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Write awesome job ads or suffer the consequences – tips from a copywriter for better hiring14 min read

How to write a good job ad

Boring job ads don’t get you the best candidates. But it isn’t often that you come across an ad that was actually circled through the copy department before publishing. I find this especially odd when it’s an agency – literally bursting with copywriters – that’s hitting publish on job ads that read like watching paint dry.

Lately, I’ve been browsing copywriter job ads in my hometown. Sometimes I even tell myself that I’m serious about jumping into the rat race again. Then I read them and I change my mind.

Browsing job ads that read like convoluted instructional manuals on how to assemble the perfect copywriter doesn’t inspire me to come and do that in exchange for a paycheck.

Too often it sounds like they take the technical definition of what a copywriter should be, add the office odd jobs to the list (the stuff that no one else has the inclination to do), run it in Google translate from English to Latin to Swahili and back to English before hitting that big red ‘publish’ button that beams it to the internets.

Pat on the back, sit back and wait for the applications to roll in. Another job well done.

I belong to that generation for whom the “get a degree, get a job, retire” mantra never manifested itself. Finding your way in a splintered job market isn’t straightforward. When a 0–40 hours contract is the standard on offer, you gotta hustle if you wanna pay those bills.

You have to achieve mastery of whatever you put down as your title on the CV. Then you need to intimately understand a whole host of cross-functions that intersect with your job. You need to understand how they work, what their limits are, how they affect your work, what they were designed to do and what potential cross-functionality they may have with the other cross-functions that you’re keeping tabs on.

I quit school young and set out to forge a path that didn’t lead to becoming a doctor, engineer or lawyer — people who wanted to do something predictable always seemed to know exactly what they needed to do to qualify for The Dream Job. I’ve always been a seeker and I found I had no interest in the conventional, I wanted to do something creative, and so, like any decent struggling millennial artist, I’ve done a bit of everything.

If you add it all up I’ve spent years looking for jobs

I’ve often found myself job-hunting while still on a job, almost leading a dual life; where a part of me is always looking for the next job, like a perpetual job-seeker. Why? Because jobs inevitably end.

I’ve had a lot of time-limited and part-time jobs (the other curse of my generation), and some jobs simply got boring a lot faster than others. Some didn’t get what I was trying to achieve with my work, mostly because I was grossly overqualified for the current job, and those jobs usually end in my frustrated rage-quit.

I’ve also sent out more CVs than I care to admit and have been the second choice for a job frustratingly many times. Too many times it came down to candidate #1 having more on-the-job-experience than me. The conundrum here is: how do I get more experience without getting the job, gov’na?

Jobseeker training was never any help

I’ve been to jobseeker training where they taught me how to make mind-numbingly boring CVs (because, somehow, you’re supposed to stand out by being like everyone else) and I’ve read thousands of job ads, most of which never really stood out to me.

I was rebellious and didn’t like to do things in a run-of-the-mill fashion. I spiced up my CV to make it look like a comic page because I figured if the person reading my CV is bored, they’ll think that I’m boring by extension, and my CV would be lost in a sea of blandness.

When you’re reading through tens of job ads a day you inevitably skip down to the laundry list of requirements because all that comes before is just noise. Most companies begin with an aperitif of stiff introductions, move on to a main course of “we’re so amazing and we want you to come to join us change the world” and end with a dessert of all the qualifications required — no matter how unrealistic they are (MA in journalism to be a trainee is the steepest demand I’ve seen so far for a copywriter’s job).

When a managerial position opened up in my team, while I was working for a fashion retail chain, I was surprised when colleagues came up to me and asked if I had applied for the job yet. My first answer to all of them was “Have you read the job description?” It was essentially a little more pay, slightly better hours but a lot more shizz to manage.

I could have made a great manager for my team, but you can’t treat people like sales figures and that job ad just screamed management-by-excel. The tone of voice said that there will be a lot of shit flowing down my way because company culture appreciates seniority over capability.

When you’re desperately in need of a job you so easily forget that it isn’t just your job to sell yourself to the potential employer; they should also be selling you on the job they’re offering. Since we’re going to be entering into what can possibly become a long and, hopefully, prosperous relationship, it should be of mutual benefit.

And it starts with the job ad

I’ve been at home for the past two years with our daughter, but by no means have I been idle (that would drive me — and by extension everyone I live with — crazy).

I took on a few clients despite several affirmations to the contrary. I started up a whole host of personal projects that are currently in various stages of completion as I continually invent new ones or go back to work on older ones. The one thing I did manage to do was to send the perpetual job seeker side of me on vacation.

But she’s back now and she’s googling.

Which means I’m, yet again, floating around the pixel universe, perusing opportunities and sampling the person I could become next, like a sample-tourist at a supermarket.

But not much has changed, I see. Well, except for that I’ve become more fervent in my distaste for poorly written job ads.

