A Checklist for Creating Effective Job Postings
According to our 2013 recruiting channels survey, job boards were among the sourcing channels recruiters use most—second only to employee referrals. But while this channel delivered the highest quantity of candidates, it was lower on the list for quality.
Not only that, but advertising on job boards is expensive. Recently, we found that the average advertising cost-per-hire was $173 (and smaller businesses were paying significantly more than that). It seems recruiters may be spending a significant portion of these already-inflated advertising budgets only to attract the wrong candidates.
So, how can you attract more of the right ones? I spoke with David Wishon, senior director of talent acquisition at one of the biggest job boards in existence—Monster—as well as Jessica Miller-Merrell, founder of well-known HR blog Blogging4Jobs, to create the following job posting checklist for recruiters. By optimizing your postings according to these seven steps, you can attract more high-quality applicants.
Step 1: Identify Compelling and Popular Keywords
Before you get into the nitty-gritty of writing your job posting, do some research to see what terms job seekers are searching. If you’re starting completely from scratch, Miller-Merrell suggests looking at your competitors’ job postings to see what titles and descriptions they’re using for similar positions, or even reviewing the resumes your company has received from past applicants.
Additionally, you might seek help from current employees. One company, 9Lenses, believes so strongly in the value of employees’ feedback on job descriptions that it literally created an app for that, called “Crowdsource a Job Description.” The software emails employees a unique link to a questionnaire about the role. Then, explains Marketing Manager Patrick Mefert, “The app essentially captures the collective insights from existing employees on what is needed in the prospective candidate, including skills, characteristics and experience.” Using the app, the company successfully narrowed down a list of keywords that helped hire a new vice president of sales.
9Lenses’ Crowdsource A Job Description Interface
There are also several free tools available to help you come up with the right keywords and keyword phrases. For instance, Google’s Keyword Planner is a great tool to determine which keywords are most commonly searched for in certain industries. While this may be a better fit for recruiters who are experienced with analytics, Miller-Merrell notes that WordStream or WordTracker provide more user-friendly options that can help recruiters of any background create a list of terms to target. After all, she notes, “Making sure you have the right keywords is crucial to [ensuring] the right candidates find you.”
Wishon recommends putting yourself in the shoes of potential candidates. “Look at it from the perspective of the seeker and the role that you’re looking to fill,” he says. Job seekers will be looking for a position that matches their skills and experience, so be sure to include terms describing these, as well as industry-specific terminology that applicants with the right experience might be searching for (e.g. for sales jobs: “meeting or exceeding a quota,” “increase revenue” or “gross sales totals”).
Once you have a good list, use these tools and your best judgment to narrow it down to the top 10 phrases your target audience would use when searching. Keep that list handy.
Step 2: Create a Practical Subject Line
The subject line is important, as it’s the first thing that will come up in a job seeker’s search results. Of course, including the job title—which will most likely be included on that list of keywords you created—and the job’s locations are best practices to follow. But depending on your recruiting strategy, there are two additional ways to develop a subject line:
Strategy 1: Choose a subject line that will draw a large crowd. If you’re seeking to grow your talent pipeline in order to create a candidate pool from which you can source over the long haul, Miller-Merrell says, “It’s okay to be vague.” By not being overly specific with the job title—for example, using “Sales Representative” instead of “Inside Sales Leader with 5 Years Experience”—your posting will appeal to a broader base of potential applicants.
Wishon agrees with Miller-Merrell’s suggestion to go broad, and also cautions employers against being overly creative with subject lines or using internal company terminology or abbreviations. After all, he says, “If you look at what candidates search for, they’re not being overly fancy with the search terms they’re leveraging.”
Strategy 2: Appeal to a specific candidate type with a focused subject line. If you’re looking for an immediate hire, on the other hand, you’ll want to be more specific. Consider including the required experience level within your subject line in order to filter out unqualified candidates from the start. According to Miller-Merrell, for this strategy, “Make sure you’re using really specific keywords to limit the number of eyeballs that are going to see your opening.”
Effective Subject Line (Strategy 1)
Effective Subject Line (Strategy 2)
Sales Representative – Austin, TX
Inside Sales Representative w/ 5 Years Experience – Austin, TX
Retail Manager – Madison, WI
Seeking General Manager for Apparel Retailer in Madison, WI
Software Engineer – Arlington, VA
ASP.Net / C# Developer – Arlington, VA
Step 3: Keep Description Text Punchy
Now that you’ve perfected your subject line and have the appropriate type and number of candidates clicking through, you need to make sure the content of your job description is compelling enough to get them to apply.
Both experts I spoke with recommended starting your post with a short paragraph that provides a quick overview of the job—no more than four or five lines. “You want to keep it punchy, like a Tweet,” Wishon says. And this is good advice: after all, the first 100 characters or so of the opening paragraph also typically show up in search results, below the subject line.
