Making Weak Job Postings Say “Wow”

By Jenifer Lambert

Three tactics that will make candidates take notice, and take action

With the economy showing healthy signs of recovery and IT hiring steadily increasing, it’s time for HR professionals and recruiters to rethink their methods for attracting top talent. Most put too little thought into their job postings and the results show it. Consider this—one IT professional said, “Half of the job postings I see don’t make any sense. It’s obvious that the recruiter just wants to get some bodies through. I won’t respond to those.”

Job postings are to the IT recruitment process what a powerful Super Bowl ad is to marketing a product. A well-crafted job posting creates buzz and causes great candidates to not just take notice but to take action and respond. Your goal is three-fold when writing a job posting: attract the right fit (including passive candidates), strengthen the brand of the company as an “employer of choice,” and “make them bite.”

Apply the following three key tactics to create job postings that work.

1. Speak like a native

In speaking with IT professionals, the most common complaint about job postings was that it appeared the person who wrote the posting knew nothing about the actual job. A Senior User Interface Engineer said, “I assume the same person who wrote the job posting is the same person who is going to screen my resume. If that recruiter doesn’t really understand the job, it’s going to be a nightmare going forward. Unless the company is one I know I’d want to work for or the pay is really high, I’m not going to bother.” Here was the advice from candidates:

Only include technologies that I’m really going to use. If the laundry list includes old and new technology or competing technologies, I assume that either you don’t know what you’re talking about or the job isn’t important enough to the company to take time to write a quality posting. Example: ASP. net, C#, SQL make sense (companies generally work with one technology stack—these are all compatible)., PHP, Oracle, MS SQL Server don’t (unless this is a consulting firm where you’ll be working with multiple companies using various technologies).

Tell me what I will really be doing. I want to know more about the projects I’ll be working on, how the organization works, the pace of the dev cycles, etc.

2. Rack up cool points

A quick scan of IT job postings reveals a surprising lack of anything resembling selling the company or, just as bad, meaningless buzz words in an attempt to make the opportunity sound cool. Strong job postings will give the candidate some sense of your company culture and get them to visualize working there. In an effort to be brief, you may be diluting the secret sauce that makes your company special. Candidates want to know more than just what technical skills are required. They want to know that this company is a place where they can do their best work, make a contribution and fit in.

A word of caution: The way you describe your company can have a push/pull effect so make sure that the words you choose are magnetizing the people you mean to attract and only repelling those who would not fit. If you’re not careful, you could turn off candidates you’d like to hire. As one Solutions Architect explained, “I’m a father to three kids under the age of five. If a company talks a lot about happy hour keg parties and video game tournaments, it’s probably not the right place for me. I want to do good work, make great money and go home and play with my kids, not my co-workers.”

3. It’s all about the technology candidate

The problem with too many job postings is that they are written from the company’s point-of-view and not the candidate’s perspective. For example, if the posting starts with “Company X is looking for…” or “Candidate must have the following skills…” you’ve already turned off top candidates. Instead talk about what you have to offer.

Remember the best candidates have options and, more often than not, one of them is to stay in the job they already have. If you want to convince them to take a risk and leave the security of the known, you need to show them clearly how they will be better off in this new role. The only candidates who are attracted to “company-centric” postings are candidates who are unemployed and less discerning about where they apply.

The good news is that IT candidates don’t expect you to know everything about the job, but when you don’t take time to write a job posting that makes sense to them, they feel disrespected or just plain disinterested. Enlist the hiring manager to assist you in developing technical specs that make sense. Run any posting by the hiring manager and/or people actually doing the job to make sure that your posting resonates with them and will attract the candidates you want. Your value as an HR professional or recruiter comes from your ability to deliver talent, not in bluffing your way through a job description.

About the Author

Jenifer Lambert is a VP with Terra Staffing Group, a Pinnacle Society recognized Executive Recruiter, and President of Elevate Performance Systems, LLC, a consulting and training firm that helps third-party recruiters grow their business.