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The Case for Visual Job Descriptions

by Mar 13, 2013, 5:59 am ET

talent engagementOver the past five to seven years, the recruitment industry has faced great disruption due to the advent of social media recruiting and a proliferation of new software tools. These changes have been driven by demographic, economic, technology, and media trends. U.S. corporations alone spent $140 billion trying to find candidates to fill their jobs, according to a recent article in Forbes. With so much at stake, companies are increasingly seeking out new and improved solutions to a myriad of problems.

The new solutions address different stages of the recruiting life cycle. Whether it is social sourcing, candidate relationship management, or video interviewing, the common thread binding them together is engagement — the desire to find better ways to engage top talent.

However, one aspect of the recruiting process has not changed at all … the humble job description.

Even though there are more options than ever where to post them, they are still used the same way today as they were 10, 15, or 20 years ago. It’s unfortunate because they are a vitally important aspect of the recruiting process, serving as the primary instrument used to advertise job openings.

headlinesJob descriptions are dull and boring, but then, you already know that. Thought leaders such as Lou Adler, Dr. John Sullivan, John Sumser, Tom Bolt, and others offer no shortage of advice on how to improve them. Their advice is based on sound logic and, certainly, most job descriptions have a lot of room for improvement. But even with better writing, the job description is still the weak link in the recruiting life cycle. As an advertising tool, it is nothing more than a text-only document. As we all know, text is not very engaging. Therefore, the practice of advertising with text-only job descriptions makes no sense. Can you imagine any modern company advertising its products or services with text-only ads? Of course not. Marketers realized long-ago that visual communication is far more memorable and emotionally engaging.

Here’s a rhetorical question: Which product below would you buy just from a glance at the left or the right? (click to enlarge)

Screen Shot 2013-03-05 at 2.56.09 PM

Visuals Improve Cognition

The colorful potato chip ad is more effective than the text-only version for one very simple reason: your brain processes the information easier. Dr. Lynell Burmark, Ph.D. associate at the Thornburg Center for Professional Development and an expert on visual literacy, explains, “…unless our words, concepts, ideas, are hooked onto an image, they will go in one ear, sail through the brain, and go out the other ear. Words are processed by our short-term memory where we can only retain about seven bits of information (plus or minus two). This is why, by the way, that we have seven-digit phone numbers. Images, on the other hand, go directly into long-term memory where they are indelibly etched.”

Don’t Just Improve, Transform

If you accept that the text-only job description is a fundamentally broken aspect of the recruiting process, then you are halfway to the solution. Visual job descriptions will drive higher levels of engagement. More candidates will take notice, and exceptional candidates will be impressed by your innovative approach. To get the greatest benefit, they should incorporate employer branding elements to enhance your talent attraction strategy.

Solution Criteria

Visual job descriptions might be the future, but I know from trial and error that developing a sustainable solution is not an easy task. Your solution should meet the following criteria:

  1. Repeatable. Marketing executives have a relatively easy job because they only need to focus on advertising a few products or services. Recruiters, however, need to advertise hundreds or thousands of “products” (job openings). Therefore, you need a process that can be repeated for each new job. For example, creating a new video would be challenging for a high number of requisitions. Other forms of media such as infographics might be more practical.
  2. Easy. The user of the solution will most likely be a recruiter. Normally, recruiters lack design and technical expertise. Bringing in outside resources is not practical, so it would have to be easy enough for any recruiter to use.
  3. Fast. Given the number of requisitions most companies have, you will need to develop a visual job description with little time investment.
  4. Cost Effective — recruiting departments are not known for their big budgets. Enough said.

There are many choices to make including what forms of media to use, how to create them, and how to distribute them. It is best to design a solution around readily available resources so that you can create visual job descriptions not just a few times, but on a sustained basis.

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

  • http://www.web-based-recruitment.com Mike Taylor

    Thanks Jamie, great article.

    I think 2013 will be an important year for creative job descriptions.

    Job posts have been text based for far too long and haven’t kept up with how people consume media today through images, audio and video.

    I know Paul Jacobs in New Zealand is doing a great job with JobGram – http://getajobgram.com – which is a visual job description.

