How to Write a Job Advert for Real Human Beings

One day soon, the robots will have it all.

But until that day comes, you’ll be stuck hiring humans.

And what are humans always thinking about?

Themselves.

Writing a job advert is exactly the same as writing any piece of marketing or advertising.

You’re not trying to buy an employee.

You’re trying to sell a job.

So use the same approach you’d use to sell anything else.

 

Speak to the person you want to hire

One of the hardest things about writing an advert is getting the message right for a particular type of person.

And a job advert deserves the same rigour.

But in reality, it’s so much easier.

Unlike a normal advert, you’re not really writing it for the general public or a couple of demographics. You’re writing it for an incredibly narrow band of people.

You’ve already done the hard work deciding exactly who you’re looking for (I hope).

You’ve defined the qualifications, the experience, the skillset, the attitude, and the personality of the ideal person you have in mind.

If you were a copywriter, this level of laser-targeted focus would be a dream situation.

So don’t waste this opportunity: speak directly to the person you want to hire.

Think about who they are and what they want – and then promise what they’re looking for and demonstrate that you’ve got the goods.

Just remember:

This is not about you or your company.

You’re a seller, not a buyer. So start acting like it.

I never want to see this in a job advert ever again:

That’s not you writing to the job-hunter.

That’s you writing a brief to your hiring manager to help them write a job advert later.

Now, if you’re looking for a job-hunter who isn’t a corporate slug, you could try something a bit more like this:

Isn’t that better in just about every way?

 

Craft a headline (not a job title)

A job advert is not a job description.

A job advert is an advert.

And just like any written advert, you’re throwing away its power if you don’t put a lot of effort into the headline.

Unless you’re a household-name brand, no one is looking for you or your company. They’re not just looking for a job title and a business name.

They’re looking for any job that fits what they want. And that means you’re fighting against every other job advert they look at.

So how do you stand out?

With a sexy headline.

That could mean an enticing promise of a specific benefit for the job seeker:

Or it could mean asking a question that demands a positive response:

And if you want to get dangerously close to appearing like a warm human being, you could even try injecting a little fun and personality:

If you want your job advert to get noticed by bright people with plenty to offer, you need to write a headline that’s irresistible.

And sadly, just about every job advert headline out there is completely and utterly resistible. It took me hours to find a headline that contained any fun or personality at all.

 

Put the best bits first

Any serious job seeker is probably scouring through dozens of job adverts a day.

And that means they’re probably ready to move on to the next one before they get to the end of yours.

So what’s the solution?

Hook ‘em from the start.

1.   Don’t start your job advert with a company bio

If someone clicked on your advert, it’s because they want to know more about the job.

They want to know why working for you would be awesome – not why your customers love you so much.

Instead, give your audience exactly what they’re looking for in the first few sentences:

2.   Squeeze in some benefits as early as possible

After trawling through hundreds of awful job adverts just to find a few glimmers of hope to use as examples, it’s a rare treat to find a pure beauty like this one:

It’s magnificent.

It’s a dense composition of benefits for the job-hunter, and almost nothing else. And the image you see is the entire job advert.

There’s no waffle about the company and its achievements. No stuffy nonsense about ‘motivated self-starters with the passion and drive to hit targets and achieve excellence’.

In just 150 words, they’ve offered a salary, a home, free language lessons, a short working week, ongoing training, and paid overtime.

And the real kicker?

A refund on your plane ticket.

If you ever wanted to see a shining example of how to sell a job to a human, this is it.

3.   Ask questions to make the right person say ‘yes’

Do you prefer job ads that get to the point?

Would you read something that felt like it spoke to you?

When you ask the kind of questions that demand a positive answer, you’re not just weeding out the wrong people:

You’re bringing your reader into a conversation.

They feel involved, like they’ve become a part of the flow of the advert. (Even though it’s really just a one-way message.)

