Write Job Ads Like You Sell Products: Differentiate

July 6, 2015

It’s a fascinating exercise to read your own job ads and ask: “How many other companies could say something identical to what we’re saying?”

Recently, I logged onto a major job board and did a search for programmer jobs. I selected a bunch from major companies; big household names that you would immediately know. Then I started reading…and reading…and soon my eyes glazed over. After a while, I couldn’t tell any of these tell companies apart because they all sounded exactly the same.

I wanted to make sure I wasn’t just imagining the similarities, so I clipped the key phrases used in the various ads. Every single job ad said they had “Dedicated passionate coworkers,” “Tremendous opportunities for professional growth,” “A chance to make a difference,” and “Our employees are the source of our organizational strength.”

I can only imagine that these companies distinguish their products and services better than they do their job openings. After all, they have billions in sales that would suggest a competent sales message. But when all their job ads tout dedicated passionate coworkers and tremendous opportunities for professional growth, what makes one company more appealing than another? And what would make a high performer quit their current job to go work for one of these companies?

Share what makes the high performers in your organization unique

High performers want to know what differentiates your culture from all the other organizations out there. And they want to know what differentiates the high performers in your culture. But they’re not going to get that with the generic pitches like “dedicated passionate coworkers” or “tremendous opportunities for professional growth.” If you want to attract high performers to your company, you need to clearly and scientifically define the attitudes that distinguish the highest performers from everyone else. And then you need to share those attitudes in your job ads (and every other form of recruiting pitch).

Sadly, my latest research finds that only 15% of organizations have thoroughly defined the attitudes that differentiate high performers. And that’s a very real problem because how can we expect job ads, or recruiters, or career fairs, or whatever, to bring us the perfect hire when we don’t know what defines the perfect hire?

And no, you can’t go to your nearest competitor and just copy their attitudes. You will almost certainly have a set of unique attitudes that differentiate the high performers in your organization. And I do mean unique. For example, Google and Apple are both great companies, but their high performers are quite different. Southwest Airlines and The Ritz-Carlton both deliver a special service experience, but their cultures are as different as night and day.

Use distinct language that communicates your company culture

There isn’t one ‘right’ personality or attitude; rather it’s about finding the right attitudes for your unique culture. For instance, are your high performers collaborative or individualistic? Do they seek or eschew individual recognition? Are they compliant or do they break the rules? Do they love adventure or stability? Are they laugh-out-loud funny or more reserved?

Imagine that that your high performers are collaborative: they help each other out without being asked, and without any expectation of recognition or reward. Now, you could write a bland and generic job ad that says “We have dedicated passionate coworkers and tremendous opportunities for professional growth.” But that completely misses the unique (and most appealing) aspects of your culture.

So imagine instead you write something unique like “Our employees actually work together and share credit. In fact, glory hogs don’t last very long here.” Some will resist this bold language and say “If I’m not collaborative, I’ll be put off by that characteristic and I won’t apply.” To which I say: “Great!” You don’t want people who are wrong for your culture to even apply in the first place. It means less work for you, and more time to hire high performers that fit your culture.

Ironically, many companies still choose to use generic, overused and uninspiring phrases in their job ads. It's due to a self-destructive recruiting tendencies, where organizations try to sound appealing to every job seeker on the planet. They think if they're bland and inoffensive enough everyone will want to work for them. You see this coming through in proud announcements like: "Today was a great day, we got 100 new applications in response to our ad. " I've even witnessed celebrations taking place over record numbers of applications received.

Look, it doesn't matter how many people apply to a job posting. The only thing that truly matters is how many of the right people apply (and make the initial cut, and accept your offer, and turn into high performers, etc.). Everybody tracks how many people apply, but are you tracking those other things? Including your unique high performer attitudes in your job ads is necessary to attract the right candidates.

One final note

Companies that do the best job hiring are about 24 times more likely to have clearly defined the characteristics that distinguish their high performers. So if you really want high performers, and specifically the ones that fit your unique culture, I suggest you begin by defining what makes your high performers special. And then build those unique high performer attitudes into your job ads (and then every nook and cranny of your recruiting process).


Mark Murphy is the founder of Leadership IQ, a NY Times bestselling author, and a sought-after speaker on leadership. Check out Mark’s latest Leadership Styles Quiz to see what kind of leader you are.

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