Write A Job Ad That Works


Most job ads are too long, too vague, or written to attract exactly the wrong people. If we use as a template the typical ad we see on job boards, our ad will fail to attract (and our processes may reject) the best possible people. Follow these pointers to build ads that work.

  • Start with them. Write the first paragraph in second-person voice. Describe who they, the ideal candidate, are and what they are looking for. Example: “You are a that rare person who cares about and is adept at technology and business. You see the huge opportunities for bridging these two worlds in ways that delight clients and create success for all involved. Your ideal next role would…” etc. Every candidate begins to explore a role by asking the questions, “Is this for me? Would I fit?” By focusing first them–not your organization or the job–you respectfully engage candidates where they are.
  • Define the role cleanly. In the second paragraph, describe the 3 to 5 key accountabilities of the role. Do away with those lists of tasks, duties, or vague (unimportant, not measurable) responsibilities.
  • Describe talents not skills. Use the third paragraph to highlight the most important qualities that the ideal person for this role will have. These are mostly personal qualities (say, self management) and talents (e.g. negotiation). Particular skills (say, using this piece of software) can be taught quickly enough if they have the necessary deeper talents (say, project planning). It is far more efficient to hire for personal qualities and talents then train for skills than to hire for skills and have to fire for lack of needed qualities and talents. Certifications are not nearly as valuable as we make them out to be. Unless certifications are legally or ethically required, leave them out.
  • Say a little about yourselves. The fourth paragraph says just a bit about your organization’s values, purpose, and goals.
  • Add a bit of boilerplate. Next, include what would normally include for salary, benefits, reporting structures, policies, and practices. In the US, for example, you might state here your compliance with equal employment opportunity regulations.
  • Invite them. The last paragraph describes next steps in second-person voice. “If this role sounds compelling to you, please…”
  • Match the tone to them. The overall tone of the ad should match the style of the type of person you want to attract. Are you looking for someone who is assertive/to the point or more tactful? Enthusiastic or more skeptical? Even or rapid paced? Precise or unbound? If we use, for example, an enthusiastic tone (“Join this exciting, dynamic team of professionals..”) when the ideal person for the role is more logical/skeptical, we may turn off the people we want.
  • Edit for flow and length. Make sure the ad has enough information to be compelling. And err on the side of shorter rather than longer.

This approach works for full-time, part-time, and sub-contracted roles. Use it the next time you need to make a solid hire. Pass it on to others who may be hiring.


In your corner,


PS: If you write a job ad like this, you may not be able to programmatically filter out candidates the way you can with traditional job ads. For example, let’s say you would normally include a bachelor’s degree as a required qualification for a given role. When candidates who lack this degree apply, you can reject them out of hand. This kind of filtering helps you manage the volume applications you get for each posting.

If you write the job ad as I suggest, you may lose some or all of your ability to filter applications. And it’s probably worth losing that ability. Most qualifications, like most skills, are insufficient predictors of success in a role. I suggest that the time and money you spend processing every unfiltered application would be small in comparison to cost of poor hiring based on qualifications or filtering out potential stars.

Today’s photo credit: The Year of Mud via photopin cc

4 thoughts on “Write A Job Ad That Works

  1. I wish every hiring manager wrote job ads as you suggest. Usually it sounds like they aren’t really sure of what the job is or the kind of person they need.

    Can you please follow this post with one about how you should reply to ads? As in, don’t make the hiring manager do the work of matching you to the job spec – do that for him/her.

    Thanks for a great blueprint!


    1. Hi Diane,

      Thank you. I agree: despite the reality of it, many job ads seem to say, “We don’t really know what we want.”

      And yes, we need a post about applying for jobs in a way that makes it easier for hiring managers. Do you want to write it as a guest blogger?


  2. Mike – couldn’t agree more.

    As you point out, too many role descriptions include unnecessary qualifications that the hiring organization uses to filter candidates out. But what they are really doing (particularly for entry level or junior positions) is arbitrarily excluding candidates from consideration. In many cases it’s no more valid than excluding someone based on eye colour. Considering the cost and time involved in hiring the ‘right’ person it seems illogical to exclude a pool of people unless there is a very good reason.

    I realize there are a large number of job seekers and the internet makes it very very easy for an individual to apply for jobs (and not necessarily just those jobs for which they are qualified). Whenever I posted a position I would get 100s of applications (even for senior roles). But I also had clear understanding of which qualifications were an absolute requirement – these were my ‘dealbreakers’ – you didn’t get considered without them. But they were all required capabilities.


    1. Hi Alan,

      You hit on several important themes: truly required capabilities, how technology makes it easy for people using the “play the odds” approach to job search to apply for almost any job, and arbitrary job qualifications.

      I’d like to extend the point about arbitrary job qualifications. When we are not sure about what’s really needed to do a job well, we tend to throw in “proxy qualifications.” The logic is, “Even if qualification X is not directly important to this job, we will still demand it because having qualification X might mean they’d be good at some aspect of this job.” The classic example is “Bachelor’s degree required.” Is having a bachelor’s degree really what you want from your candidates? Or is it a proxy for some other trait you hope the candidates will possess? Not only do proxy qualifications (like eye color) lead to poor hiring, it can lead to an accusation of bias in hiring.


Leave a Reply