They’re more likely to read on. And on a subconscious level, they’ve already conditioned themselves into an agreeable state of mind.

So when you later start boasting about how great your company is, they’ll be more likely to be convinced.

4.   Act like you have a personality

If you’ve ever had to scour the job sites, you’ll have quickly realised just how dry, stale, and homogenous every job advert is.

So when something like this pops up, it can get a lot of attention:

It’s a little corny. But it’s still charming.

From the very first word, you can feel the enthusiasm and personality of the people behind this advert.

They don’t sound stuffy and robotic. And they don’t sound like they work for another corporate mincer, slowly flattening the life out of every employee that passes through.

For most people, this isn’t really a dream job. But the advert alone makes them sound like a company that might be full of fun people to work with.

I’m sure some of you will scoff at a job advert like this. You’ll say it’s unprofessional and flippant – and you might even say that its self-deprecating humour is devaluing the job it’s supposed to be selling.

But there’s always a healthy middle ground.

If you can stick just 10% of this advert’s attitude into one of your own company’s frigid old job ads, you might be pleasantly surprised at the results.

 

Don’t be cheeky with the details

It’s perfectly fine to puff up some of the benefits with a little gusto and pep.

(In fact, it’s heavily encouraged.)

But don’t try to hide or obscure the important facts by burying them deep in a sandwich of waffle and jargon.

People will notice – even if it takes them a little longer to dig it out.

If they don’t notice in the job ad, they’re going to have a big shock when it comes to the interview.

And get this:

Real human beings hate being tricked.

So if your job comes with some unappealing bits, be honest about them – but try to pair them up with a positive spin.

That might mean long hours (but the overtime pay is great!)

It might mean late-night shifts (but you’ll never have to set your alarm clock!)

They might need to travel around a lot (but they’ll get to see every city in the country!)

You get the idea.

You’re not hiding anything or deceiving anyone. You’re just softening the blow with relentless positivity.

 

Use the same language you use in the office

I know so many warm, friendly, bubbly people who slip into a horrible mindset when they switch between saying something and writing it down.

Whether it’s conscious or not, they always end up sounding like a business-bot.

And if you think your workplace is fun because of all the encouraging personalities and playful banter – that’s exactly what any human job seeker will think, too.

So don’t hide it. Flaunt it.

Show people what they’re really applying for. Give them a taste of what it would be like to hang out and work hard with the real human beings they’ll end up next to.

Because if the tone of voice in this job advert is a true depiction of a typical conversation in your workplace, then I admire your resilience:

Be honest: you didn’t read it all.

If that was carefully written to attract a particular personality, I never want to be left alone in a room with that personality.

But this ad, on the other hand, just might have been written by a genuine human being:

I don’t know about you. But I’d much rather work in a place where people say things like ‘chip in to help the team’ and ‘keep everything running like clockwork’.

 

Ready to join the human race?

Good. You’ve come to the right place.

There are loads of different ways to make your job ad stand out and get noticed by organic creatures. (And if you want an easy shortcut, you can always talk to someone like me.)

But however you go about it, just remember this:

An advert isn’t about the seller (that’s you, the employer).

An advert is always about the buyer (the job-hunter).

And if you don’t make that painfully obvious from the beginning?

You’ll end up recruiting a robot.

Why Is It So Hard for People to Write in Plain English?

People are proud of their pomposity.

I’m already proud of that first sentence – even though I know it might put some readers off.

And if I’m being honest, it’s fun to use rare words.

You might think I’m being imperious. Or haughty.

You might think I’m a bombastic braggart whose orotund ostentation belies his naïve and narcissistic nature.

And I wouldn’t blame you. But know this:

People do it all the time. And it doesn’t help anyone – including themselves.

Whatever you’re writing or saying, there’s always a simple way to go about it.

And the first step towards making things simple is understanding why we love to make things hard.

Shaking off the academic rigour

If you’ve ever had to read an academic essay or a thesis, you’ll know just how horrible that experience is.

