How to Sell a Job Opening

HR departments, recruiters, and employers themselves generally do a terrible job of selling a job opening.

Need proof? Hop on LinkedIn, Indeed, or Monster and have a look. Pick a posting at random and behold:

  • The warmed over, boilerplate language
  • The near absence of enthusiasm
  • The rampant use of clichés
  • The contemptuous, “don’t call us” instructions

The strange thing is, most job posting look the same whether we’re talking blue vs white-collar, entry-level vs mid-career, strong vs weak economy.

It shoudn’t be this way!

Because, as the old proverb goes, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. There’s no good reason for a crappy job posting, even when you can’t imagine ANYONE taking the job

Use job postings to build the brand

Now, you may think you don’t NEED to sell a job opening, considering the gush of applications that pour in whenever any posting goes live.

And you’re right to a certain degree (more on that in a minute).

But that’s not how smart companies do things. No, the most beloved companies treat open vacancies and the hiring process as part of their branding.

Which is why a company like Trader Joe’s, when hiring cashiers, will refer to them as Crew Members. From the company’s website, an applicant can see how he or she might climb the corporate ladder (Merchant, Mate, Captain).

Which is why, as the company tells us, Crew openings are rare.

Trader Joe’s has created a self-perpetuating cycle, a positive feedback loop. The cashier job attracts a lot of applicants partly because of the copy. The company hires the most enthusiastic, driven applicants. The customers walk away with a pleasant, upbeat shopping experience.

Now if Trader Joe’s were to drop the warm, human voice of their job postings, in favor of mindless, corporate copy, this is what would happen:

  • Fewer applicants would apply
  • Fewer would have enthusiasm
  • Cashiers would be less cheery
  • Customer enjoyment would decline
  • Cashier turnover would increase
  • Stores expenses would rise

As you can see, skimping on job postings leads to a circle-the-drain scenario. Many a company has gone under because they skimped on the hiring process.

Dog Whistle

When the economy’s in the trash, like it is today, you’ll ALWAYS get applicants. But you don’t want any applicant. You want enthusiastic, competent, and reliable applicants who then might become employees.

To reach them you, have to speak their language. Speak to their values, ambitions, career aspirations. For example, Steve Jobs justified firing B-list employees in order to attract A-list employeess. He said A-Listers only wanted to work with other A-Listers.

Whether Apple succeeded in hiring only A-Listers is not the point. Engineers and programmers were challenged by Jobs to see if they could meet his high demands. Landing a job with Apple became a bragging point.

Unlike other tech companies, Apple never has to beg job applicants to apply. Still, Apple’s status as top dog doesn’t lead to lazy assumptions. With every job vacancy, the company explains who it is, what it’s looking for, why it’s looking for someone, and who the ideal candidate is.

Here’s how to start with your next job posting. First, figure out what pain point needs fixing? Why? Where does the pain fit into the core business?

Then move on to the applicant. What would the ideal person to fix the pain point look like? What qualities would he or she have? How would they interact w everyone else on the team?

Think about past and current employees. What’s the common thread that runs through the good ones?

If you don’t know the answers to these questions, start asking. Most employees will level with you if you explain what’s going on.

When you’ve gotten some insight, you can flesh out the pros of the job. You can list how others have advanced and where they are now.

This can be hard if the job is repetitive, demanding, and stressful. Or when it’s a seeming dead-end.

That’s OK. Believe it or not, not everyone WANTS to advance in their job. One of my neighbors has been waitressing at a restaurant since 1982! If she’s bitter about that, it doesn’t show.

Employers sometimes project their own views onto low-level jobs. Be aware so you don’t discourage anyone.

You further distinguish your job posting by using these emotions, which all applicants share:

Self-interest. In other words, what’s in it for me? State the job’s strongest benefit immediately. The NYPD used to attract applicants by listing the base salary of a cop after five years ($90K) on its subway posters.

Duty or “We need you!” You know those college students who pound the pavement every summer trying to collect donations for leftist causes? The organizations that hire them pay very little, with no fancy perks. Instead, they tap into the idealism that’s already there, knowing many college kids feel a moral duty to “give back,” “fight for justice,” and “get involved.”

Fear of missing out. Technology companies use fear to persuade investors to give them money. They label their product as the solution to a fast-changing market. FOMA works. You can use the same selling point, especially if your company is growing quickly or doing something new.

If you want to attract high-quality employees, you have to stop using the same bait as everyone else.

As your company grows, the instinct will be to let the hiring process morph into a bureaucratic cliché. Fight it. Give yourself a chance by throwing the generic hiring guides and “best practices” out the window.



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