Whether you are recruiting internally or externally, at some stage you will need to put together an advertisement that describes the position, and invites applications. But how should you word one? What should you include?
Writing a Recruitment Advertisement
Anyone will tell you that the purpose of a recruitment advertisement is to attract good candidates. Just as important, however, is an advertisement’s ability to discourage unsuitable applicants from applying. You want to avoid having to sift through hundreds of applications, trying to identify the few genuine, suitable ones.
Every recruitment advertisement you place will be different. A card placed in the newsagent’s window will say something different to a poster in your local job centre. The wording used in an advertisement in a trade journal will be different to that in a national Sunday newspaper. So you should avoid adopting the same approach each time you need to advertise. Nevertheless, there are general principles that you should follow regardless of where you intend to advertise the vacancy that you want to fill.
Unless you particularly want to hide the fact that you are recruiting, it is important to state clearly the organisation’s name and details. If your organisation is well known, locally or nationally, your name and logo will immediately stand out in a crowded jobs page, and this is what you want to achieve. Moreover, research has shown that candidates want to know who they are applying to work for.
Some companies choose to imply, rather than state, their name. This is okay, but think carefully before adopting this approach. If your advertisement states ‘leading drinks manufacturer’, many applicants will assume that the position is with Coca Cola, and will be disappointed if this turns out not to be the case.
The company name should not be the most prominent feature of the advertisement, however well known it is. You are recruiting for a specific position, and you want to ensure that only the qualified apply. So the position itself should stand out above all else.
This is the most important detail to get across in a recruitment advertisement. Make this prominent, and it ought to attract the attention only of those qualified to do it. In other words, you will immediately filter out a number of candidates who are applying for tens of jobs for which they are not qualified.
You must ensure that the job title is specific, and realistic. There is no need to dress up a job to make it sound more interesting or important than it is. For example:
Telephone Sales not Field Marketing Executive
Complaints Handler not Quality Advisor
Applicants should be under no illusion about what they are applying for. If you say it how it is, you can be sure that applicants are applying for broadly the right reasons.
Although not essential, stating the location of the job provides another means of filtering unsuitable candidates. Some people either do not want to, or are not able to, work where the position is based. Better that they do not apply, rather than find out after you have wasted time interviewing them.
Stating salary can be tricky. You may not want your competitors or your staff knowing what you pay. But stating salary is another means of filtering, and can reduce significantly the number of unsuitable applications that you receive.
If you are unsure about salary, at least put in an upper and lower band, even if this is quite wide. Many companies make broad statements like:
- Excellent remuneration package
- First class salary
Be wary of making such statements. For a position paying £25,000, some applicants would regard £12,500 as excellent remuneration, while others would assume that the position probably pays £40,000. You would not want to employ the former category, and you are unlikely to be able to agree terms with the latter. If you state the salary band that you are offering, you ensure that you receive applications from candidates with realistic salary expectations.
The space that you can devote to the requirements of the job depends on the size of the advertisement that you have placed. However, you should think carefully about the most important job requirements, and make sure that these are stated clearly. Use the job specification you prepared earlier to help you with this. List the main job requirements as bullet points, to save space, and make clear where specific experience or expertise is required. Highlight the interesting and exciting aspects of the job, by all means, but make sure that you cover the dull bits as well. You want to be transparent about what the role involves.
State the responsibilities and seniority of the role. This will give candidates a feel for the level of job that they are applying for, and the experience that they are likely to need. Unqualified candidates may choose not to apply, saving you valuable time at the short listing stages.
This is your opportunity to describe, as closely as you can, the type of person you are looking for. What qualifications must they have? What experience is essential? One often sees advertisements that list both the essential and the desirable experience and qualifications sought. This is an effective means of ensuring that only candidates with the right experience will apply. You should be able to list the main person requirements from the person specification that you have already prepared.
If the position you are trying to fill has genuine prospects, then you should say so. But do not exaggerate. You do not want to recruit someone who becomes dissatisfied because they are not progressing up through the organisation quick enough. Be realistic. If it is a low level job requiring few skills, then emphasise the stability of the role, rather than its prospects. An ambitious person appointed to a mundane role will soon become restless.
How to apply
You should give clear instructions about how candidates should apply for the position. Should candidates submit a CV with covering letter? Should they request an application form by telephone first? State clearly who and where they should apply to. If you are worried about applications going astray, ask candidates to mark their envelopes with a reference number so that they can be identified when the mail is delivered, and dealt with separately.