I wrote a few pompous student essays myself, once upon a time. And when I read them now, I don’t know who I was trying to impress.

Except I do know: I was definitely trying to impress the teachers and professors.

(Or I was trying to trick them into giving me a higher grade.)

Just like with any business jargon you’ll find today, students and teachers use complex words and phrases as a set of shortcuts.

If they tried to break everything down into plain English, it would take them hundreds of words just to get through a few sentences.

But there’s also a definite element of camouflage involved:

Students and pupils who are unsure of what they’re saying can use complex language to try and hide their lack of clarity.

And when those same people start working in businesses, they don’t usually move on from that student mindset. They keep on using the same sort of jargon for the rest of their lives.

They use the kinds of complex language that they hope makes their business look more ‘professional’ – even if it makes their message harder to understand.

Here’s a quick example that I managed to dig up from my first year as a philosophy student (with the pompous phrasing in bold):

It is apparent that every action or effect in nature is preceded by a connected cause. This necessity, and the mind’s natural inclination to infer between cause and effect, suggests a categorical incompatibility with the idea of free will. If our will is free, we make our own choices and lead our own lives. But it is undeniable that there is a uniformity in human actions that makes many events predictable based upon prior circumstances, even when ‘chosen freely’.”

What a load of rubbish.

Here’s how it looks in plain English:

“We all believe that everything that happens has a cause.

But if we can find a cause in the past for everything that happens, it’s hard to explain how we also have free will.

Everyone feels like they have free will. And everyone feels like they make their own choices in life.

But we can often predict what others will do by understanding their personalities and the experiences they’ve had – and these are already set in place by the time we make a choice.

So if our ‘choices’ rely on things that happened in the past, that means we make choices based on things we can’t control.

And that means we’re not really choosing freely.”

It’s a little longer. But it’s a lot more pleasant.

When you saw it in its first form – full of pretentious words and overly complex phrases – you might have assumed that it was saying something profound.

But when you see it laid out in plain English, you realise that it’s not really saying anything revolutionary.

Without changing the meaning of the content, it’s gone from a 50 on the Flesh-Kincaid reading ease score to an 80. That’s like taking a Financial Times article and turning it into a passage from Harry Potter.

Would this sort of language and phrasing go down well if it were submitted as a university paper?

I can’t say for sure.

But I can say with confidence that this kind of jargon-deconstruction can work wonders for a business that wants to get its message out to the general public.

So in which manner ought we to act so as to consequently curtail our dependence on such perplexing communication?

I’d love to say that it’s easy.

But it’s hard to change habits that have been reinforced for years.

Those pompous essays get people good grades.

And those highfalutin cover letters and CVs get people into good jobs.

Your pretentious language has helped you to achieve your earliest goals. And that can make it even harder to learn to let go of it.

So all you can do is remember this:

You’ve already got your qualifications and your job – so you don’t need to keep trying to show people how huge your brain is.

You’re in the real world now. And the things you write only have one goal:

Putting ideas into people’s minds.

In your day-to-day job, you write things so that you can inform, instruct, persuade, or convince the people you work with and the people you work for.

Sometimes (depending on your audience) it might be useful to throw in a few fancy words to impress.

But for the most part, you’re writing for people who just want to understand what you’re saying.

They want your information to help them achieve their own personal goals.

So if you can give it to them in a plain and simple way, they’ll be grateful. And everyone will be able to achieve more.

Learning from your peers

If you’ve spent most of your career as an employee inside a big company, you’re probably overflowing with business jargon.

You’ve read countless reports and emails, sat through countless meetings, and attended countless training sessions and seminars.

When every person above you and around you is using the same sort of language, you start to use it too.

And I don’t blame you.

Everyone adapts to their surroundings: we all naturally try to fit in with the people around us.

But when you spend too much time with one crowd, it’s easy to forget that most people don’t speak and write that way.

