Your Job Postings Aren’t Attracting Top Applicants, and a Simple Test Will Prove It

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. But most corporations simply post their descriptions without design criteria or any pretesting. This is a serious error because a simple side-by-side comparison test approach (borrowed from advertising) can reveal how weak your job post descriptions really are. Using this quick test, for your highest-volume job, you take the job post description of your firm and at least five talent competitors. And after removing any company identifiers, you ask professionals working in the job family to rank the descriptions from best to worst based on their attraction power.

Invariably using the side-by-side test you will find that those descriptions put together by marketing professionals attract as much as 50 percent better than those written by hiring managers, recruiters, or comp analysts who are then influenced by lawyers. The key lesson to be learned is that you need to design position descriptions to include the factors that attract the best and then pretest them to ensure that they attract markedly better than your competitor’s postings.

Most Underestimate the Tremendous Impact of Job Post Descriptions

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

Now you might be wondering, why all the fuss about job postings? But skeptics need to know that your job posting may be the first thing that most potential applicants read about your company. It’s essentially a snapshot picture of your firm. And if it is compelling, you will attract top applicants who might not have known about or been interested in your firm before. However, if it is poorly executed, you will unintentionally but instantly scare away the top talent that was initially interested in your firm because of your extensive investment in employer branding. A top applicant’s quick reading (one minute) of your job post description is a critical “yes/no decision point.” And as a result, if your job post description is not superior to those of your competitors, you’ll never know that it alone was responsible for scaring them away.

If you want to find out precisely how well your firm’s job postings stack up, test them in one or more ways.

Job post descriptions may be the highest-impact element in corporate recruiting … that has absolutely no pre-testing, data, or metrics applied to them

10 Quick Tests for Assessing Your Job Post Descriptions

If you study the advertising function, you will find that there are many ways to assess whether an ad or written marketing material will be effective. Some of the tests that you should consider using on your job post descriptions include:

  • Side-by-side ranking comparison — this test is designed to find out if your position post descriptions are competitive. You simply have a group of professionals or potential applicants conduct a side-by-side review of your firm’s and your competitor’s job post descriptions (after substituting the same job titles and eliminating any company identifying information). Then have them rank each of the anonymous job post descriptions from best to worst. If yours doesn’t win, you need to conduct other tests to find out why.
  • The circle test — this test is designed to identify the strengths and weaknesses of your description. Using it, you have professionals working in the field or potential applicants go through your description. Ask them to place a W by each WOW factor, circle each element that impresses, put a question mark by those that are confusing, and then an X through the factors that are a turnoff. Use these notations to improve your descriptions. You can also conduct this test on your competitor’s descriptions to identify the most effective wording and any approaches that you might want to copy.
  • The one-minute test  this test is designed to see if people are excited enough after one minute of reading to want to spend more time evaluating the position. You give each evaluator one minute to review the description and then assess what percentage of the evaluators would be convinced enough to read more.
  • The search-term word test — this test is designed to make sure that each of the common job search terms in this job family appears in your job post description. Start by using Google analytics or by asking new hires what words they used in their job search strings. Simply use the “find” feature in MS Word to identify the number of required search terms that are included in each description.
  • The sales effectiveness test — the purpose of this test is to identify how many and which elements effectively “sell” the individual on the company in the job. Simply ask professionals in the field or potential applicants to quickly read your description and to circle the most effective selling components. You must ensure that your key attraction factors are not just presented or described, but that they are also effectively sold.
  • The job attraction factor test — the purpose of this test is to identify how many of the pre-identified “job attraction factors” are present in the description. Simply use the “find” feature in MS Word to identify the number of required attraction factors that are included in each description. The goal is to have 100 percent of them represented. Typical top performer job attraction factors might include “can’t put it down” work, having a major impact, great coworkers, a chance to innovate and learn, exceptional freedom, and great technology.
  • The diversity test  this test is designed to see if the wording or the format of your descriptions is unintentionally discouraging diversity applicants. You can use a vendor like Textio or you can simply ask your diverse employees to identify the words and the format areas that may discourage diversity applicants.
  • The recollection test — it’s based on the premise that an applicant might read several job postings over the period of 30 minutes before making a decision on which ones to apply to. This test is designed to reveal whether the reader remembers the key attraction and selling elements in your description after 30-60 minutes. Using this test, you ask professionals working in the field or potential applicants to read through five or more job postings. And then you ask them after 30 minutes to highlight from memory the factors that they remember in your description. You can consider your description successful when they can remember the top five key factors that you have pre-identified.
  • The “did you discourage the unqualified?” test — if one of your goals is to proactively discourage unqualified individuals from applying and clogging your system, you need to test whether your description does that effectively. Survey a sample of underqualified applicants to identify the phrases that would have to discourage them from applying. And then simply add those “discouraging phrases” to your posted descriptions to see if the percentage of unqualified applicants goes down.
  • The split sample real-world test — if you are really bold and want actual proof as to the improved effectiveness of your revised position descriptions, consider a split sample 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 compelling description performs 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. If you measure quality of hire, you should eventually run the numbers to see if your revised job post descriptions over time get more hits, produce better quality applicants, and result in better quality hires (i.e. higher on-the-job performance and retention).

