How Job Advertisement Design Impacts Candidate Selection

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by Traci K and BrightMove Staffing Software and Recruiting Software

In the previous post, website structure was highlighted to show the effect it can have on bounce rate.  Bounce rate is the percentage of viewers that visit your website or job ad page and then leave without applying.  In addition to the structure of your website, the composition of the job advertisement greatly impacts whether or not a candidate decides to apply.  In order to increase the probability of an applicant clicking “Apply Now”, pay attention to the impression given by your position descriptions.

Though the site has an ‘off the wall’ name, a list of Do’s and Don’t’s found on a site called Business Balls, can aid those not experienced in writing job advertisements (or help those that recognize their ads might not be getting the desired amount of traffic).  Let’s start with the “Don’t’s”.

In your job ad, you shouldn’t have:

  • Over-designed graphics.
  • Extravagantly presented layouts and words.
  • Things that are difficult to read quickly or at all.
  • Font that is too small or too large.
  • Capital-letters.
  • Lots of words in italics.
  • Strange-looking or fancy fonts.
  • Print in daft colors or tints against a colored, patterned or picture background.
  • Clever or obscure headlines.
  • Coded and idiosyncratic communications.
  • Too much technical detail about the job or the company.
  • Too many words – they are a real turn-off – keep it simple.
  • Uninspiring, boring descriptions of roles and ideal candidates.
  • Too much emphasis on the job and not enough on the person.
  • Adverts in reverse (mirror) or upside-down (not permitted anyway by most media).
  • Weird advert box shapes, for example wide and flat or tall and thin.
  • Huge half-page/whole-page/double-page spreads.  These are a waste of money.

Now for recommendations on writing position advertisements, let’s look at the “Do’s”.

  • Use one simple headline, and make the job advert headline relevant and clear. Normally the logical headline is the job title itself – this is, after all, what people will be looking for.
  • If the job title does not implicitly describe the job function, then use a strapline to do so.  Better still, if you find yourself writing a job advert for a truly obscure job title, which in no way conveys what the job function is, then consider changing the job title.
  • An effective alternative main headline – especially for strategic roles with a lot of freedom – is to describe (very succinctly – and in an inspirational manner) the main purpose of the role, which can then be used with the job title and organization’s name, serving as a secondary heading.
  • If the organization is known, and has a good reputation among the targeted readers, then show the organization or brand name prominently, as a strapline or main heading with the job title, or incorporated in the job advert frame design, or in one of the corners of the space, in proper logo-style format.
  • Some organizations prefer not to tell the whole world that they are recruiting, in which case, if this is your policy, obviously do not feature your organization’s name in the job advert. On which point – if you use a recruitment consultancy, examine the extent to which your job advert is promoting the recruitment agency’s name, and if you think they are over-egging things, perhaps suggest they contribute to the cost of the advert, or reduce the size of their corporate branding on your advert.
  • Make the advert easy to read. Use simple language, avoid complicated words unless absolutely necessary (for example if recruiting for Head of Rocket Science), and keep enough space around the text to attract attention to it. Less is more. Giving text some space is a very powerful way of attracting the eye, and also a way of ensuring you write efficiently. Efficient writing enables efficient reading.
  • Use language that your reader uses. If you want clues as to what this might be, imagine the newspaper they read, and limit your vocabulary to that found in the newspaper.
  • Use short sentences. More than fifteen words in a sentence reduces the clarity of the meaning. After drafting your communication, seek out commas and ands, replacing them with full-stops.
  • Use bullet points and short bite-sized paragraphs. A lot of words in one big paragraph is very off-putting to the reader and will probably not be read.
  • Use simple type-styles: Arial, Tahoma, Times, etc, or your house-style equivalents or variations. Serif fonts (like Times) are more traditional and more readable. Sans serifs, like Arial and Tahoma, are more modern-looking, but are less easy to read especially for a lot of text.
  • Use 12-20ish point-size for headings and subheadings. Try to avoid uppercase (capitals) even in headings – it’s much slower to read. Increase prominence by use of a larger point-size, and to an extent emboldening, not by using capitals. CAPITALS HAVE NO WORDSHAPES – SEE WHAT I MEAN?)
  • Use ten, eleven or twelve point-size for the main text; smaller or larger are actually more difficult to read and therefore less likely to be read. Definitely avoid uppercase in the ‘body copy’”.
  • For the same reason avoid italics, shadows, light colors reversed out of dark, weird and wonderful colors. None of these improve readability, they all reduce it. Use simple black (or dark colored) text on a white (or light colored) background for maximum readability.
  • Get the reader involved. Refer to the reader as ‘you’ and use the second person (you, your and yours etc.) in the description of the requirements and expectations of the candidate and the job role. This helps people to visualize themselves in the role. It involves them.
  • Try to incorporate something new, innovative, exciting, challenging – people are attracted to new things – either in the company or the role.

