How to Optimise a Job Advert: Techniques Proven to Boost Your Application Rates!
It’s important to optimise your job advert. As you read the techniques I recommend you may think “oh well it’s only a 12% increase in applications, but I don’t have the time”. The problem is a Great Performer could be part of that 12%! Taking the time now to optimise your job advertisement can mean the difference between filling your job, or not.
Reduce the Number of Overseas Applicants
You can reduce the number of overseas applicants by including a statement at the end of your job advert:
NO overseas applicants will be considered. All applicants must currently have the permanent right to work in the UK; visa applications cannot be supported.
You may get some applicants who have student visa that grants them the right to work in the UK for approximately two years. If you wish to reduce these applications include simply include “This includes applicants on student visa.”
Whilst you will still get some overseas applicants, at least you’ve been clear and can confidently decline applicants knowing they put themselves in a position to be rejected by not reading the job advert.
Remove Closing and Interview Dates
I don’t recommend including closing or interview dates on adverts. Recruitment doesn’t always go as planned and I wouldn’t want to prevent a potentially great candidate from applying just because they were a day late applying or couldn’t make an interview date.
Don’t Ask for Covering Letters
In the olden days many applicants would voluntarily attach a covering letter with their CV to differentiate it from all the others. Sometimes these letters would add value, such as explain why an applicant was relocating or changing careers. Typically they would be a simple copy and paste exercise.
As times moved on, few applicants send a covering letter and so the practise has become less relevant.
Responding to this, many job sites do not provide the option for job seekers to upload a covering letter. Consequently it is very unusual and technically impossible for many job seekers to upload a covering letter.
To circumvent this problem a minority of employers who still request covering letters, ask job seekers to include it in their CV. However, this is not practical as most job seekers only upload one CV when they register with a job site. It would be very challenging to craft a new CV for each application, especially when they are added to CV databases.
As you can imagine, very few job seekers will take the time to upload a CV. Those that do may be desperate, not motivated to work for you. The Great Performers have plenty of job opportunities and will happily apply to other employers who don’t create so many obstacles to applying.
Moreover, focus groups have shown a few job seekers think covering letters set the wrong tone. One put it as: “When I see they want a covering letter, what they really want is for me to beg for their job!”
For this reason don’t request a covering letter.
<span class="grey-callout"><span class="text-color-purple">Tip:</span> If you’re still prepared to lose loads of applicants by asking for covering letters, appreciate some are now written by AI such as ChatGPT. To catch out those applicants using this technology I recommend running the text through software such as originality.ai. </span>
Don’t Ask for Portfolios of Work
It is very common to ask for portfolios of work in creative jobs such as graphic design. The portfolio is often a much better indication of an applicant’s ability and creative flair than a traditional CV.
Unfortunately portfolios can be a nightmare for job sites to process because they come in an array of file formats and are often huge file sizes. Moreover, it is nearly impossible to email to employers due to over-zealous spam filters and file size restrictions.
For this reason I do not know of a single job site that allows applicants to upload a portfolio. Consequently there is no point asking for it, applicants can’t provide it.
A good work around is to simply contact applicants you are interested in and ask for them to send you a copy of their portfolio. Applicants will often provide a WeTransfer, DropBox or similar link.
Don’t Ask Applicants How They Will Perform the Job
I occasionally see job adverts that ask applicants to “write an A4 page about how you would fulfil the job.” Problems include:
- It is highly likely only the most desperate applicant will do this task, because Great Performers have so many options they don’t have to jump through irrelevant hoops.
- At this stage the information is largely irrelevant. Applicants don’t know enough about the company or the job to make an informed opinion. All your assessing is their creative writing skills.
- The employer may come across as clueless, desperate for any ideas, with no clear sense of direction about how to make the job should be successfully performed.
- I assume an A4 page is requested to ensure brevity, but couldn’t this be circumnavigated by using a small font?
- Finally, it is technically very challenging for an applicant to upload this information, akin to attaching a cover letter.
A much better alternative would be to hold effective Telephone Interviews, Structured Interviews and Job Simulations, which I cover in more detail later in the book.
Don’t Request Reference Details
Some employers have requested that references are supplied at the time of applying. However problems with this include:
- Jobseekers may be concerned you will contact there references without their prior consent. This is especially worrying if their current employer is a reference! For this reason many jobseekers refuse to supply references until a job offer has been made, and it is difficult to justify why you would need them before.
- Because most jobseekers don’t supply reference details on their CV, it is a real challenge for them to amend and upload a revised CV.