It is also a good idea to state a closing date for applications. There are two reasons for this. First, you want interested candidates to get on with submitting their applications. Second, some newspapers post job advertisements automatically onto online recruitment sites, and these can appear several weeks after you originally placed the advertisement. By stating a closing date, you ensure that you do not waste applicants time applying for vacancies that have already been filled.
Use the following checklist to make sure that you include the key elements of your advertisement:
- Job title
- Company name and details
- Job requirements (tasks and responsibilities)
- Person requirements (experience and qualifications)
- Essential Desirable
- Salary Prospects
- How to apply
- Closing date for applications
Making your advertisement stand out
If you are placing your advertisement in a newspaper or trade journal, the chances are that yours will be just one job vacancy out of several hundred others on the same pages. How can you make sure that your advertisement stands the best chance of being read and acted on?
Your advertisement must drive prospective candidates through four distinct stages:
Attention – You want the advertisement to attract the attention of those with the right qualifications and experience for the role
Interest – You want to create interest in the vacancy
Desire – You want those with the right experience to think ‘This is the job for me! I want this job!’
Action – You want those people to apply for the position straight away
It is a lot to expect of a small advertisement that it will drive the right candidates through each of these four stages. We have already considered how the wording and contents of the advertisement can ensure that the right people apply. But there is a lot that you can do to increase the chances of the advertisement being noticed in the first place. Here are some examples:
Try to negotiate a strong position for the advertisement within the newspaper or journal when you place the booking. Is there room on the first page of jobs? The last page? The front or back cover? It often costs more, but if it means that more people see your advertisement, then it will be worth the extra investment.
Clearly, the bigger the advertisement, the more likely it is to be seen. However, do not feel pressured into buying more advertising space. There are plenty of other ways to make your vacancy stand out from the others.
A colour advertisement will often stand out, especially if the majority of other vacancies are in black and white. Again, colour advertisements will add to the cost considerably, and it may be more effective to book a larger black and white space, rather than a smaller, colour one.
Sensible, eye-catching design features add nothing to the cost of placing the advertisement, but add considerably to its impact. Choose a thick border, and use bold headings for the job title or company name. Using an unusual shape, or just a different shape to everyone else, ensures that it will stand out. Be creative with typefaces and fonts. How about a light shading? There is no need to go mad. You just need to make sure that your advertisement is that bit more prominent than anyone else’s.
Your organisation’s logo will probably make the advertisement more eye catching, particularly if it is distinctive and well known, locally or nationally. You may be restricted in the way that you use the logo and typeface, especially if your organisation has a house style, with which all printed publicity must comply.
Just because you have paid for the space, there is no need to fill it. Too many words, and you will put people off. The advertisement’s role is to generate interest, not to give every detail about the vacancy. So leave plenty of white space, and be brief.
Avoid jargon, or technical terms that only others in your industry will understand. It tends not to impress, and may discourage otherwise good candidates from applying. Humour is another element to consider very carefully. Humour is subjective and personal, and what is funny to one person might be taken seriously by another. If you work in a friendly and casual environment, you may feel you want this to come across in your advertisement. Resist the temptation, as you will have plenty of opportunity to get across your organisation’s work ethic and style at interview.
Overall, if you are in any doubt about whether a phrase or sentence is necessary, cut it out.
Tip – If you are writing an advertisement that will be placed on a website, there are specific rules you should follow. Refer to the briefing on Online Recruitment, for further details.
Before you submit your advertisement, check it thoroughly for any signs of discrimination. It is illegal to specify the preferred age, race or gender of the person you are looking for in any circumstances. Check your wording for unintentional discrimination, such as:
Salesman rather than Salesperson
Barmaid rather than Barperson
He or she rather than He/She or The applicant
Consider avoiding any accusation of discrimination by stating clearly your organisation’s policy on the subject: We welcome applications from qualified people regardless of race, gender, age or disability. We are an equal opportunities employer.
You should also review the briefing on discrimination. It would be impossible to design a template for a job advertisement that would work in all situations, for all vacancies. The example shown does, however, illustrate how to bring the wording and design together to make the overall effect eye catching and interesting to read (to the right person!).
Advertisement design: Checklist
Use the following checklist when designing your job advertisement, to make sure that it has maximum impact:
Does the advertisement grab attention?
Is it interesting?
- Brief and concise
- Plenty of white space
Are you putting applicants off?
Is there a call to action?
