I think we can all agree that most people today do a lot of “headline reading”.
A headline reader is someone who scrolls through a social feed or news app and reads a headline but doesn’t bother to read the full article.
And yet they form an opinion (or claim expertise) about the topic without reading a word.
Job seekers are historically bad when it comes to headline reading. The headlines that they read are called “job titles”.
The problem with reading headlines as a job seeker is that they often apply to a job without understanding the contents of the role.
For example, they might see the job title “Sales Manager” and because they are currently a Sales Manager at Company X, they assume that they can do the same job at Company Y.
But if they read the job posting carefully, they might find out that the job is really just a glorified customer service representative. Or that they don’t have the required amount of experience.
But since they didn’t bother to read the full job posting, they apply anyway and get rejected immediately.
Now, it might sound like the villain in this story is the “job seeker” but it’s really not.
The villain is “Us”. It’s “HR”. It’s “Talent Acquisition”.
We are the ones who have been posting long, boring, outdated “job descriptions” for years and calling them “job postings”. To be clear, a job description is an internal HR document. A job posting is a marketing tool used on job boards and career sites.
Over time, we’ve trained job seekers to ignore our job postings because they’re terribly written. And that’s why they’ve become headline readers.
So how do we fix this?
Since we have a couple generations of people trained to ignore the contents of a job posting, is it really worth the time that it takes to write a good one?
I happen to think so.
In fact, I think companies should double down on the quality of their writing.
In the same way that traditional marketers sweat over the selection of every word in their ad campaigns, you should be spending a lot more time crafting the shape, tone and words you use in your job postings.
It will help you stand out in a sea of poorly written ads.
To support this idea, let’s look at some data from a white paper put out by the company AppCast. AppCast analyzed 50 million job ad clicks and 3.7 million applies across a variety of industries from their PPC platform. Here are some key findings:
List Your Benefits: Adding 4+ benefits or perks in a job posting boosted the apply rate from 7.4% (for no benefit listings) to 22.5%. That’s a 300% increase!
List The Salary: Gasp!!! Yes, if you want the right people to apply, list the salary range so they have the truth. Otherwise, they’ll make decisions based on estimates on sites like Glassdoor, Salary.com or Payscale.com. It also helps Google, Glassdoor and Indeed filter search results.
Keep Your Postings Brief: Job postings with 300 - 800 words performed better by almost 50% over ads with greater than 1000 words.
Use Simple, Short Job Titles: You can double your apply rate by keeping your job title to 3 words or less. Job aggregators like Google for Jobs rewards simplicity. It helps them categorize your jobs correctly.
Don’t Use Symbols: Using 2 or more symbols (!, &, %, $, etc) in your job title decreases the apply rate by about 30%.
Now you might be thinking that you really don’t want to boost “apply rates”, you want to boost “applicant quality”.
While I agree, I think that writing a great job posting -- while also optimizing apply rates -- will increase the number of quality applicants who will take action because your content speaks directly TO them...not AT them.
To illustrate, let’s look at some ways that you can improve how you engage your job seekers by helping them visualize themselves in the role.
Write in the Second Person: Most job postings are impersonal and talk in the third person. That often comes off as cold and impersonal. Addressing a candidate directly, in the second person, brings a posting to life. Use words like “You will partner with…” or “You will report to…” or “You will have the opportunity to…”
Write to your Ideal Candidate: When you write the content of your job posting, imagine you’re writing it for a single person who has the behaviors, experiences, and attributes of the person who will succeed in your role.
Don’t Be Inclusive: I’m not talking about diversity when I say this. What I mean is that you should write to “exclude” candidates as much as you’re writing to “include” them. Be so transparent about the role, the culture, and the company that you force people who would not be successful in the role to self-select out.
Tell a story: We all know that humans respond best to stories. So tell a story in your posting where the job seeker is the hero who does all these great things, in support of a greater purpose, in exchange for some amazing benefits.
List The First Year Deliverables: If you really want to make an impact, write an up-to-the-minute narrative about what your candidate will learn and do in the role in their first twelve months on the job.
For an example of a nearly perfect job posting, check out this Director of Talent Acquisition ad from HotelTonight (my favorite travel app btw). Their use of story, second person narrative and specific 1, 3 and 12 month deliverables makes it incredibly clear to a job seeker what the expectations will be if they come on board. It might be a little long, but it’s one of the best job postings I’ve ever seen.
Now, I realize that most companies don’t have someone on staff to wordsmith every job ad.
But if you’re looking for an easy way to get started without a financial investment, just partner with your marketing or comms team to rewrite your company boilerplate to appeal more deeply to a job seeker audience. Have your department heads send you their current mission statements. Put together a list of your best benefits and perks. Start adding a salary range to job postings. And start cutting the non-essential fat from that long list of boring, outdated job description bullet points.
All of these things can be done in-house for free.
While you might not be able to change an industry full of bad job posters, at least you’ll stand out for being different.
And the end result will be turning your headline reading job seekers into engaged and excited candidates.