Stress what is unique. You must try to emphasize what makes your job and organization special. People want to work for special employers and are generally not motivated to seek work with boring, run-of-the-mill, ordinary, unadventurous organizations.

Job advert statements and descriptions must be credible. Employers or jobs that sound too good to be true will only attract the gullible and the dreamers.

Remember AIDA [Attention, Interest, Desire, Action].

  1. Attention: The banner or headline that makes an impressive benefit promise.
  2. Interest: Building information in an interesting way, usually meaning that it must relate closely to the way that the reader thinks about the issues concerned.
  3. Desire: Since job advertisements aim to produce a response you must then create desire, which relates job appeal and rewards to the reader so that they will aspire to them and want them.
  4. Action: Finally you must prompt an action, which may be to call a telephone number or to send CV, or to download an application form from a website address. Your job advert should follow this step by step format to be effective.

Your main heading, strapline and main message must be prominent. Do not be tempted to devote 75% of the space to a diagram of your latest technology or photograph of your new manufacturing plant. Headlines do not have to be at the top of the frame – your eye is naturally drawn to a point between two-thirds and three-quarters up in the framed area, which means you have room above the headline for some subtle branding, or – heaven forbid – for some blank space.

The best position for adverts on a job page is ‘right thumbnail’. That is, top right corner. Right-side sheet is better than the left because your eye is naturally drawn right on turning over the page, which reveals the left-side sheet last. Top-right corner is the first part of a double page spread to be revealed. Top of page is better than bottom – obviously – we read from top down, not the other way around.

Resist the temptation to buy a half-page or a full page (unless the page size is very small) – you do not need it. A quarter of a page is adequate and optimal in most publications, arguably unnecessarily large in broadsheet newspapers.

People assume that big adverts produce a big response – they don’t unless they are good. A good moderately sized advert will produce just as good a response as a good massive advert. Added to which you can run more insertions of sensibly sized adverts than big ones.

Though it seems like a lot of information, the same common theme sounds loud and clear: Keep It Simple.  Ensuring it is precise and to the point, a well-written job posting will increase the probability of finding the right fit for your open position.

Traci K. is an HR Professional and freelance writer based in the Midwest, specializing in recruitment and immigration.  When she’s not improving unemployment, she keeps busy with her husband and four children.

1 Comment

  1. Recruit Write Now on July 4, 2012 at 2:43 am

    Great article Traci
    Its funny how the AIDA principles are mostly applied to normal product ads but most recruiters, small business owners and job ad writers tend to overlook each of these elements when cosntructing a job ad, it’s still an ad!

    With input from some wordsmith recruiters and head hunters we’ve put together a resource to take a little of the headache of writing great adds which adhere to AIDA. With you can flick through suggestions, add in your own ads, or just scroll through some of the more creative headlines – of course you should ALWAYS keep your target candidates in mind when selecting the right headline – it’s pointless having a quirky, cliched heading for a CEO ad, yet it would be quite acceptable to have CEO,000,000 as the headline – all depends really

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