How to Use Advertising to Attract Top People

Here’s something you might want to consider whether you’re hiring active, passive, or not-so active or not-so-passive candidates. At some point in time, they will all read your job descriptions to decide if it’s worth considering your open position. If the audience you’re targeting either can’t find this job easily or don’t find it compelling if they do find it, you won’t see as many good people as you should. Don’t be smug and assume that the candidates you’re trying to hire won’t read your ads. Even referred or passive candidates read your ads. Many even request them with the common retort, “Send me the job description and I’ll see if I’m interested, or see if I know someone.”

Since the job description is a primary marketing tool, it had better be well-written and convincing. On the business marketing side, these would be equivalent to the advertising copy, the flyer, or the product brochure. Now, to throw another twist into the equation, these marketing documents need to reflect the different buying patterns of your audience. The copy itself needs to reflect how different groups (age, race, gender) respond to advertising. This affects the length of the ad, the media used to deliver it, and the words used. Young people, for example, won’t respond to the same message as a mid-career person — nor will they look in the same spots. Many women have different career aspirations than men, and they don’t look in the same places. Diverse candidates are looking for different things than their non-minority peers, and passive candidates don’t care about compensation (unless it’s equity). Salespeople do. Since advertising is the front line of sourcing, you need to customize it to meet the varied needs of your target audience. Here are some ideas to consider and things you can do right away to get started making your advertising more effective:

  1. Stop using traditional job descriptions as the basis for your advertising. Not even the worst company in the country would consider using their product-specifications listing as their primary marketing copy as some HR/recruiting departments do. Online job descriptions should summarize the challenges and opportunities in the job in some type of flashy document or web page with a creative title and compelling copy. To get started, ask the hiring manager why a top person would want this job. Finish with, “What does a top person need to do to be considered successful?” Then start off your ads with the most compelling stuff.
  2. Article Continues Below
  3. Stop using a classified-ad mentality. In the olden days, newspaper classified ads didn’t attract top people, except in the career journal sections. So why do we still use this old-style approach online and expect better results? The career journal section worked because it highlighted big jobs with creative ads and big titles and was read by up-and-comers on Sundays or on their rapid transit commute to work. The same concept can be applied today. The key is to target the up-and-comers, not the down-and-outers.
  4. Make the job compelling. The best people take jobs based on this criteria and order: 1) the job stretch, 2) the quality of the hiring manager, 3) the quality of the team, 4) the importance of the job to the company, and 5) the compensation. Your advertising should clearly demonstrate the job stretch and importance to the company in the title and first paragraph. The up-and-comers in each group (age, race, gender, area of specialization) will decide whether to continue reading based mostly on what they read in the first 10 to 20 seconds.
  5. Don’t start with the part number. If your requisition number is the first thing people read after a boring title, the up-and-comers will have opted out long before they get to the really boring list of skills and requirements.
  6. The first two lines are critical. Compare these two ads for a creative marketing person. Which one would be easiest to find, which one might you read, and which one would you apply to? Does one appeal more to different age groups or gender? How could you target it to a specific diversity group?

    Web Creative Director: “…has an excellent opportunity for a Web Creative Director with five years of experience for our e-commerce site and other related sites. This position will be responsible for establishing creative direction for the entire…” No Doubt U2 Can Make a Difference, So Can U2 as Our Web Creative Director: “Can you bring vibrancy and pizzazz to our lackluster suite of websites? We need someone who will push the envelope on using the latest web technology to create WOW! user experiences time after time. You’ll have a team of the best designers to…”

  7. Track your results. I happen to know that 12.3 percent of the people who read my last ERE article went to our website and on average read 2.8 pages each. Most of these people spent 1.9 minutes reading one of the science of recruiting articles. We used a free web analytics tool from Google to track this. You should be tracking your ad response exactly the same way.
  8. Use instant messaging, podcasts and alternative communication channels. Teens, college students, and recent grads use text messaging as their primary means of communication. Everyone has an iPod. Why not have available text messages, SMS or IM versions of your open jobs or provide video or audio podcasts? Teens, college students, and recent grads use text messaging as their primary means of communication. Everyone has an iPod. Why not have available text messages, SMS or IM versions of your open jobs or provide video or audio podcasts? Perhaps a text message such as: ? GI RU CPP CLL 949-612-6300 O?
  9. Use creative titles targeted to your audience. Wells Fargo had a successful campaign using “Are You a Desperate Housewife?” as an ad title to attract thirty-somethings with children to work part-time during the day. The key to good titles: Longer so they stand out, they must grab your targeted audience’s attention — and being compelling, topical, and fun also helps. “Stand Up and Be Counted” might work if you’re looking for an accounting supervisor. It’s certainly better than “A/P Supervisor.”
  10. Use search engine optimization techniques. The best people don’t go to job boards or to company career sites first to find new jobs. The best people sometimes look (especially on bad days) for new career opportunities — not just a job — using either Google or Yahoo! search. They’ll put the word “job” in the search field along with the standard title and the location. If your jobs don’t show up in the first 12 listings, you’re missing out on some great talent. If your jobs do show up, are they compelling? By the way, one job board always comes up on Google every time you do this. You should post your jobs there.
  11. Make it viral. If you do all of this stuff, people will refer other people to your jobs. Allow these people to forward the link via email, via cell phone, via IM, and through, or through any other new communications device that comes along. Great ads describing great jobs that up-and-comers want to hear about delivered right to their doors are the key to hiring great people. Most companies are still marketing their jobs to the down-and-outers who are willing to knock on your door to get in. If you want to hire better people, you need to knock on their doors.

There are profound changes taking place in how companies are marketing in the B2B and consumer space. Unfortunately, HR/recruiting hasn’t taken full advantage of them yet. That means you should take action now. Caveat: Don’t follow the masses unless you do it better. Better yet, do it first. Being an earlier adopter is key here. Otherwise, you’ll fall into the black hole of recruiter technology, commonly referred to as the law of diminishing returns. This basically says that the more successful a recruiting technology vendor becomes, the less successful their customers become. Logic dictates that if everyone has the same tools to find the same candidates, everyone will wind up finding average candidates. The answer then is to be an early adopter or push the envelope using the technology more creatively. If you want to win the war for talent, you’ll need to do both — and then constantly update this every two to three months. This way you’ll always be ahead of the pack.

Note: My next book will be on how to find, hire, and manage diverse and multi-generational teams. If you’d like to be part of this important work, email me directly ( I’m looking for a few organizations who want to challenge conventional wisdom and try out some news methods to reach a dynamic and changing audience.

Lou Adler is the CEO and founder of The Adler Group – a training and search firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring℠. Adler is the author of the Amazon top-10 best-seller, Hire With Your Head (John Wiley & Sons, 3rd Edition, 2007). His most recent book has just been published, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013). He is also the author of the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! Using Performance-based Hiring to Build Great Teams (2007).