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Is your Job Ad the weakest link in your hiring process?

10 Classic Job Ad mistakes you should stop making as a recruiter

Almost everything in the world is sales play. From networking, email campaigns to interviewing, the candidate journey is very similar to the customer journey. We have something we’re selling and we need the right buyer to buy it. In our continued look at how marketing influences HR, we look at the job advertisement and why it could be the weakest link in your hiring process.

“How you sell matters. What your process is matters. But how your customers feel when they engage with you matters more.”- Tiffani Bova

“These days, people want to learn before they buy, be educated instead of pitched.” — Brian Clark

A quick look at the customer buying process reveals certain psychological & psychosocial considerations we fail to take into account during hiring that in fact affect hiring success. The sales funnel which stems from the below starts with having a good number of qualifying leads and a series of steps we can take to convert as many of these to the final stage. In our case, this would be a mix of brand building, sourcing strategies, targeted advertising, testimonials, social presence, and everything else we do in the first 3 of the buying stages to convince the best candidate to click on “Apply Now”. And just like in sales, in hiring too every effort builds or breaks the next one. It’s a compounding process. The Job ad plays a critical role in this process as seen here;

  • Awareness- Our potential candidate has come to the realization that they could need a new job. They could be an active jobseeker(15%) who may have recently lost their job or a passive(75%) who could be currently working but considering a career change.
  • Consideration-Otherwise known as information search where the customer would look at several pieces of information to determine if indeed a job search is the best way to achieve their goals.
  • Intent- Also known as evaluation of alternatives. So they’ve been convinced that they definitely need a new job or are open to considering it at least. They dig deeper & are more skeptical here and will use different information to decide which job & employer to apply to.
  • Purchase- They are sold on your big mission & the career opportunity & make the big step of applying for the open post by the channel we’ve provided.
  • Post-purchase-They have applied successfully or unsuccessfully for the job & are now thinking & hoping they made the right choice but with an ounce of hopefulness & expectation if they will get what was promised.

“Sales is not about selling anymore, but about building trust & educating.”-Siva Devaki

I advise clients and executives to Always Be Cultivating (ABC) by thinking of recruitment as a sales process. If you want A-players on your team, your company must spend as much time and effort attracting and retaining employees as it does on finding and keeping customers.- Kathleen Quinn Votaw, Founder and CEO of TalenTrust

So here are some common deadly mistakes we should stop making immediately to convert more candidates to applicants;

The customer buying cycle is much like the candidate journey

Writing it alone or letting the hiring manager do it alone

I’ve seen many candidates complain about this especially in hiring for tech roles. If the job advert is written by HR alone that brings in a potential disconnect with what the actual job is going to be about & the necessary requirements needed to be successful in the job. On the other hand, if we let the hiring manager do it alone, HR stops playing its supporting & advisory role. Here, our goal is to work with hiring managers & the supervisors to get a good & clear picture of the incumbent & needs of the department, cross-check the final copy, then combine it with our talent acquisition goals eg diversity or employer branding as well as the legal & company policy considerations to be taken into account. Doing this will ensure a complete job advert that also highlights the true nature of the job as well as remove ridiculous requirements. Here’s an example of a bad tech job advert.

Too long and/or boring

Ever been put off a job ad because of just how long and boring it was? Well, I have so many times. I’ve witnessed this, especially with international NGOs. We’ve managed to convince our candidate that we’re a worthwhile employer of choice but then drop the ball when it comes to the career opportunity by using boring language that is not inspiring or exciting. Put yourself in the mind of the candidate at this point. Think of yourself as a customer purchasing a new phone. What kind of sales language would be inviting but truthful? We know they don't have unlimited time to read our pitch & have to make a good first impression within the first 11 seconds at least. The key here is to remember that you don’t have to put everything in the ad. So start by asking yourself, what is the most important thing we want our candidate to get about this job, career opportunity & company? If they could take one thing away, what would it be? Work with the sales & marketing team to learn what kind of tones we want to reflect as an employer & our choice of words. You can also use your job ad to show how innovative you are as a company as well just like how candidates have found innovative ways to deliver their CVs eg using Pizza boxes! This brings us to the next mistake.

