4/11/12 - Why So Many Online Job Ads Stink

I wrote the following article 9 years ago, in October 2003 when I was serving as the COO for ComputerJobs.com, an online job site for IT professionals.  I was right about a few things, even if I had no inkling there'd be a Twitter or a Facebook.  You can view the original on ERE .



Why So Many Online Job Ads Stink: An Observation from a Job Site

So after a good two years now with the economy as unreliable as the A/C guy, things look better. Jobs are opening up, and corporations and staffing firms are reporting some solid new activity. Though there's no frenzy going on, real hiring is happening, finally. It seems to be particularly true regionally - from my view Atlanta, Dallas, and the whole D.C. area, in particular - but it is happening. So before we all start hustling to turn technical recruiting into a Six Sigma affair, how about a simple question: As we recover from a recession, how come there are still so many lousy job ads? After such a brutal hiring environment for such an extended time, why would so many who are wholly dependent on hiring spend so little time describing what's needed in their job ads? Why put so little effort into the source of your inventory? Didn't we learn a thing?

Why Online Jobs Are Sloppy

Since I deal directly with information technology employment issues, I won't aim my observations anywhere else but at what I know. Within technology staffing, I hear a few recurring reasons for these sloppy job ads:

  • No time.  Many argue they just don't have the time to craft good job ads. There's been too much downsizing and too many overworked people, and the best they can do is post the job requirements as received - a lot like the reasons many of us give when it comes time to why we don't volunteer or recycle.
  • "I'll start tomorrow."  Along with the first contingent above, just as many agree that good job ads are important and everyone should be writing them. Carefully. However, like agreeing to lose weight starting Monday, this good-intentioned bunch can't quite get started doing it. The best of intentions can't sway the actions. It reminds me of an old Graham Parker song called "The Three Martini Lunch." In it, Parker sings, "I know what I'm doing, I just can't stop doing it."
  • Need for speed. Yet another branch contends that with the overwhelming glut of qualified job seekers, the challenge isn't to write a great ad, it's simply to get the right people to the hiring manager as fast as possible. As Mario Andretti said, "If everything seems under control, you're just not going fast enough." Many recruiters have their own word for the fear that drives this bunch, but let's call it being "priored" - that is, submitting the right candidate but submitting him or her after another vendor already has. A minute late, a whole lot of dollars short. This camp says move fast or else, but what suffers, usually, is job quality.

There are legitimate reasons for each of these explanations. The economy's been brutal, hiring's been lean, and many HR departments and staffing firms are still working with tiny staffs. Plus, countless recruiters find themselves in one of the positions listed above, yet they still find time to focus on quality - even if it means working marathon days. And to be fair, while most technical recruiters seem to agree that better job ads yield better results, it's not unanimous. Some are very successful without treating job ads as serious literature.

Online Job Quality Isn't Enforced

There's something else curious at work in all this, which is that for most job sites, job quality isn't enforced. I'd argue that, after six years with an employment website, it's become nearly impossible to have or hold rigid quality standards. Jobs can be thorough or sketchy, but in the true spirit of advertising, job ads generally are whatever the posting entity makes of them. When they're effective, job sites (and employers) celebrate. When they're not effective, let the buyer beware. Consolidation within the ranks of the large, general job sites has also helped spur this on. With fewer competitors, the challenge for job sites lies in acquiring clients and reaching profitability goals, not in ensuring quality. Bragging rights also go to those with the most job counts, regardless of quality.

How Online Jobs Can Improve

Here's where you're probably expecting a long bulleted list about the perfect job ad. The trouble is, we've all heard this sermon too many times, and the reality is that while things are on the upturn, we still need to see much more significant improvement and far more consistent hiring for great job ads to have a deep impact. Until then, volume will rule the day, and the perfect job ad won't be a cure-all for hiring the right person. Still, I'm going to offer one concrete example of a current job ad that's different from most others I see. (Full disclosure: I saw this ad on Monster and not on my own site.) I've chosen this one simply because the job includes important information that's relevant to the job but it avoids any and all laundry lists of skills and products. Note also that the job does not include salary information:

Web Designer, Job #7012 Web Designer Profile:

