3 Steps for Writing More Compelling Job Ads That Will 'Hook' Candidates Quickly

February 4, 2020

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You may be familiar with the statistic that candidates spend an average of 14 seconds looking at a job description before deciding whether to apply. That means the first few sentences of your posts are critical — because if they’re not compelling, candidates may not bother scrolling down to read the rest. 

This realization first dawned on video game developer Ubisoft Montréal, a studio of Ubisoft, when it was revamping its employer brand in 2014. The studio realized that while 40% of its inbound candidates view job posts on mobile, 85% ultimately apply on a desktop. That means there’s usually a gap between when candidates view a job and when they apply for it, so the company has to hold their attention or risk losing them.

“They go home and they think about it,” says Matthew Wiazowski, director of talent acquisition and internal mobility at Ubisoft Montréal. “We really need to make sure that we’re giving them something to think about when we’re writing our job ads.”

That’s why Ubisoft Montréal hired Angelica Novielli, a talent acquisition content specialist. She immediately got to work overhauling the studio’s job ads (the company classifies “job ads” as external-facing postings, while “job descriptions” are internal). She focused particularly on the “hooks” — those critical opening lines that influence whether a candidate will continue reading. In her first year, she wrote ads for over 60 positions and she’s identified what works and what doesn’t. 

At Talent Connect 2019, Angelica and Matthew shared some of their tips for writing engaging hooks that entice candidates to read through, revisit, and apply — and a before-and-after example of this in practice. 

Job descriptions, extreme makeover style 

Members of Ubisoft Montréal’s internal communications team were the first to start the work of improving the company’s job ads, but in order to really raise the bar, Matthew decided to bring someone on full-time.

Enter Angelica. 

She built on the comms teams’ work to make Ubisoft’s job ads more intriguing, as the company’s early ads weren’t always particularly memorable. Take the example below, which is a real job ad the company created for a lighting artist, the person responsible for creating things like rays of sunlight in video games. The role is all about making something beautiful and atmospheric, but you wouldn’t know it from the dry opening lines, which include phrases like “technological limitations” and “production deadlines.”

“It’s bland,” Angelica says. “It’s mechanical. It’s just boring and lengthy. It’s not engaging whatsoever and it’s very unclear who exactly we’re talking to here.” 

Angelica later rewrote the job ad for the role to be more compelling and inspirational. You can feel the difference in the updated version below, which opens by painting a picture of the “cohesive, vibrant, and immersive world” the new hire would create as the player’s “silent travel companion.”

“This is where your 14 seconds start,” Angelica says of the opening lines. “This is what’s meant to draw in the candidate’s attention and encourage them to keep reading.”

Here are three of the steps Angelica employed to take this job ad and many others to the next level: 

1. Speak to employees to get a better sense of what it feels like to work in the role

For Matthew, job ads should speak to people in the same way that car ads speak to consumers. Although technical specifications (think gallons per mile, horsepower, etc.) can inform people’s decisions on what model they buy, it’s the car’s advertisements that draw you in and make you feel like the car could fit your lifestyle (think of commercials with wide open roads or kids spilling out with soccer balls or ski equipment).

Simply listing all the technical details up front won’t speak to many people because that’s not what they truly care about and it’s not very interesting to read. Right off the bat, they want to know if it feels like a good fit. Only then will they invest the time to dig a little deeper. 

To help candidates get a similar feel for jobs at Ubisoft Montréal, Angelica starts by getting a feel for the roles herself. To do this, she goes straight to the source, setting up brief interviews with employees to learn more about their work.

For example, when Angelica was tasked with writing a job ad for a level artist, she met with an employee named Luca. When she asked about his goals, Luca mentioned his desire to make players feel so immersed in the world that they stop playing the game for a moment just to soak in the sights. And when she asked him what he enjoyed most about his job, Luca told her that he loved “the challenge of a white canvas, bringing something new and interesting or visually enticing from nothing, from zero.”

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Related: 4 Tips for Writing Better Job Posts (Plus Before and After Examples)

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Inspired by this conversation, Angelica gave herself 10 minutes to craft a hook for the job ad. She wrote: “As a Level Artist at Ubisoft Montréal, you’ll create something beautiful out of nothing, transforming a blank canvas into a believable world filled with awe-inspiring environments for players to uncover — and lose themselves in.”

  • Slide from Angelica and Matthew’s presentation at Talent Connect:  As a Level Artist at Ubisoft Montréal, you’ll create something beautiful out of nothing, transforming a blank canvas into a believable world filled with awe-inspiring environments for players to uncover — and lose themselves in.

