Dramatically Improve Your Applicant Quality Using a Simple Side-By-Side Job Post Test

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Dec 9, 2016
This article is part of a series called Wake-up Call.

A quick and low-cost approach for improving the attraction power of your job postings

The most damaging failure point in recruiting is having a weak job posting! Even if your job is exciting, you will get fewer applications if your post doesn’t come across as the most exciting among the current postings for the same job. And more importantly, you will lose top-quality applicants. Unlike the desperate (who will quickly apply at all firms), top potential applicants will scan all good postings, but then they will only apply to the select one or two that have their desired “attraction factors.”

The best applicants demand exciting work, so naturally, they will choose to apply only to the firms that have job postings that actually make their job and company sound exciting.

In order to maximize your applicants, make sure your job postings are not just exciting but also clearly superior to those posted by other firms trying to fill the same job. It’s a huge mistake to automatically assume, as most do, that your postings are more attractive than others. To ensure superiority and a competitive advantage, borrow a practice from product marketing. Pretest in a blind side-by-side comparison. The concept is simple: merely place the position descriptions of your firm and those of your top competitors side by side and have potential applicants rank them on their level of attractiveness.  If your firm’s posting don’t come out on top, revisions are in order.

Action Steps for Ensuring That Your Job Postings Are the Most Attractive

Unfortunately, your external job postings do not appear in isolation. So, at least twice a year conduct a side-by-side assessment to determine if your job postings for a job are more attractive than those of your competitors. This data-driven process is really quite simple, but it will have a huge impact. Here are the steps to follow:

  1. Identify your talent competitors — start by asking your recruiters to identify the firms that are the toughest competitors for a target job family. Also, look on job boards to identify any additional firms that frequently post openings for your targeted job.
  2. Capture competitors’ job postings — go to a job board where most job postings for this job can be found. Capture each of the job postings for this job from each of the major talent competitors that were defined in step 1.
  3. Remove all company identifiers — you can use either a paper or electronic side-by-side test. For the paper version, thoroughly black out with a marker or cut out any company identifiers, product names, and logos. If the job titles are also a giveaway, they must be blacked out or replaced with neutral titles. Do the same for your current job posting so that when placed side-by-side it is difficult to identify the firm that produced either of the postings.
  4. Select your job-posting reviewers — the ideal reviewers are potential applicants for that job. These individuals can often be found at job fairs or at industry events. A less complicated but slightly biased alternative is to have some of your own employees in the job also act as reviewers. You can, of course, use both reviewers and then see if one type of evaluator ranks the job postings differently. You should have between 5 and 10 reviewers.
  5. Conduct an initial side-by-side blind test — for the paper test, place the different job posting descriptions side by side on a table, or you can copy them all on a single sheet of paper. If you have new, revised versions of your own position description, you can place both the old and the new in the array. Since research (TheLadders) has revealed that job seekers spend only 50 to 76 seconds looking at a job posting, limit the reviewer’s viewing time on each one to around one minute. After the total time is up, ask each reviewer to rank the postings from the most attractive to the least attractive. Also, ask the reviewers to identify any postings that would be a complete turnoff. Make sure that the person conducting the test cannot be easily connected to your firm. Or as alternatives, have a recruitment advertising firm conduct the test for you or work with your own firm’s marketing research department to design and execute the test.
  6. Post-test detailed feedback — after the test is over, ask each individual reviewer, in isolation, to identify the content factors that made the top job posting so powerful. Also, ask them to identify any individual powerful or turnoff components in the middle- and lower-ranked job postings. You should also inquire about any impressive (and turnoff) design features and spacing’s that they considered being
  7. Use the information to revise your job posting (even if your job posting came out on top) — After you have identified the most effective positive components (wording, design, font, colors, spacing, the order of the material, etc.), use that information to improve your current job posting. After the revision, conduct the side-by-side test again to see if your firm’s job posting comes out on top this time. Continue this process until it does. Obviously, the final step is to take what you have learned from one job and use that knowledge to improve all of your job postings and your job descriptions.
  8. Consider a real-world test also — if you desire real-world proof of the improved effectiveness of your revised position descriptions, consider a split sample posting test. This is where you post the old position description on one job board and the revised “compelling description” on another similar job board (one that has produced similar results in the past). Then after several weeks compare the number and quality of applicants in order to prove that the use of the revised “compelling description” actually performed better. To get more accurate results, after two weeks switch the postings between the two job boards to see if the compelling description continues to outperform. An alternative A/B test is to post the old position description for two weeks on the best job board and then replace it with the revised one for two weeks, in order to see if the results are significantly different.
  9. The ultimate result is a measurable improvement in the quality of applicant and quality of hire — if your firm measures the quality of hire. You should eventually “run the numbers” to see if over time your revised job posting gets more hits, produces better quality applicants, and most importantly, results in better quality hires (i.e. higher on-the-job performance and retention). It’s easier to determine these quality-of-hire results if you start with sales and other jobs that are already measured in dollars. And BTW, after you develop great postings, you should next consider modifying the job itself, so that it actually has more of the factors that top talent require.

Bad job postings can also be the top killer of a firm’s employer brand image.

Final Thoughts

You simply can’t catch trophy fish with weak bait. And similarly, you can’t attract quality candidates with dull and ineffective job post descriptions that have a lower attraction value than your competitors. It is common in marketing and advertising to use testing to continually improve the impact of a marketing piece. Unfortunately, many in recruitment advertising take a cavalier approach to job postings. This is problematic because in a constantly changing world, what is needed is a much more scientific and systematic approach. The push to improve job postings has become even stronger as a result of the success of firms like Textio that have shown the diversity impact from a more systematic approach to writing job postings.

So, if you’re one of the many firms that are having difficulty attracting quality applicants in this currently tight job market, increase your focus on job postings that are written well enough to attract the best.

This article is part of a series called Wake-up Call.
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