HR Professional
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By Joel Kranc


What’s in a job ad?

As an HR leader you are tasked with finding the people that make up your company and ultimately help boost the bottom line. But recruitment is a tricky part of your role. It’s easy enough to find people who, on paper, can fit your business needs. It’s more difficult, however, to find those people that can work well in your corporate environment, be challenged and give their best to their new job.


That’s why the recruitment tools of job descriptions and postings are so important. For many applicants, this is their first impression of the company and it is your first attempt to screen people who deserve to be interviewed, and possibly hired.


“The first thing that I always think about is, ‘What type of person am I looking for and what’s my ideal candidate?’” said Sarah Jane Dowling, CHRP, SHRP and director of HR with PBL Insurance in Windsor, Ont. Depending on the location of the country she is recruiting for or the type of business unit that needs new hires, for example, Dowling says she bases the job posting on many of those needs.


Pete Kazanjy, founder of talent search engine TalentBin, agrees and says you have to know your audience.

“The process by which job descriptions get made is a very formalized one where a hiring manager will sit down with a recruiter and create a laundry list of skills and potential titles that their ideal candidate would have,” he said.


But the problem is that this is often technical and does not read like a marketing document. Also, hiring managers sometimes fail to understand the marketing realties of supply and demand and so a laundry list of characteristics in a job posting could artificially restrain the types of talent that would actually be suitable for that position.


Beyond technical versus marketing language, however, knowing your demographic is also important.

“The language that you want to use should be of interest and appealing to whoever your target audience is,” said Trevor Shylock, industrial organizational psychologist with Caliper.


Talk to your hiring manager
Recruitment is not a solitary endeavor. While you are dealing with your own HR functions, you simultaneously have to “please” the hiring managers in need of the recruit.


“I am in constant communications with the hiring manager; right from the beginning of thinking they will need an employee, the hiring manager is always very part of the recruiting process,” said Dowling. She, however, has final say on the posting and approvals can mean all advertisements, descriptions and language.


That’s where the “in-take” meeting comes in, says Kazanjy. He says the recruiter needs to act as a good “agent” to the hiring manager and be a steward for the hiring manager. Practically speaking, as the hiring manager places restraints on the posting, for example, the recruiter can show them how that changes the type of people that might apply or are available for the job (by using filters such as TalentBin or Linkedin, for example). Dowling adds that she gets the hiring manager to tell her what they are looking for and she will put the “HR spin” on the ad.


“I tell them what’s happening in the industry and what’s happening with recent hires,” she said. She adds that the hiring manager’s expertise gives her the “foundation to wordsmith” the ad when necessary.

Does size matter?

Simply, there is no right or wrong size for a job description but there are pitfalls to avoid. Shylock says length can be a problem when putting pen to paper.


“[Traditional] job descriptions can be too long, full of paragraphs that people are not going to read or want to read that are also full of company-specific jargon,” he said. This can pose problems for recruiters. The best way to filter your lists is to ask yourself, “What will this person be doing 95 per cent of the time?” Also, what’s required upon entry versus what are the things you will train? By eliminating the future items, says Shylock, you get to the description people will read and hopefully filter out people you wouldn’t want to interview.


He adds that creating a “criticality score” will help create the posting. How well do you have to do a certain task and how often will you be doing that task? More than length, Dowling says by starting with the right key elements and content, even such things as visual space, you can attract the right candidates and if necessary, push them to get more information through a website or elsewhere.


“Creating a long ad is not going to attract attention – it’s probably going to deter,” she said.


There are also several elements that contribute to a “bad” job posting, says Dowling – ads that are too long, ads that have jargon, ads that cannot even attract candidates and ads that have spelling or grammatical mistakes. Obviously, illegal items such as discrimination are points that must be left out of job descriptions, adds Shylock.


Knowing yourself
Getting the message out is just as important as what the message is. Dowling says she uses a variety of specialized sites (in her case, for the insurance industry) as well as associations that can help target recruitment. Ads are tracked so and that data can be used later to ensure they are getting the best bang for their buck. She also says that “a good job ad is a good job ad” and the size of your organization should not matter.


“You need to craft an ad that speaks to your culture in a way that’s equally important to you and spells out the qualifications, and that transcends big business and small business,” she said.

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