“It’s critical that we ensure we’re identifying the stakeholders before undertaking any initiative,” says the office manager. “So for every new project, I want you to draw up a document enumerating those impacted, and distribute it amongst your colleagues.”

“What?” says the new kid, looking up from his notes.

The manager sighs, and tries again.

“Before we start any project, we need to know about the people that project will affect. So for every new project, I want you to write a list of those people, and send it to the team.”

“Oh,” says the new kid. “I can do that.”

You can see why this is a problem.

But the worst part isn’t during the exchange between managers and their teams.

It’s when this convoluted phrasing starts to bleed out beyond the grey walls of the meeting room.

Work buddies who normally chat by the water cooler start to use this dense language in their emails with each other.

They then start to use it when they email their suppliers and their clients.

And worst of all: they start to use it in their company blog posts, on the website’s home page, and in their social media marketing messages.

Their poor customers, who just want to read and understand, now have to sift through a wall of impenetrable industry jargon to get to the basic information they’re looking for.

All because a few people in that company like to use fancy words for no good reason.

So how can you fix it?

You’ll be happy to hear that this one really is easy:

Before you write anything – an email, a blog post, a presentation, or a set of instructions – you need to spend a few minutes thinking about what you’re writing and who it’s for.

Think back to your first week on the job, and all the ridiculous new words that threw you off when you first saw or heard them.

Then strip them from your vocabulary (or save them for the times when no other word can replace them).

Once you’ve done that, all you have to do is start writing as if you’re one human being talking to another human being.

It’s so crazy it just might work.

Leaning on your crutches

There’s a curious dilemma when it comes to choosing between complicated language and plain English:

Complicated language is harder to read, but it’s easier to write (if it’s available to you).

And plain English is easier to read, but harder to write (even though it’s available to everyone).

Why?

Because convoluted phrasing is the default setting for our poor modern brains.

Jargon and buzzwords are shortcuts to ideas that we’re used to seeing in our professional spheres. And longer words usually point to a complicated concept more efficiently than a bunch of short ones.

That means it takes time and effort to reduce a message down to plain and simple language.

And it takes even more time and effort to say the same thing simply without bloating your message with too many extra words.

For anyone who writes often, this isn’t really new information.

You can ask a scientist:

“I have already made this paper too long, for which I must crave pardon, not having now time to make it shorter.”

– Benjamin Franklin, 1750

Or a philosopher:

“I will not deny, but possibly it might be reduced to a narrower compass than it is … But to confess the truth, I am now too lazy, or too busy to make it shorter.”

 – John Locke, 1690

Or even a President of the United States:

“That depends on the length of the speech. If it is a ten-minute speech it takes me all of two weeks to prepare it; if it is a half-hour speech it takes me a week; if I can talk as long as I want to it requires no preparation at all. I am ready now.”

 – Woodrow Wilson, 1918

Since our advanced (lazy) human brains have evolved to complete tasks by taking the most efficient path, we end up relying on long and complicated language – regardless of who our audience is or how it might affect them.

So what’s the fix?

It takes two people for successful communication to happen.

But as the creator of a message, the bulk of the responsibility lies with you.

So don’t be lazy: look beyond the path of least resistance.

Look for the path that has the least resistance for your audience, and find a compromise somewhere between them and you.

(A compromise which hopefully lies in the reader’s favour.)

Are you of the opinion that you’re currently qualified to deliver accessible communication to your most important stakeholders without obscuring your intended meaning?

No?

No problem.

I’m right here.

How to Write for People Who Didn’t Grow Up in English

The game’s rigged.

The rules are inconsistent, and the tools are counter-intuitive.

There’s no intelligent design. No system that’s completely predictable. There’s hardly any logic, and the path is full of traps.

Welcome to the English language. It’s not an easy thing to break into.

But if you’ve got a good grip on it, you’ve got the power to make things easier when you write.Continue reading