- Closing date
- How to apply
The response that you get to your recruitment advertisement depends upon not just how it is worded, but also where you choose to advertise. Your choice of media will influence both the type and number of applicants that you receive. There is a wide choice available to you:
If the position you are trying to fill demands specialist skills, then a trade journal or newsletter might prove to be the ideal choice. These tend to be read mainly by those in the industry, or by people who are looking to work in the industry. So you can be pretty certain that suitably qualified people will read your advertisement.
Local newspapers often have a regular recruitment section covering a wide local area. Although they usually cover jobs from a wide range of sectors, they are often the first place that a job seeker will look in their search for work. Local newspapers are particularly effective for low skilled or junior positions. If the mix of skills you are looking for is common, you can advertise in the local press confident that you will attract a suitable number of applicants. Since advertising locally is almost always cheaper than advertising in the national press, you will save money as well. However, if the mix of skills you are looking for is rare, you may have to advertise in the national press in order to locate a sufficient number of candidates.
To broaden your search, you should consider placing your advertisement in the recruitment section of one of the national daily newspapers. Many broadsheet newspapers devote dedicated recruitment space to specific industries on different days. For example, the Guardian specialises in marketing and media jobs on a Monday. So most people in the marketing sector know that if they are looking for a new job, they should ensure that they read the Guardian on a Monday.
It is not always necessary to use the press. Your organisation may have a public notice board or billboard, for example, near the entrance gates. If the public regularly walk past your offices, you may well find that placing your advertisement in a prominent position on a billboard will attract a sufficient number of applicants. Again the level of success depends on the type of position that you are trying to fill. It is unlikely that you will recruit a new chief executive through an advertisement placed on a billboard, but you may well recruit junior factory workers, administrative and other staff in this way.
If you do not have a billboard, why not try placing the advertisement in a shop window? If yours is a retail business, you may well find new staff from amongst your existing customers. So placing an advertisement in your shop window may attract the ideal candidate. If your organisation does not have a shop window, you can still place your advertisement in the window of another outlet, like the local newsagents or post office.
Using the radio for recruitment is becoming increasingly popular, although it can be expensive. You also have to plan the timing of the broadcasts carefully, as you are reliant on the captive audience at the time. Recruitment advertisements are usually broadcast at times when people are getting up in the morning, travelling to work, having their lunch, returning home, and so on.
You will need professional help if you plan to recruit staff using the radio. The wording of your message has to be carefully scripted and planned. It will need to be catchy and memorable. You also need to ensure that any call to action, like phoning a number for an application form, is simple. You may even have to obtain a telephone number that is easy to remember.
Readership and Circulation
When selecting the media that you use, there is a lot of useful research that you can do. For example, you should find out the circulation and readership figures for any journal or newspaper that you plan to use. The ‘circulation’ figures indicate how many copies of each issue of the newspaper are sold or distributed. The ‘readership’ will give you an idea about the type of people who read it. Newspapers and journals will often claim that their readership figure is much higher than their circulation figure. This is because each issue of a journal purchased by an office, for example, will be distributed amongst several staff before it is thrown away. You should take particular note of the readership statistics, as they may throw light on how suitable the journal or newspaper is for your particular recruitment requirements. An annual National Readership Survey, published by the media owners, gives figures based on the main professions, showing, for example, how many accountants read each national newspaper.
Negotiating rates and position
In the recruitment media, sales people expect to have to negotiate or haggle over the rates that they charge. As a result, they usually publish a rate card, listing charges for advertising space of different sizes and positions. Ask to see the rate card for the newspaper or journal that you have decided to advertise in. Treat the prices quoted as the absolute maximum that you should pay. You ought to be able to negotiate a healthy discount from the rate card, with the discount increasing for placing more, or larger, advertisements.
Measuring the effectiveness of the advertisement
Some advertisements work, and others do not. It is very important that you evaluate, as far as possible, how effective each advertisement that you place is. You should record:
- When the advertisement appeared
- Which newspaper/journal
- The exact position within the pages of the newspaper/journal
- The cost of the advertisement
- The number of applicants
- Approximate percentage of suitably qualified applicants
- Number of candidates shortlisted
- Candidate appointed: Yes/No If you record each of the details listed above, you can work out very simply how cost-effective the advertisement was.
Advertising positions: Checklist
- Have you included all the relevant details in your advertisement?
- Does your advertisement stand out?
- Does it grab your attention?
- Where will you place the advertisement?
- Have you made sure that your advertisement does not discriminate in any way?
- Have you negotiated the best rate you can?
- Have you negotiated a suitable position for your advertisement in the journal or newspaper?
- Have you put in place measures that will enable you to measure the effectiveness of the advertisement you have placed?