (for example if recruiting for Head of Rocket Science), and keep enough space around the text to attract attention to it. Less is more. Giving text some space is a very powerful way of attracting the eye, and also a way of ensuring you write efficiently. Efficient writing enables efficient reading.
Use language that your reader uses. If you want clues as to what this might be imagine the newspaper they read, and limit your vocabulary to that found in the newspaper.
Use short sentences. More than fifteen words in a sentence reduces the clarity of the meaning. After drafting your communication, seek out commas and 'and's, and replace with full-stops.
Use bullet points and short bite-sized paragraphs. A lot of words in one big paragraph is very off-putting to the reader and will probably not be read.
Use simple type-styles: Arial, Tahoma, Times, etc, or your house-style equivalents or variations. Serif fonts (like Times) are more traditional and more readable. Sans serif (like Arial and Tahoma) are more modern-looking, but are less easy to read especially for a lot of text. It's your choice.
Use 12-20ish point-size for headings and subheadings. Try to avoid upper-case (capitals) even in headings - it's very much slower to read. Increase prominence by use of a larger point-size, and to an extent emboldening, not by using capitals. CAPITALS HAVE NO WORDSHAPES - SEE WHAT I MEAN?)
Use ten, eleven or twelve point-size for the main text; smaller or larger are actually more difficult to read and therefore less likely to be read. Definitely avoid upper-case (capitals) in the 'body copy' (main text).
For the same reason avoid italics, shadows, light colours reversed out of dark, weird and wonderful colours. None of these improve readability, they all reduce it. Use simple black (or dark coloured) text on a white (or light coloured) background for maximum readability.
Get the reader involved. Refer to the reader as ‘you’ and use the second person (‘you’, ‘your’ and ‘yours’ etc) in the description of the requirements and expectations of the candidate and the job role. This helps people to visualise themselves in the role. It involves them.
Try to incorporate something new, innovative, exciting, challenging - people are attracted to new things - either in the company or the role.
Stress what is unique. You must try to emphasise what makes your job and organization special. People want to work for special employers and are generally not motivated to seek work with boring, run-of-the-mill, ordinary, unadventurous organizations.
Job advert statements and descriptions must be credible. Employers or jobs that sound too good to be true will only attract the gullible and the dreamers.
Remember AIDA: The Attention part is the banner or headline that makes an impressive benefit promise. Interest builds information in an interesting way, usually meaning that this must relate closely to the way that the reader thinks about the issues concerned. Since job advertisements aim to produce a response you must then create Desire, which relates job appeal and rewards to the reader so that they will aspire to them and want them. Finally you must prompt an Action, which may be to call a telephone number or to send CV, or to download an application form from a website address. Your job advert should follow this step by step format to be effective.
Your main heading, strapline and main message must be prominent. Do not be tempted to devote 75% of the space to a diagram of your latest technology or photograph of your new manufacturing plant in Neasden.
Headlines do not have to be at the top of the frame - your eye is naturally drawn to a point between two-thirds and three-quarters up in the framed area, which means you have room above the headline for some subtle branding, or - heaven forfend - for some blank space.
The best position for adverts on a job page is 'right thumbnail'. That is, top right corner. Right-side sheet is better than the left because your eye is naturally drawn right on turning over the page, which reveals the left-side sheet last. Top-right corner is the first part of a double page spread to be revealed. Top of page is better than bottom - obviously - we read from top down, not the other way around.
Resist the temptation to buy a half-page or a full page (unless the page size is very small) - you do not need it. A quarter of a page is adequate and optimal in most publications, indeed arguably even unnecessarily large in broadsheet newspapers.
People assume that big adverts produce a big response - they don't unless they are good. A good moderately sized advert will produce just as good a response as a good massive advert. Added to which you can run more insertions of sensibly sized adverts than big ones.
Having seen the layout and design rules above, here are the items to include in an effective job advert. The bold items are those which would normally be essential; the others are optional depending on local policy and circumstances. The list is loosely in order but this is in no way prescriptive - use a sequence that works best.
- Job title
- Employer or recruitment agency/consultancy
- Job base location
- Succinct description of business/organization/division activity and market position and aims
- To whom the position reports - or other indication of where the role is in the structure
- Outline of job role and purpose - expressed in the 'second-person' (you, your, etc)
- Indication of scale, size, responsibility, timescale, and territory of role
- Outline of ideal candidate profile - expressed in 'second-person'
- Indicate qualifications and experience required (which could be incorporated within candidate profile)
- Salary or salary guide
- Whether the role is full-time or permanent or a short-term contract (if not implicitly clear from elsewhere in the advert)
- Other package details or guide (pension, car etc)
- Explanation of recruitment process
- Response and application instructions
- Contact details as necessary, for example, address, phone, fax, email, etc.
- Job and or advert reference (advert references help you analyse results from different adverts for the same job)
- Website address
- Corporate branding
- Quality accreditations, for example in the UK, Investor in People
- Equal opportunities statement
An alternative approach is to place the advert with application form, instructions, job description, candidate profile, etc., as downloadable pdf or similar files on the internet, and use a smaller advert in your chosen media, containing far less detail, which acts as a signpost to direct people to the website URL. This enables a high-impact relatively low-cost small printed media advert.
Out-placement organizations. (Which help place people in jobs who have lost theirs for one reason or another - often very high-calibre people lose their jobs, for no fault of their own. Also, organizations commonly use out-placement companies to help find jobs for staff who have been made redundant, and this route offers a rich pool of talent and experience).
And in a similar vein, armed forces resettlement programmes. (The armed forces produce a constant stream of highly trained, highly disciplined, technically very competent people. So do the police and fire services. Many of these people retire early, or leave the services before retirement, in which case they often pass through resettlement programmes, which can be a very worthwhile recruiting pool.)
Universities, colleges and schools.
Trade associations and membership bodies.
Internet recruitment resources.
Using headhunters for middle and senior positions.
- The tips and techniques for effective business writing
- The guide to interviews techniques, process, questions and answers examples
- The article on exit interviews, including exit interviews questions samples.