Why Adding 'Please Don't Apply' to Your Job Ad Could Be a Good Idea

July 6, 2016

Ask any great salesperson and they’ll tell you that they don’t want the Marketing Department to inundate them with leads. Because great salespeople know that when they get hit with a mountain of leads, a lot of those leads (maybe even the majority) will be garbage. And these great salespeople know that they’ll be spending all day culling the wheat from the chaff, which is a poor use of their time.

Why am I beginning an article about job ads by talking about salespeople? Because those of us in the business of attracting talent need to follow the lessons of those great salespeople. Too often in the recruiting/talent field we get hung up on thinking about how many applicants we’ve gotten. ‘We just need to fill the pipeline with candidates’ we think, ‘and we’ll have all the great candidates we need!’ Unfortunately, the more we fill our pipelines with warm bodies, the harder it becomes to discern the warm bodies from the future stars. So I’m recommending a very different approach. 

Start by defining the emplyee you want to hire

When think about who you want for your job, start by analyzing your current workforce. You can pretty quickly identify significant differences between your high performers (i.e. people you want more of) and your low performers (i.e. people you’d like to avoid in the future).

And not only can you identify some general differences, you should be able to find attitudes that separate high and low performers. As I wrote in Hiring for Attitude, we call these attitudes ‘Brown Shorts.’ It’s a weird name, I know, but it’s basically an homage to a company that has long set the bar for hiring for attitude—Southwest Airlines.

Your Brown Shorts are the unique attitudinal characteristics that define your best people. 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 restrained?

Your Brown Shorts also describe the characteristics of the people who aren’t making it. Hence your Brown Shorts don’t just tell you whom you should hire; they also identify whom you shouldn’t hire. There isn’t one ‘right’ attitude; rather it’s about finding the right attitudes for your unique culture. 

Brown Shorts are what you want to ‘sell’ in your job ad, not some bland and generic description that makes you sound like everyplace else. Imagine that your Brown Shorts are that your high performers are collaborative: they help each other out without being asked, and without any expectation of recognition or reward. 

Now, write a job description that will attract them (and only them)

Now, you could write a 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 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 Brown Shorts 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.

This concept is heretical to many in the HR/talent space, where there is too often an almost pathological fear of losing candidates. But who cares if we lose the wrong candidates? Hopefully, we weren’t going to hire the wrong people anyways, so why should we waste our time sorting through giant piles of people who are a terrible fit for us?

I’ve had clients who will go so far as to say things in their jobs ads like “If you’re only after individual glory [or whatever their Brown Shorts are], please just don’t apply.” Adding those words “please don’t apply” takes a lot of guts; it goes against every instinct we have about welcoming everyone. But great organizations are not welcoming to everyone, because they really don’t want people that have the wrong attitudes.

And that brings us back to original lesson from great salespeople. We don’t want mountains of candidates (or leads); we want a smaller pile of the ‘right’ candidates. I often recommend that instead of thinking only about how many candidates you have in the recruiting pipeline, start tracking how many of those candidates turn into final round interviews, then how many turn into new hires, and then what are the performance appraisal scores of those candidates twelve months after they’re hired?

If I can get more new hires, and higher quality hires, by chasing away some folks with the wrong attitudes, all I’ve done is make my life easier (and my workforce better).

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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