“A salesman minus enthusiasm is just another clerk.”-Harry F. Banks

The template play

It’s very common for most hiring teams to have templates or download templates for use when posting new jobs. What’s boring about this is when a candidate goes through your open jobs & sees the same repetitive words or no targeting at all. Just like how we ask candidates for the same during CV writing, recruiters should write their ads in a way that targets the candidate you’re trying to convert as well as be a true reflection of the job at hand. One thing candidates see is a replica of job requirements or evaluation questions across different jobs in different departments such as this recent Linkedin job ad by a Digital health startup that was looking for a Talent Manager. The form had the following must-have questions as part of a Youtube submission the applicant was meant to attach to their application.

What is your perspective on Covid-19 and Digital health? Where are the opportunities to innovate around patient-centric digital interventions and clinical partner delivery?

There are 2 issues candidates have raised about such evaluation techniques. The “take-home” assignments are a global hiring discussion where candidates feel companies are using the desperation of job seekers to get valuable knowledge for free to solve real company problems for free. Some have landed into legal problems because of this while others have found themselves trending on social media for all the wrong reasons as we’ve seen in Kenya before. Secondly, these questions are irrelevant to the type of job being recruited for. Tailoring any content, requirements & questions to the job is important. Your Product Manager ad should not sound like your Digital Media Manager ad. Working with hiring managers can help solve this. And this challenge is linked to the next.

Aim for complete, concise, compelling & clear

Photo by Ylann Meyer on Unsplash

Too short and/or incomplete

What about job ads that look like a Tweet and offer no real information? Remember here the candidate has taken a step towards the door and we’re trying to convince them to step into our store and look at what we have to offer in the hopes that they buy what we’re selling. What if in our quest to buy a new phone, our customer looks at the brochure or online description that says “Great smartphone that will deliver amazing photos & long battery life”. Is that enough to make you buy it over another phone? Nope. In our consideration, we want to make sure we provide the customer with all the important information they're using to evaluate us. Do not be vague and use generic terms. For the phone that would be what gives it the ability to deliver stunning photos ie a 40mp front camera, long battery life i.e 4000mph battery & fast charging capabilities. Everything from the job title to the company description & job competencies should be specific & concise. Readout your job ad with this question at the back of your mind, “What does this statement mean or imply? Is it complete?” A job ad should reveal 3 key information to a new candidate in this particular format;

  • About the company ie culture, mission, what you do, how you do it, how you’re different, what your future looks like
  • About the team/department ie who will I be reporting to, what’s the name of the department/team, how is it organised, how can I grow, what impact does the team make to the company’s goals
  • About the role/person ie title, reporting authority, impact to the team, key performance deliverables, behavioral/personal attributes needed to excel, minimum qualifications & requirements, potential start date, pay range

Reflects nothing about the actual job/Not being performance-based

And while at it, are you just using vague terms and promises without using words & expressions that reflect the actual things the incumbent will be doing from day 1 and will be measured against on day 100. For more on this, check out this Linkedin course on performance-based hiring by Lou Adler which offers great insights such as;

Break hiring into 4 categories (Do + Become)

  • Becoming -The future opportunity
  • Doing- The actual work a person will be doing in year 1,2
  • Getting- what a candidate gets on day 1
  • Having- what a candidate should have in terms of skills & exp

We’ve discussed this matrix before because it’s the same matrix candidates use when evaluating a new job opportunity. Move your hiring from a skills-based one to performance-based.

When writing your ad, make sure the “what’s in it for them” is longer than the list of requirements.

Using company lingo

Not very common but it’s also a hindrance to your conversion rates. I've seen several job ads where companies use lingo or terms not known to those working outside that company or department. It’s smart here to use the sales advice of never assuming. Feign ignorance and assume your candidate does not know your initials or terms. Otherwise, if you’re using any abbreviation or new terms, provide a brief description or explanation). This is important since unfortunately, unlike with selling products, most companies don't provide candidates with a chance or way to ask clarifying questions during the application process. So if we’re going to expect the candidate to apply based on the job ad alone, we should make it as concise & clear as possible but inviting enough.

Talking about the job & forgetting the company

Described in the above course as an Employee Value Proposition. Just like a salesperson, arm yourself with the top benefits a potential candidate can get once they join your team or company. I’ve been to interviews where a whole panel could not instantly tell me why the job was a good move for me. This is a big red flag. Just like how customers purchase phone A over B because of other factors such as company brand, use the job ad to highlight what makes you a great employer of choice including social proof techniques such as testimonials eg stating that you were voted the top employer in your region this year. This is also one of the disadvantages of anonymous job ads or using consultancy agencies. No one can sell your company better than you. It’s like buying a phone with no brand or manufacturer details. Your job ad should reflect your employer brand values from tone to content. Apart from these, talking about you as an employer could help jobseekers beware of fake job ads & provide information about the correct ways to apply for your jobs & how you hire. So go further than your one-liner about what you do. Get us hooked & informed by sharing why we should be interested in your vision, mission, impact, or product.