As a member of our web development team, you will create concepts and prototypes to synthesize business objectives and project specifications into easy-to-use, fast user experiences for Company XYZ's website and unique, award-winning web-based products: Product A and Product B. You will have a strong background in design and be seeking to apply your skills in the world of software, products, and environments. You should enjoy working on teams that include software engineers, web developers, interaction designers and project managers as your colleagues. You will be highly creative, excel at problem solving, and an effective communicator. You know the appropriate tools and processes to create and implement great interactive experiences. You have at least three years of professional experience and a portfolio of compelling and intuitive user interfaces that demonstrate business-oriented, user-centered design. A B.A. degree in graphic or interaction design is preferred.About Company XYZ:

Company XYZ is the leader in Web-based screen sharing solutions for telework and remote customer support. It is THE exciting and rewarding place to be for professionals. Our award-winning products are the best in their class. We are always on the lookout for highly talented, motivated, fun-loving individuals to join our top-notch team. Company XYZ's headquarters are located in Santa Barbara, California, an area known as a center for high-tech enterprise. Santa Barbara's location on the coast north of Los Angeles makes it a desirable place to live and work, with unparalleled access to excellent mountain-biking trails, surfing spots and beaches. Our proximity to the Santa Barbara campus of the University of California provides an opportunity to further your educational goals. Company XYZ offers a competitive compensation package including stock options; 401(k) plan; health, dental and vision insurance; and other benefits to eligible employees. Reply to:

[email protected]

Company XYZ, Inc.

Santa Barbara CA 93111

Why does this short job ad work well, even if it does use the word "synthesize" in it?

  • Search for talent.  It describes the job without a single prerequisite on software. This suggests talent and experience are more important to Company XYZ than knowledge of a given piece of software, and frankly it's a relief to be spared an exhaustive list of product experience few can claim. Quark versus Photoshop? Who cares? The company seems to be subtly asking for responses from only the very best, though it's open about its minimum desired education.
  • Open disclosure of products.  It specifically describes the products the person hired will help improve. Any resourceful person can investigate these products and determine the parallels between them and the person's own talents. Not to mention, this also lets a job candidate gauge his or her own interest in the products before applying.
  • Brief explanation of team interaction.  It specifically describes the product development team that the person hired will join. Included in this is a short but helpful understanding of the roles that make up the development team. Few IT professionals are given a glimpse at the team dynamic, and this is an area of extreme interest.
  • Company information and location.  It specifically includes legitimately helpful background information about the company, the job benefits, the amenities of the job, and a brief understanding of the cultural aspects of Santa Barbara.

In a world of sloppy job ads or job ads with every skill prerequisite chunked into a job ad, it's refreshing to see a simple, direct job ad that makes the right candidates want to respond.

Wrapping Up

So online job ads that aren't so hot can be explained, but can they be excused? My answer is yes, for a while longer. There are still too many skilled people out of work who need jobs. Even shoddy job ads with little valuable information will generate overwhelming response right now. And until demand leapfrogs forward and strikes some sort of balance with supply, this will continue to be true. There's something ironic in all this too. Five or six years ago, in the height of the dot-com funding flurry that generated hundreds of thousands of jobs, guess what IT job ads looked like?

A whole lot like they do now: abbreviated, disorganized, generic, rushed. Even in a hiring frenzy, when job loyalty could be measured in weeks or months, job ads looked remarkably similar to the way they do now. While it's true that there are far fewer employed within IT recruiting today than three years ago, the message to job seekers is remarkably unchanged. And the message seems oddly mixed: when IT professionals were in extreme demand and talent was less important than availability and motivation, there was apparently only one thing to do: slam the job ads out there quick.

Then, when IT professionals were not in demand and quality of hire was of supreme importance, the glut of available talent was such that the approach was a familiar one: quick, slam the job ads out there. The trouble with hiring technology professionals is it's a whole lot harder than it looks to truly do it well. Add to that the fact that right now supply doesn't equal demand. In fact it's not even close - but slowly and steadily this will even out.

As it does, something different is going to happen. The most effective and lasting hiring will occur by companies who aren't sloppy. They'll spend time where it's needed, beginning with carefully written job ads and then refining each step of their processes to making hiring prompt and effective. Hard work, not gimmicks, will makes these companies stand out. And we'll call them revolutionary.

Posted by Jack Williams at 06:00


    Post a comment