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Shyamal Majumdar: Searching for superman

Make sure your recruitment ad doesn't contain one more tedious job description in a sea of boring ones

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Flip through the pages of leading or and chances are you would be bored to death unless you are a desperate job-seeker. The desperate are going to read anything, even if it is one more boring job description in a sea of boring job descriptions. But the best you are presumably targeting would be happy to skip the pages. Ironically, the biggest mistake recruiters make when writing a job advertisement is exactly the same as that made by poor applicants — they just don’t sell themselves.

This is more so online. Research has shown that the amount of time candidates spend reading individual jobs online is tiny. If your ad isn’t compelling enough, they are on to the next — within seconds.

A vast majority of Indian companies seem to have got everything else right – recruitment metrics and sending job ads to the right recruiting channels – except giving due attention to the text that will attract the right people. That’s why you see too many companies wanting “dynamic, self-motivated, born leaders” or “innovative and enthusiastic individuals” or “rock stars driven to change the world” for jobs as diverse as chief technology officers to receptionists.

Then, there are far too many ads that are a shopping list of every possible thing that might be vaguely useful. Sample this: “The person should have accountability for driving competitive advantage for the company by delivering superior and compelling shopper and R&D insights. In doing so, he would stimulate, guide and influence the development of superior business strategies, decision making and market activations.”

Yet another says: “Your key role would be the ability to quickly understand, analyse and document business and user needs across industries and functions in an agile environment. You will directly manage, upgrade and continue to build out/enhance a nationwide sales team. Also, you will clearly and inspirationally articulate and promote the company’s innovative vision and messaging.”

It’s obvious that unless you are a superman, you will be singularly unqualified for the jobs. Such gibberish is quite common in most of the job ads that you would see, making it clear that the creators of these ads had no clue about the job description and ended up asking for everything under the sun even for relatively junior positions.

Leading say employers often take themselves too seriously and forget that a little bit of humour often works like magic even in recruitment ads. Sample this: When Tourism Queensland wanted to recruit a Caretaker of the Islands of the Great Barrier Reef, the ads talked briefly about the duties to be performed (for example, candidates must be willing to swim, snorkel, dive and sail for a salary of over a 100,000 dollars), but the most important duty was to be able to “report back to the world”. No heavy text here, but the touch of humour made sure that the ad was noticed worldwide.

Some of the world’s best job ads have screaming headlines such as these: “If you think the job is c**p, wait till you see the pay”; “Apply now, because chances are no one else will” or “Want a new job to complain about? Log on to ---”.

This is not to say humour alone can help you attract the right candidates. Recruitment consultants say one has to be precise in many other ways. For example, the job title. Remember ad guru David Ogilvy’s famous statement that giving the headline to an ad copy is like spending 80 cents out of your dollar? Too many companies are content with saying just “Programmer” or, even worse, “great position in a top company”. Be precise – what exactly is the job on offer – if you don’t want to give great candidates an excuse to skip the ad.

Also, people want to get some idea of the salary and benefits on offer. Too many companies hedge their bets with phrases like “an excellent competitive salary and benefits package is available to the right candidate.” To which the right candidate will ask what do you mean by a “competitive salary?” Many companies do not want to specify a salary, but one way around this is to specify a salary range so that the candidates, who are already getting “competitive” salaries in their present jobs, at least get a sense of what’s on offer.

A good recruitment ad, consultants say, should have the following four key elements: what is the company and what does it do; what is the actual job; who exactly is the company looking for; and how much are they going to get paid. At the end of the day, one must remember that a job ad is still an advertisement – something written to get the most suitable and the most desired candidate to apply – just like a normal product ad compels you to buy the product.

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