Of course, you should still write compelling content. For instance, Doug Schade, principal consultant at WinterWyman, approaches the first paragraph of his job postings with a “show, not tell” approach. He says he’s had good results using action words to create a strong mental image of what the work would be like. For example, in one of Schade’s most recent posts for an UI Developer, he began his posting:
Picture this: You are sitting on mountains of proprietary data. More proprietary data than any other company in your industry vertical; you have stored it for years. What do you do with it? What can you build that can out-pace, out-innovate the others? That is what they are doing on Route 128, in a nutshell. What they are specifically doing and how they are doing it will only be revealed to those candidates that they meet.
As far as length goes, Wishon advises limiting your job posting to a page or page-and-a-half long. In other words, don’t list every single one of the job’s responsibilities and requirements: include only the five most important of each. “If your requirements list is 15 points long, that’s a red flag,” Wishon says. “You’re going to lose the interest of job seekers.”
Aside from your four- to five-line introduction, try to list other important information in bullet-point form. A job posting, Miller-Merrell says, “is similar to a blog post. People are going to read the top quickly, but the bullets are the message you want to send to the job seeker.”
Step 4: Include Vital (and Specific) Job Details
Additionally, Wishon highly recommends including at least a range of salary information in the post. By doing this, you can filter out candidates who would otherwise not apply, saving yourself, the hiring manager and the candidate time. Benefits information is another key piece you should include, as it may attract or deter certain candidates. (Wishon points out that, as a result of recent changes in health care brought by the Affordable Care Act, this is an area that is extremely important to some job seekers.)
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, include a call to action. After all, Wishon says, the entire point of the job posting is to get a candidate to apply—so don’t forget to include an “Apply” button or link at the end of your posting. “It’s all about making it easier for them to take that next step,” he remarks.
Keep in mind, a candidate’s next step doesn’t necessarily need to be filling out an application. Michael Prichinello, owner of the Classic Car Club Manhattan, was in need of a tech-savvy mechanic to work on some of his company’s modern cars. He posted a job description on an automotive blog outlining the requirements and how to apply.
However, instead of including the usual “Apply Here” button, he asked interested applicants to send the company a tweet saying why they were a good fit. Because Prichinello wanted a technologically-capable (and intelligent) mechanic, he says, “Having them explain why they’re worthy of the position in 140 characters and via a social platform allowed me to sidestep all the less-sophisticated mechanics.”
Step 5: Optimize for Keywords
Once you have your job posting laid out—a descriptive subject line, punchy introductory paragraph, bulleted lists of requirements and responsibilities, salary and benefits information and a call to action—bring out that list of 10 keywords you created at the beginning of the process.
Place those industry keywords in your opening paragraph (if you haven’t already), and sprinkle them throughout the rest of the posting, as well. Of course, make sure it sounds natural. For example, a posting looking for a salesperson that reads, “If you’re a sales rep looking for a great sales rep position, apply for our sales rep job today” is likely to deter quality candidates rather than attract them.
Including these keywords in a way that seems natural increases the chances that, when search engines or job boards index your posting, it will show up in search results for job seekers.
Step 6: Proofread!
This is a simple step that many recruiters may overlook in the rush to get their posting in front of potential candidates. But, Wishon warns, “Don’t forget to preview the work. This is a representation of your organization.” Spelling and grammar mistakes make your company look unprofessional, and might even deter some job seekers.
Check the posting carefully yourself, and if possible, have a colleague read it over, as well. If you don’t have a colleague with free time on their hands, there are free online grammar and spell-checking tools available, such as Reverso, that can help you double-check the post.
Step 7: Share on Social Networks
Finally, the step you’ve been waiting for: sharing your posting on the Internet so you can start getting new applicants. Of course, if your company has a careers page, be sure to post it there, as well as on the job boards relevant to your open position. But to increase the pool of people who see and apply through your posting, social networks are a great tool.
Miller-Merrell is a firm believer in distributing your postings through social media sites. If your company has a Twitter or Facebook profile where it posts open jobs and other work-related news, this is a great place to potentially get your posting more views.
But, she warns, “It’s important to make sure your hashtags and keywords are correct.” She recommends keeping these simple at first, using #jobs or #(city name). But if you want to get a bit fancier, hashtagging a few industry keywords in your Tweet or Facebook post (i.e. #php or #sales) can also improve the chances that the right people will see your open job.
In order to leverage social networks as much as possible, Miller-Merrell also encourages recruiters and hiring managers to share the posting on their own social profiles. This gets the posting in front of more eyes immediately. To do this as efficiently and effectively as possible, she recommends creating a Tweet that you can share with your recruiting team and hiring managers, which they can then easily copy-and-paste to their profiles.
By following these six steps, you can optimize your job postings and help ensure that relevant job seekers are not only seeing them, but applying through them—whether it’s on job boards, search engines or social feeds. As a result, you’ll get better-suited applicants, so you can recruit more efficiently and effectively.
Screenshot provided by 9Lenses.