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How to Write Job Postings that Compel the Best to Apply

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A job posting is a marketing advertisement designed to attract people; it’s not intended to be a barrier to entry.

As I was stuck in LA traffic, I must have heard the ad for Ziprecruiter.com half a dozen times. Their big deal: you can instantly post jobs to 50+ different job boards. I’m not advocating this idea since, as this survey points out, the best people tend to find their jobs through a referral of some type. Regardless, job postings and email messages can attract some top people as long as they’re well-written.

Unfortunately, most job postings are written to weed out weaker candidates, not attract stronger ones. The underlying assumption in these messages is that there must be an excess supply of top people who have an economic need to apply, are willing to take a lateral transfer and are willing to endure a demeaning and impersonal process. This is a terrible assumption since there are few outstanding performers who meet these conditions. That’s why I suggest banishing skills-infested job descriptions and boring job postings.

In fact, there is no requirement to post the internal job description. This violates both common sense and basic Marketing 101. There is actually no law that requires a company to publicly post these job descriptions, yet somehow this myth continues to be their justification. Consider that a job posting is a marketing advertisement designed to attract people; it’s not intended to be a barrier to entry.

When job descriptions are written to attract people in rather than weed them out they are quite useful in finding top people. For example, compare these two descriptions for the same job. Which one do you think a top person who is thinking of leaving his or her current job would consider more interesting?

Business Unit Controller. Must have a CPA from a Big 4 accounting firm. Must have 10+ years direct industry experience. Must be results-driven, possess solid internal reporting skills, have strong interpersonal skills and exceptional verbal and written communications skills. Responsible for …..

Oscar Winning Controller. For a CPA, this is the stuff of dreams: getting out of the numbers and making a difference. Our accounting systems are in shambles. We need them rebuilt. Our creative types are running amuck, spending money wildly. Can you tame them? If you can create some order out of chaos, we need to talk. If you pull this off, the CEO will be thanking you when he gets his Oscar. (Here’s the actual ad.)

When writing job postings and emails, capture the magic in the job by emphasizing what the person will be learning and doing and what he or she could become if successful. This is how you attract the best people. When preparing job descriptions, find out the employee value proposition by asking the hiring manager, “Why would a top, fully-employed person want this job?” Then ask, “What are the 2-3 things this person must accomplish over the course of the first 6-12 months in order to be considered successful?” Then convert this into a story. The story is what you’ll post or send as part of an email.

Here are some other examples of magical job postings.

For a marketing intern position, one large consumer products company used this tagline:

Prepare whitepapers in any color you want.

A hospital used this title to find nurses for a critical program:

Flight Nurses – Helping Save Lives Everyday

A home builder used this to attract a cost analyst:

You give a whole new dimension to the meaning of “meticulous!”

In each of these cases – and hundreds of others just like them – these companies have broken free from traditional and ineffective job postings by thinking like marketing people. The idea is to understand why a top person would find your job worth considering and capturing this with a compelling title, a punchy open line and an exciting career story.

But once you start seeing stronger candidates, don’t feel compelled to go into box-checking mode, evaluating skills and experiences and determining the person’s salary requirements. This will negate everything you just accomplished. Instead engage in a conversation, look for the Achiever Pattern, and ask The Most Important Interview Question of All Time. This is how you keep the magic alive and hire some remarkable people. It starts by defining the magic before you define the magician.

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Lou Adler (@LouA) is the CEO of The Adler Group, a consulting and training firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring. He’s also a regular columnist for Inc. Magazine and BusinessInsider. His latest book, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013), provides hands-on advice for job-seekers, hiring managers and recruiters on how to find the best job and hire the best people. You can continue the conversation on LinkedIn’s Essential Guide for Hiring Discussion Group.