Research Reveals What Makes A Perfect Job Ad

In marketing, there is a well known construct called a lighthouse identity. It suggests that rather than telling customers what they need, you instead portray the core values of your product or organisation.  The who you are and what you stand for kind of stuff.

Try transplanting that to your typical job advert. Most ads focus very much on the things they need from you, whether that’s your education or work experience (Demands-Abilities or D-A). A recent study suggests, however, that recruiters would be much more successful if they focused instead on the values of their organisation (Needs-Supplies or N-S) and how they tend to treat employees, whether that’s through giving them control over their work or a high level of training and development.

The researchers manipulated real life job adverts for a large Canadian engineering company to test how people would respond to the adverts, and assess the quality of people who applied to various ads. It emerged that when adverts focused on the needs of the applicant, they received three times as many top quality applicants than adverts that focused instead on what the employer demanded from the applicant.

What Attracts Star Employees

The research used nearly 1,000 applicants to a range of 56 different job adverts for posts in project management and engineering positions.  Each advert was manipulated to be either company focused or applicant focused, with the applicant based ads utilising the latest thinking in psychology, and in particular self-determination theory.

So why do so many employers produce the wrong kind of ad? The authors suspect it’s largely because the people tasked with writing the adverts don’t receive adequate training. Also, because companies usually have needs that need to be met as fast as possible, they often produce a quick but poorly crafted advert.

"A hiring manager in a specific unit or a supervisor of the second shift in manufacturing with little training in this stuff may be crafting the ad," Jones says. "So it’s not surprising that it’s filled with D-A statements because they want someone with a specific skill set that they don’t have to spend a lot of time training and who can start day one."

How to Craft a Better Advert

The researchers are quick to point out, however, that putting a few N-S statements into an advert isn’t the answer, and it needs to be a bit more nuanced than that.

"It’s key not to add these types of statements if they aren’t true," they reveal. "If you create what is called a psychological contract where the applicant has an expectation of what is going to happen as an employee and then it doesn’t, the people you hire are less likely go above and beyond and are more likely to quit much sooner than they otherwise would."

Do you think the job adverts you see when looking for a new role sell that company to you effectively or do you think they focus primarily on the demands of the organisation themselves? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

See also: 5 Most Controversial Job Ads

Does Emphasizing Different Types of Person–Environment Fit in Online Job Ads Influence Application Behavior and Applicant Quality? Evidence from a Field Experiment