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Sep 26, 2005
How To

How to Copywrite Job Ads to Attract Top Candidates: Specific Guidelines

SUMMARY: Fact is, most job ads are copywritten so badly that the best candidates pass them by. You have about 1,400 words to work with in an online classified. Discover how to organize your ad into five sections, how to copywrite the headline, and what wording makes top marketing candidates apply. If you're hiring a new marketer soon, absolutely check out this how-to article. (And then pass the link onto your HR department.)
In recent years the marketing job market's flip-flipped from hiring anyone with a pulse to nothing whatsoever being available for anyone.

Which means now that companies are ready to hire great marketers, most hiring managers have almost no experience at actually doing it. "The market morphed from the war for any talent to the war for the best talent, and the way you win in this battle is different," says Peter Weddle, CEO of Weddle's, a publisher of print guides to Internet job boards.

Today, says Weddle, the best talent is almost always already employed. "You have to convince them to go from the devil they know to the devil they don't know, and that takes lots of selling power."

Which means you should sic your best copywriter on your company job ads instead of leaving them up to the HR folks who may not have marketing copy experience. Most online job listings are either stultifying lists of requirements and responsibilities or frighteningly peppy.

Here are specific copy tips to help your ad stand out and gain the best candidates.

Part I. The five-section job listing

The typical online job ad allows you about 1,400 words of copy (the equivalent of two single-spaced typed pages). "It's important to use all of them," Weddle advises. "Our research shows that an ad has to have five discreet sections to be successful."

Write your description in bullet points (*no* paragraphs):

o Section 1. Summary

This should be no more than four bullets. Weddle warns that you have to get this section right because "they have the attention span of a gnat."

a. Why this is a dream job. "Do your homework with your target customer population, the people who have the skills you want. What is their definition of a dream job? That's what you sell." Make it a powerful, compelling statement, not a job description.

b. Why you are a dream employer. "These people are not interested in a job, they're interested in career advancement," says Weddle. "The employer is equally as important as the job."

c. Your commitment to confidentiality. They need to know you won't let the cat out of the bag in any way.

d. Dollar amount. While A-players are not motivated by money alone, they believe money is important because of its indication of career advancement. Provide a range of numbers. "You can't get away with old-fashioned words like 'competitive salary,'" says Weddle.

o Section 2. Advantages

"Don't tell them 'You'll be responsible for.' They want to know how the job will advance their career." (Only an employer can love words such as "requirements and responsibilities.") Instead, think of what the prospective employee might ask and answer those questions first.

a. What am I going to get to do? b. What am I going to learn? c. What am I going to accomplish? d. Who am I going to get to work with? e. What am I going to get to earn?

o Section 3. Benefits

Rather than outlining boilerplate benefits, target the type of people you hope to hire. Is health care the most important thing to your employees, or is it the fact that you're located in Wisconsin and you provide a week off every year to go fishing?

Do the kind of homework that traditional marketing and sales people do, Weddle suggests. The description of the benefits needs to be targeted to the demographic you're trying to reach. "If they're just out of college, maybe it's a tuition reimbursement program for graduate school. For an old, bald-headed guy like me, maybe talk about elder care."

o Section 4. Capabilities

This section is a list of the requirements you need the employee to have, but again, it should be slanted toward letting the prospect know what types of skills are needed to have a successful career. To do this, connect the skill requirements with the job performance, so the prospect can understand how they can have continued success in their career.

o Section 5. Summary or call-to-action

Telling a marketer who already has a secure job that the only way to apply is to go to a corporate website and fill out an application is like telling someone at a retail store that the only way to buy is with American Express.

"At any point in time, only 16% of the workforce is actively looking for a job, which means 84% already have one, so they don't have a current resume." Give them an application form to send in.

"You want to say, 'We'll take your resume any way you want: fax, email, Pony Express, paper airplane.' Send the message that they're important to you," says Weddle.

Part II. Language that sells

Keep your description from sounding corporate or stiff. Use words that communicate best to the audience you're trying to sell to.

Go to the best performers in your company and ask them what kinds of questions they would want to have answered that would convince them to change companies. The language they use will help you understand how to word the description. Weddle strongly urges marketing managers not to try to answer these questions themselves. It's your top employees who will know the benefits to working for your company. (Their answers will also help you answer the questions in section 2 of the job description.)

Remember, Weddle says, "HR people have never had to try this hard to sell," so you might have to fight with them to use the language you need.

Part III. headlines that work

In a newspaper, someone looking for a job can scan all listings, but online, the listings are hidden on a database until someone clicks. That means your headline needs to stand out.

"When you type in marketing jobs, what comes back is not a description, it's a job title. You're trying to get people to click on your title, so it has to have sizzle," he says. The typical title you might get from the HR department might be "Marketing Specialist III," which has all the appeal of a brick wall.

A strong title might begin with a state abbreviation, followed by a skill (*not* a title, when possible), followed by a benefit. For example, one company that Weddle mentions had asked employees what motivated them to work there, and there were two answers: money and fishing. So the company posted the same description with two different headings:

--Heading #1. WI - C++ Programmer - $1.2 million bonus

--Heading #2. WI - C++ Programmer - Great Fishing

"That's real sizzle," he says.

More examples of strong headlines:

--Marketing eNewsletter Manager creative, analytical role w/successful small business - financial products

-- Sales Manager - Sales/Marketing/Electronics - $75-$90 K/yr

-- College Athlete? Football fan? Entry-level "Sr. Marketing Exec" in training

Useful links related to this article

MarketingSherpa's updated list of 30+ Best Job Boards for Marketers (Includes notes on which are free for employers to post to): (Open access)

'Topgrading: How Leading Companies Win by Hiring, Coaching, and Keeping the Best People' book by Bradford D Smart (MarketingSherpa highly recommends this book - and no we don't get a commission from sales):


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