“I really took what he said and just put it right in there,” Angelica says. “Really gathering the right information from the person who’s doing the role just helps [the job ad] to write itself.”

By speaking to employees before you start writing, you can craft hooks that let candidates know what it actually feels like to work in the role on a daily basis. This invaluable insight allows you to elevate your job posts from a dry description to something much more evocative and impactful. 

“We put the candidate at the heart of our job ads,” Angelica says, “so that they can really imagine themselves in the role.”

2. Quickly answer the question “What’s in it for me?” (Hint: The answer doesn’t revolve around perks) 

For Matthew, the single most important change that Ubisoft Montréal made to its job ads was to answer the question “What’s in it for me?” in the first few lines. 

That doesn’t mean they talked about the salary or benefits package, though. Instead, they focused on what makes the work meaningful. “What’s in it for me isn’t about perks,” Matthew stresses. “People spend 40 hours a week or more at their job. They love it. They’re passionate about it. For some people, it defines who they are. And so the perks are really the sprinkles on your sundae.”

  • Slide from Angelica and Matthew’s presentation at Talent Connect:  “What’s in it for me?”  (Background image on slide is from one of their video games)

The sundae itself is the thing that makes employees’ eyes light up when they talk about their job. This is something Angelica pays close attention to when she’s speaking to employees. 

“What’s the heart of their work?” she says. “Why do they enjoy what they’re doing? Why do they do it?” 

In the case of the level artist job ad, Angelica knew from talking to Luca that the creative possibilities of the role would speak to candidates the most — so that’s what she emphasized. 

She also used a lot of “you” pronouns. In the past, the studio tended to talk about jobs in a detached and impersonal way, describing what “the level artist” or “the lighting specialist” would do. Now, Ubisoft Montréal describes what you, the candidate, would do in the role — so readers are left in no doubt about what they’d personally get out of it. 

“Address candidates directly, be clear, and be sincere,” Angelica says. “Here’s what you’ll do, what your contribution is going to be, what your impact is. We’re answering that right away.”

3. Use more feminine-inclusive language because it encourages more women to apply without deterring men

The video game industry has a reputation for being male-dominated, particularly in technical roles. Unfortunately, job descriptions often play a role in perpetuating that. When they contain masculine-coded words that signal to women that they wouldn’t belong, they can discourage women from applying. And if that off-putting language appears in the opening lines, it doesn’t matter how inclusive the rest of the post is, as many readers may have already clicked away.

On the flip side, feminine-coded words such as “collaborative” and “supportive” have been shown to increase the number of women who apply — without deterring men from applying. This research inspired Ubisoft Montréal to rethink its approach to language. 

“To avoid missing out on talent based on something that we wrote in a job ad or how it was perceived,” Angelica says, “we really put a focus on using feminine-inclusive language.”

This change is reflected in the lighting artist job ad, which went from talking about deadlines and technical limitations to describing the collaborative relationship between the artist and the player. The new ad also highlights the emotional aspects of the role, like stirring players’ emotions and letting them experience “the moods and ambiances you’ve created.”

Combined with other studio initiatives, this simple change helped Ubisoft Montréal take a step towards positive change. In 2014, the percentage of women hired in tech positions at the studio was 5.5%. And while there’s still a way to go, Ubisoft Montréal has made measurable progress: The percentage of women hired in tech positions in 2018 was 16.9%. 

  • Slide from Angelica and Matthew’s presentation at Talent Connect:  Title: A more gender diverse talent pool @ Ubi Montreal!  Percentage of women hired:  2014:  Tech = 5.5% Product = 12.7%  2018: Tech = 16.9% Product = 21.8%

You can check how gender-inclusive your job ads are by using this free Gender Decoder tool. Just paste your description into the box and the tool will flag any masculine-coded words that may put women off, allowing you to swap it out for a neutral or female-coded synonym that may leave candidates with a better impression.

“Job ads really have the potential to make a positive impression,” Matthew says. “Or even change [the candidate’s] impression of your company. 

Final thoughts: Your job post’s hook should be an invitation to embark on a journey

By following these three steps, the opening lines of your job ads can serve as a silent but powerful call to action for your candidates — encouraging them to read the rest of the post, learn more about your company, and apply for the job. 

“Your employee journey starts with the candidate journey,” Matthew says. “Job ads are your gateway to your employer brand — and you should really approach it that way.”

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