“Great salespeople are relationship builders who provide value and help their customers win.”- Jeffrey Gitomer

If you wish to persuade me, you must think my thoughts, feel my feelings, and speak my words. Marcus Tullius Cicero.

Instant turn-offs eg discriminatory words

Ever read a job ad that put you off immediately? I have. Instant turn-offs for candidates can be using requirements or language that could be deemed discriminatory or illegal even. This could be age/gender/faith or other forms of discrimination eg We’re looking for a lady aged above 30 years. Why does the job holder have to be a lady & more importantly what does their age have to with the performance objectives of the job holder? Use technology tools such as AI hiring bots and tools like that can help you word your language better or even just pass the ad through various people to get their opinion before publishing it. This is especially so if you’re looking for a diversity hire or candidate. Another turn-off here is MUST Haves. Candidates have long felt this is a lazy way for recruiters to screen through large candidate pools. This mode of hiring has been debunked by many companies including those who’ve now eliminated degree requirements for jobs such as Google. This also works against your diversity goals as we’ve stated before how female applicants will not apply for jobs unless they meet 100% of the job criteria. Consider the new hiring trend of moving from a requirements list or checklist format job ad & adopting new trends that companies like Lever have adopted successfully & seen results by changing their format from a checklist one to conversational. Consider other innovative formats beyond a word doc like Video or Posters that have better conversion rates. Eliminate barriers to entry by making sure your job ad is inclusive & reflective of your brand values. You can’t then provide conflicting info such as saying you’re an equal opportunity employer but you are only looking for white males.

The last turn-off here is not being truthful. In the age of social media & the internet, you just can’t afford to lie in your Job ad. Candidates are wary of lies & buzzwords all companies use and will scour their sources for information about you before applying including former employee & online reviews.

Talking like a robot

The great rule of copywriting & even social media is speaking like a normal human being. Read your job ad out loud and ask the question, “Who speaks like this on a normal day?” Find your authentic voice and seek to sound conversational. For more tips on this, check out this copywriting Twitter thread with great advice.

Another fact about human psychology that HR forgets that Marketing doesn’t is that the human brain is influenced by our 2 sided brain ie Logical & Emotional brains. While one may pick your job because the pay is higher than their current salary, another can be influenced to apply for the same role despite the package being lower because of what’s called emotional branding. If you want to learn more about this email me at You can also check out how the best marketers at Cocacola do this. Nothing harder than selling the same exact product for 100 years right?

Not tracking results

Just like sales, hiring teams have to track the sales funnel to identify what's working and what's not. Data helps to tell a story. It’s the only way to be a high performing hiring team by using numbers & especially technology to track our conversion rates throughout the funnels and more importantly, combine this with the other sets of small data we’ve collected from our other initiatives & engagements with candidates to get a good picture of the impact & results of our efforts. If we see that a large number of people are viewing our job ad but very few are applying, we have to question why this is so. If we see that a majority of them are spending only a few seconds reading our ad, what is that telling us? Getting data such as demographics could also help us know who is reading our ad & how we can better reach certain groups through more targeted ways. Tying this data with the rest of your hiring insights will help you deliver better business results & work on the tasks that deliver the most impact on our goals instead of the spray & pray way.

“Never confuse activity with accomplishment.”- Lori Richardson

Key takeaways- A good job ad is;

A- Accurate

B-Brings out the best about the company/job

C-Compelling & Complete

In conclusion, remember the best experiences have to be intentionally designed as we’ve stated before. So even with a global pandemic upon us and many companies freezing hiring, there’s still much your hiring team can do, including working to improve your job adverts. Got any more tips? Drop a comment below.

Still looking for more? Read or check out this Linkedin Learning course




Jobonics is a blog centred on all things HR, Recruiting and HR Tech.

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Stella Ngugi

Stella Ngugi

HR Generalist| Founder @JobonicsHR | Where HR, Tech& Entrepreneurship meet| Eat. Pray. Code. Blog. Hire | 🇰🇪 IVisit for more info.

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