Do these companies really expect stellar candidates to respond to ads that read like a 5-day cricket test match?

These are the companies that are (clearly) in desperate need of quality copywriters though. Especially when it’s a media or creative agency looking for a copywriter, how can they not find the resources from their ranks to write a good job ad?

Or if you haven’t got one why not start with “We don’t know how to write this job ad, that’s why we need you! Send us a proposal and we can talk.” Maybe that’s too much to ask because it means admitting that your company is, in fact, only human?

The beautiful thing about the internet is that it’s constantly changing, and with it how people use it (and by extension interact with different brands). This means that nobody really has all the answers and any company that says they definitively know something are already outdated.

The only true constant is change and the only thing we should do is constantly learn. What I like to hear from companies in job ads is “we may not know everything but we’re sure as hell passionate about figuring it out every day”. And this can be said indirectly — with good copy.

One job ad that I read was looking for a copywriter that is talented, has a degree in marketing or communications, has 7–10 years of experience, is multilingual, is good at conceptualisation, sees the big picture, does scriptwriting, has good communication and leadership skills, is also a community manager, social media marketing specialist and search engine marketing specialist, can work seamlessly with graphic designer heroes, web developer gurus as well as audiovisual wizards (is it just me or is this beginning to sound like a Terry Pratchett novel?), has a good understanding of the changing media landscape, can work without direction and should “not be afraid to look the clients in the eye”.

Reading between the lines they’re looking for a skilled muppet with an aversion to saying ‘no’ because they’re gonna throw every job they don’t really understand at the copywriter and expect results. Because content. Content or die.

Most copywriters I know are more or less autodidacts. The best ones tend to skirt school in favour of the agile learning that you can only achieve in the real world. There is no shortcut to becoming a good copywriter: holding a degree in journalism or creative writing doesn’t automatically make you a good copywriter. Copywriters are only as good as their copy, not their degrees.

Essentially a job ad is communication

Like all other communication, you as a company should strive to do it well. That’s why you’re looking to hire a stellar copywriter, right?

Writing better, more engaging, more truthful job ads — that give the reader a feeling of what the company and subsequent job are really about — is going to serve you in getting the best person available for the job. I’ve seen what it looks like when the wrong person gets hired to be a copywriter or content creator and is given responsibility for how the company communicates online. It ain’t pretty:

So what does a job ad look like when it has good copy in it?

These aren’t job ads for copywriters, but good copy always deserves a hat-tip because it lifts the spirits, elevates the mind, brightens the day, boosts the mood (compulsory SEO copy joke, check!).

This job ad for bartenders is my favourite one. “Those lacking a great sense of humour need not apply,” is funny because it’s true.

Robot Food is clearly interested in having an open conversation about the work. Before asking for anything further, they’re first offering you to go see their portfolio and deciding if working with them is something you’d be interested in.

Now, I know a lot of people whose first impulse would be to just send this next company an email correcting the spelling mistakes and attaching their CV & portfolio, as asked. However, what this company is really looking for is someone who will take this blank canvas and run with it. This bland ad should read like a challenge to a proper copywriter, an opportunity to really have fun.

This next ad is designed to get people on their commute. People who are the target audience of this job ad will read it and recognise themselves (the ad emotionally aligns itself with the target audience) — and applicants aren’t subject to a long list of requirements that may sift out the perfect person for the job.

It reads:

“HERE YOU ARE. Another day at the office. Time to go home. Remember how proud you were when you landed that great job at that famous agency. And now? Well, your work’s o.k., your colleagues are pretty nice and the office parties get pleasantly out of hands at times. Of course, you’re keeping your eyes open (for job opportunities and to see if that tram is coming already). You’re still very ambitious. You want something else. You’re looking for new energy, in yourself and in an agency. That’s great, especially if you are an Account Manager with FMCG-experience, a strategist or DTP-artist. Because that’s what we’re looking for. So get your Blackberry or iPhone and mail us at werken@eurorscg.nl to make an appointment. Don’t wait any longer! You might miss the tram.”

When a company treats their job ads like a branding exercise — which is what they are — they are sure to get the most suited people for the job as applicants. Often job ads are plagued by the same (erroneous) thought that prevails in marketing in general: “our product/service/content/job is for everyone”.

To try and target everyone with a blanket message is just so wrong. That’s exactly how you open yourself up to a lot of false positives — e.g. seemed right at first but doesn’t end up producing desired results — and end up wasting a lot of time (and resources) on candidates that aren’t right for the job.

By narrowing down the pool you maximise the chances of your message reaching just the right people. The narrower the pool, the more effective the message. For example:

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a hard time choosing because all the candidates are so good?

Don’t be the company where job ads go to die.

I’ll finish with this honorary mention. Again, these statements are funny because they are true. A job ad that makes you smile is already a good first impression.


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