The Top 7 Errors That Drive Away Top Applicants

In order to attract and excite even average potential applicants, you must design your descriptions so that they avoid each of the following errors. Obviously, you should then test your final descriptions to ensure that none of these top errors are present.

  1. If you omit key search terms, the description won’t even be found — if your position description doesn’t contain the same words that the prospect uses in their job search string, they probably won’t even find your job posting.
  2. A single turnoff factor will drive away already excited prospects — because they are the first thing that active job seekers see, they must be compelling. But in addition, they cannot contain a single turnoff or dealbreaker factor that might counter an existing positive or neutral company image.
  3. With a weak one, you will lose the side-by-side competition — for a single job, your position description will be seen directly alongside as many as a dozen of your competitor’s position descriptions. As a result, your firm’s description must be clearly the most compelling among many.
  4. Failing to initially excite will cost you — you must provide a powerful impression quickly because job seekers only spend between 50 and 76 seconds looking at a job posting (TheLadders). If the job title or the first few sentences are not quickly compelling and powerful, most will not read the complete description. In addition, your description must be quickly scannable.
  5. The content describes but doesn’t sell — although a job posting may be technically called a description, simply describing the requirements of a job isn’t enough. In order to attract individuals not already sold on the company brand, you need to sell, influence, or convince them that this is an opportunity that they can’t pass up. To effectively excite, descriptions must also include at least one memorable WOW factor that will excite top prospects and make your job standout.
  6. Failing to meet their job acceptance criteria — if a potential applicant is unemployed and desperate, they might apply for every job, no matter what’s in the description. However, if you are seeking to attract an employed top performer, they will only consider and apply for a job that meets most of their “new job attraction factors” (i.e. the job doesn’t appear too rigid, the work is compelling, there are opportunities to grow and learn etc.). So if you haven’t done “applicant research” to identify those common attraction factors and then make sure that each is included in the job post description, you won’t be able to attract any employed person above the level of Homer Simpson.
  7. The description includes diversity turnoffs — if you use inappropriate words in your position description that may indicate that your firm has a bias, you will unknowingly be scaring away many impacted diversity applicants.

Using even this shortened position description error checklist (send me an email if you want the complete checklist), most corporate job post descriptions typically receive a D or an F.

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Final Thoughts

Every firm that is seeking to attract active prospects uses job post descriptions. And like it or not, those descriptions will appear side by side with the descriptions of your talent competitors. So if you’re going to do them, design them so that they are extremely powerful and compelling. Unfortunately, very few firms know the factors that make a job post description powerful and even fewer set design goals for their descriptions. And almost no firms take the time to actually test to see if their finished descriptions meet these goals. However, once executives realize the importance and the impact of these job post descriptions, they immediately demand that you adopt the “advertising approach” and to put someone in charge of quality control. Advertising approaches require thoroughly testing each and then using the results to refine them to the point where they are the most compelling in the industry.

BTW, if you are now thinking, “how can I do this with the resources I have now?” … now (meaning summer) is the best time to consider an intern in marketing or advertising to take this on as a project. It would be a win-win that will be more valuable for you than the cost of the short-term salary cost.

Dr. John Sullivan

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," Staffing.org called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website www.drjohnsullivan.com and on www.ERE.Net. He lives in Pacifica, California.