What companies get wrong when they write vacancy ads! 

You already know that your employees are your most valuable resource and that your vacancy advertising is often your first opportunity to present your employer credentials to future employees.

You probably also know that we’re in the midst of a skills shortage that puts good candidates in a strong bargaining position and ensures they will likely have more than one job offer on the table, so you need to work hard to attract the best people.

The clear implication in all of this is that vacancy advertising is an extremely important part of the hiring cycle. And yet, in our experience, it is often treated as an afterthought.

I think this is because it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the hard work is over once you’ve got to the point of gaining permission to hire a new member of staff.

But actually, it’s at precisely this point that you need to be careful not to let your guard down: the really hard work starts now!

In our next two blogs we’ll briefly examine the common mistakes (part 1) and examples of good practice (part 2) that we see in vacancy advertising. Part 2 of the blog will include some practical advice, because that goes hand in with good practice!

Part 1 – What most companies get wrong! 

Too much incidental, unpersuasive detail in the job description

This often comes from an assumption that the reader will care as much about your business’s internal set up as you do the first time they see your vacancy advert.

It’s very important to make this distinction: with good candidates having a lot of choice, they will want to know a lot about your company and the information should be available to them. But a job vacancy is only part of your toolkit for promoting your organisational brand. It has a specific, particular job to do – to sell a vacancy.

So leave the really fine detail about your organisational set-up to the “work for us” section of your website, interviews and open days, and remember that a job advert should be exciting, persuasive and punchy. It exists to hook in candidates so that you and they can get a better look at one another and learn more.

Should you include exciting detail about your culture in an advert? Absolutely and emphatically yes. But at this stage, a reader doesn’t need to understand the detailed logistics of how silo A works with silo B, or the fact that role A has a dotted line management responsibility to role B.

N.B. There’s a general caveat we should apply here, and that we can apply to all rules in advertising: by all means break the rule if doing so will help to sell the role better. You can also break this rule if this kind of detail includes an important deal-breaker that plays a significant part in qualifying candidates in or out. You need a strong awareness of your audience and job role to do this, but you should have that anyway!

Too much focus on common sense requirements

Space is at a premium in online and offline job adverts, so it’s important to carefully select the content and messages you use, and to pare advertising copy down with ruthless efficiency.

“Common sense” skills should only be foregrounded in an advert when they carry particularly high significance in the context of the role.

For example, be selective when specifying that candidates need a good telephone manner or good IT skills. It might warrant a mention, but need not have a significant and lengthy justification. These skills can be established quickly enough in a screening call; many “common sense” skills don’t warrant the focus they are given in the “requirements” section of an advert, where space is at a premium.

Many advertisers take the approach of throwing everything into an advert for fear that they’ll miss out on some fine detail, but this simply wastes space and, more importantly, dilutes the more powerful sales messages in your advert – the part where you persuade the right people to apply.

Not selling the opportunity

This is a big one. A surprising proportion of job adverts focus on the technicalities of a job role without actually selling the opportunity. By selling, we mean selling the role, the team and the company. This goes back to a point we made at the start of this blog, where people assume that the battle to get new staff is half-won by the time they write an advert, and therefore enter into the exercise with the wrong attitude.

The purpose of a job advert is to sell a role. It is to persuade. Therefore, a candidate will want to see the benefits of working for you: career progression, flexible working, team culture, the excitement of challenging work, benefits, personal development and so on. Many candidates are very inspired by learning how their work will make a difference – to a business, to a team, to a client or to a cause.

Company-speak and jargon

Another common flaw with adverts is too much assumption that the audience knows what the writer knows. No matter how renowned your organisation, you should never fall into this trap, particularly when describing the fundamental responsibilities and activities of a given role.

Business cultures today are diverse and highly individual and often baffling to the outsider.

No matter how normal your workplace seems to you, many graduates – or indeed any candidates unfamiliar with your particular culture – will find it strange, difficult to penetrate and riddled with baffling terminology and in-house idioms.

Acronyms are useful shorthand for the people who have been trained to understand them, but a tremendous barrier to understanding to those who haven’t learned the language yet.

It’s a valuable skill to be able to describe your company, culture and roles so that they can be clearly understood by somebody with no inside knowledge whatsoever. It’s also good practice, because it will make your vacancy adverts that much more appealing, as they will be clear and concise and thus more persuasive.

You’ll also need to ensure you really understand the role before you can write an advert like this, so you may have questions for the hiring manager (if not you) that they hadn’t considered. Seen in this way, the process of translating a job specification and a person specification into a clear and persuasive advert is also a useful “sanity” check for the role itself.

In the past we’ve helped quite a few clients clear up elements of a job role they hadn’t really ironed out, by drawing attention to lack of clarity in their specifications!

Complicated application processes

We’re going slightly beyond the purview of advertising copy here, but many hiring firms make the application process too lengthy and complicated. A recruitment agency can accept a CV and present it to a hiring manager, but internal processes at hiring companies often involve a lot of checks and balances, with Applicant Tracking Systems (ATSs) used to log candidate details onto a database.

This is why many applicants are forced to fill out lengthy forms that often replicate elements of their CV – the ATS can’t read a CV in order to populate a database with relevant detail, it can only read a web form specially designed as part of the system.

Meanwhile, job boards like Jobsite, Monster, Total Jobs and others do all they can to make it easy for candidates to upload a CV and apply for a job in as few clicks as possible. So hiring organisations are competing with this level of user-friendliness. We suggest doing all you can to make it easy for a job seeker to apply for your role, and having a simple call to action within your advert that initiates an equally simple process!

Doing what you’ve always done and expecting different results

It’s a truism universally accepted that if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always had. Many hiring firms use the same style of advert, write their ads in the same way they’ve always done and don’t split test them to see which of two (or more) versions produces the best results.

If we try something and it doesn’t produce the required results, we try to learn from it and educate our clients about some new ways of writing an advert, new places to advertise and so on. We challenge our clients to let us help them do something different.

Data is invaluable here: you can learn a lot from advertising campaigns if you’re prepared to capture and interrogate performance data and learn lessons.

Coming soon, we’ll be posting some good practice that can ensure your adverts perform better!

Contact Onefix Media today about your vacancy advertising:

Office: 023 9229 2989


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