    Mike Taylor
    Web Based Recruitment

  • http://www.4mat.com Gareth Jenkins

    Great points Jamie – an area we’re definitely seeing some good innovation in at the moment. As Mike points out, I’m watching what JobGram are doing with interest.

    Also – just so happens that we’ve only just launched our competition to see what creative efforts recruiters can come up with for 6 second job adverts using Vine. We’d love any of the readers of this blog to join in or just pop in ever so often and see what our entries are like. We’re hoping for some interesting attempts!

    http://www.4mat.com/recruit-with-vine

    Gareth Jenkins
    4MAT.com

  • http://www.mnheadhunter.com Paul DeBettignies

    Questions:

    - Do you see this as replacement of or in addition to the text job description?

    - What about the lost SEO from the text?

    - Does this work for some jobs more than others? What I mean is, does this work better for marketing, creative and IT jobs but not so much for call center, teacher jobs?

    I think this is a cool idea and have played with it a bit and I would like to see folks talk more about how they are doing it and what are the results. So far it feels like, “hey, look at this cool new thing to do” with not much to back it up.

    My mind is open… help me become a believer.

  • http://www.allegisgroupservices.com/ Jonathan Kidder

    Paul –
    This is the future of job descriptions – doing more with visual infographs and video content. I’m guessing with a heat map that users spend way more time viewing an infographic over a standard text document. With that in mind – I’m sure this page would be indexed and valued more on search engines. They could always optimize the job title and location. I’m positive this image would be viewed more on mobile sites like pinterest or instagram vs. a standard text. Creative companies need creative people – this is a genius idea.
    Cheers,
    Jonathan

  • http://www.4mat.com Gareth Jenkins

    Doesn’t have to be either/or does it? Different media types work better in different channels. Search engine crawlers simply do like text to crawl – they can’t pull the relevant keyword content out of an image (yet). Also, where automated parse and match software is used (such as on many jobboards), text based descriptions will be required again.

    However image and video media works MUCH better in social channels. Why not a text based job description with accompanying infographic and ideally short video too? A form of the job description available to work well in all channels..

  • http://thestaffingadvisor.wordpress.com/ Bob Corlett

    Jamie,

    I completely agree. The Rise of the Visual Web is inevitable. There will be an advantage to whoever gets there first with job descriptions. Fast Company published some stats that support your thesis: http://www.fastcompany.com/3000794/rise-visual-social-media

  • http://www.csc.com Andrea Soo

    HI Jamie,
    Great artcile. I like the JobGram that Mike Taylor sent.

    I suspect some of the reasoning behind not using visual job descriptions is compliance issues. We all deal with EEOC regulations on what consistutes a candidate based on a job description and meeting minimum requirements. Hence, the reasoning many are verbose and lengthy.

    Maybe if they can figure out how to work the compliance issues, we can use more visuals.

    I myself think they’re a great idea.

  • Jamie Peil

    Great questions. I’ll do my best to answer, but you can’t be a true believer until you use them yourself and see from your own analytics that visual job descriptions are more engaging and result in more (and better) candidates applying for your jobs.

    - Although I called them Visual Job Descriptions, a more accurate name would be Visual Job Advertisement (Ad). I don’t see them replacing text job descriptions, because they will remain valuable HR tools to define minimum competencies and for OFCCP compliance. That said, once better tools hit the market, there will be no reason to use text job descriptions for the purpose of advertising jobs.

    - We are currently testing a new product, jobsUview (www.jobsuview.com), that actually improves SEO significantly. The product is in private beta now.

    - In my function at E*TRADE, I am responsible for all Technology and Corporate recruiting. We have not noticed a correlation between different job functions and response rates, but we are still in a testing phase.

    - I agree image and video are both compelling media for this purpose.

    Bob, thanks for your comments and sharing the Fast Company article. I always enjoy reading your articles and blog posts!

    I appreciate all the comments and I’m happy to discuss with anyone the approach we are taking to advertising jobs. LinkedIn should be a convenient way to connect.

  • Keith Halperin

    Thanks, Jamie. Who comes up with these visual JDs? I can come up with a decently written JD, but damned if I can make a pretty visual one…

    Cheers,
    Keith

    P.S. I like the “Talent Engagement” drawing- all these colorful, trendy buzzwords, none of which mention (or are connected in the drawing) to “HIRING”. I think that pretty accurately sums them up…

  • Jamie Peil
  • Keith Halperin

    Thanks, Jamie. I appreciate you asking me:
    1) Visually interesting- though I didn’t like the color scheme.
    2) No experience requirements on it (that I could find)- you have to go the standard text JD Inside to find that.
    3) Too many clicks to apply- I’m against having candidates sign up to apply. I’d have the initial button on the Visual link to “upload or cut/paste your resume” in a single click. IMHO, you don’t want stickiness on your job site, unless you think they might qualify for a lot of positions. Otherwise- the faster they can find the job, apply, and get going: the better. If you want them to do more/stay longer, you need to incentivize ‘em: “answer these questions the right way, and get an interview”, etc.

    Hope this helps- I’m not only a recruiter, I’ve applied to a heck of a lot of jobs….

    Cheers,
    Keith keithsrj@sbcglobal.net

  • http://karmahire.com James Clift

    Thanks for the article and interesting discussion Jamie, its great to see more people embracing the future of job ads!

    As the founder of http://KarmaHire.com (a platform to transform job postings into gorgeous job ads in minutes), I definitely agree with the sentiment. I love the infographic approach of JobGram and jobsuview.

    We’re taking it in a slightly different direction with a focus on images, multimedia, and themes at KarmaHire. I’d love feedback on some sample ads from the community: http://ow.ly/iU70z, http://ow.ly/iU7xL, http://ow.ly/iU7m7.

    If anyone is interested in taking a closer look, please don’t hesitate to email me.

    Best,

    James Clift, jclift(at)karmahire.com

  • http://www.joberate.com Aki Kakko

    Great article Jamie!

    We are as well building a tool and visual job board for converting textual to visual job ads at http://www.pinthejob.com and in a meanwhile testing how jobgraphics attract and convert – what works and what doesn’t. And was great news that as well Pinterest offers now analytics.

    BR,
    Aki Kakko
    aki@pinthejob.com

  • Alan Biback

    As a job seeker, I agree with the importance of being able to quickly distinguish one job from another. I have seen only one visual résumé and I’ve never forgotten it. As a job seeker, the applicant has only one product to remember, themselves. Would a recruiter remember the applicant if they took a unique way to present themselves. Depending on the industry, I could argue the applicant could be deemed too artistic and not detailed oriented enough for a role. Could this approach hurt the applicants chances of obtaining a role? Then flip back to the visual job description, will this then be appropriate for all types of positions?

  • Jamie Peil

    Keith, thanks for your comments. The fact that you are from the job seeker perspective is great because that is the perspective we need to understand. Regarding colors, those can be easily changed. We just picked those colors because they are unique and the orange and blue seem to vibrate. As far as no experience requirement, that is because in Europe, it is illegal to specify years experience. But I have included that element in some of my other visual job ads. Regarding too many clicks to apply, I think we have a way to fix that quickly. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts!!

  • http://blog.snaphop.com Kerry Skemp

    It’s an interesting idea and a great way for companies to stand out. This also seems like a great way to move toward what I’d like to see in job descriptions: more emphasis on target results (and less on credentials/experience). For example, how many interviews, blog posts, whitepapers, lines of code, dollars in sales, dollars in savings, new branches, training sessions, et cetera, is a position expected to deliver? If this is known, the job description becomes about (visualizing) that target and the interview becomes about the applicant telling you HOW this should be accomplished. This approach takes the emphasis away from “what have you done?” and puts it on “how would you do this?” which I think is where the real value lies.

    Also, I’m not so sure that marketing executives have it quite as easy as you think. ;)

  • Keith Halperin

    @ Jamie You’re very welcome. Happy to help any time.

    @ Kerry: I find very few hiring managers who want the “how would you do this?” candidates as opposed to the “what have you done?”
    ones.

    -kh

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