Instead I recommend candidate arranged Reference Calls before making a job offer, as I’ll discuss later in the book.
Explain Times Clearly
I only recommend including working hours if they are unusual.
Many people get confused by the 24-hour clock. So if you’re explaining times, it’s best to use am and pm (eg. 7 am – 3:30 pm).
Don’t Explain Your Recruitment Process
In split-tests I’ve conducted, outlining a seemingly simple selection process results in far fewer applications. This problem is even worse when video screening technology and psychometrics are mentioned. I suspect jobseekers think it sounds too long-winded, or pre-empt being rejected. The best decision is to not explain it at all.
Ensure that your job advert is realistic and can deliver on its promises. It can be tempting to promise what you hope will happen in an ideal world. But if you don’t fulfil these promise employees will be disappointed and so more likely to leave. Applicants are turned off from roles that promise great earning potential but don’t provide the security of realistic basic pay.
Use a Clear and Conversational Style
Write as if you’re recommending a job to your friend over a coffee. You wouldn’t use words and phrases like “implementing”, “executive”, “preventative”, “statutory inspections” because that isn’t normal. So don’t do it in job adverts.
It’s best to use phrases such as “you will …” because it feels more personable, and applicants subconsciously begin to think about working in your organisation. Talking about “the suitable candidate” and “we, we, we” all the time discourages applications. It’s what professional writers refer to as “closing emotional distance”, and it works.
Communicating clearly also means removing jargon and buzzwords. Some abbreviations and terminology may be meaningless to anyone who doesn’t work in your organisation. If jobseekers don’t understand what you mean, they may not have the confidence to apply. For example, I recently saw an advert with a footnote stating “Applicants must comply with ISH and QESH standards.” When I raised this with the HR director, they mentioned it must be included in job descriptions in case they are audited. Remember, you’re writing a job advert that sells, not a job description for placating stakeholders.
Avoid Too Many Superlatives
Don't make it sound like you've swallowed a thesaurus! This is an example of someone who went over-the-top: “Are you the driven individual they're hunting for? They crave someone devoted and ambitious who yearns to grow a rewarding digital marketing career, in a thriving, market-defying company. If you're someone who shuns complacency and dreams of making a difference, get aboard their special journey.” Ironically the same advert stated applicants should “resonate with their brand voice - human, professional, clear, and not heavy on jargons.”
Cut out waffle by curating similar sentences. For example this is part of a job advert I read:
Meeting the day-to-day maintenance, repair, troubleshooting and servicing of the plant machinery. Technically astute in diagnosing breakdowns and fault finding.
Generally maintaining all plant equipment to maximise available production activities
The first sentence uses words that have similar meanings. “Maintenance” is the same as “servicing”. “Repair” is similar to “troubleshooting”. “diagnosing breakdowns” is synonymous with “fault finding”.
Both sentences discuss very similar points, maintaining equipment.
Rank Better by Using Keywords
In order to get your job advert near the top of search engine results, include plenty of job-specific keywords throughout your job advert while keeping the language and tone natural. If you were looking to recruit a sales manager, you could put the following:
“We are looking for an experienced Sales Manager in the car sales industry. As the Sales Manager, you will be expected to manage a team of 10 sales people, set monthly sales targets and give relevant training. Ideally you will have proven experience in a previous sales manager role.”
You should aim for your keywords to make up about 5% of your advert. If you achieve this, you’ll have a search-engine-optimised job advert that’s more likely to rank highly in searches and be seen by more applicants. Try to avoid putting punctuation next to keywords as it can trip up some search engines.
Capitalise the Job Title
I recommend intentionally capitalising the job title. For example “We are looking for an experience Sales Manager…”
During eye-tracking studies we found this is a simple and effective way of subconsciously drawing the eye to key information. This reassures job seekers they are spending their time wisely with relevant content.
However I don’t capitalise irrelevant job titles, such as “reporting to the finance director”.
Check for Discrimination
While a good employer would never intentionally discriminate, it’s worth being aware of a few pitfalls:
Avoid specifying a minimum number of years of experience. Though some roles might have good reasons for requiring a minimum, avoid this if possible as it could lead to claims for age discrimination. Simply screen out unsuitable applications later.
- Using gender-specific pronouns such as he or she could be inappropriate. Similarly avoid using nouns such as “Handyman” which in this example can be changed to “Handyperson”.
- "Junior” could be considered ageist, “trainee” may be better.
- “Native fluency” or “mother tongue” could be misconstrued as favouring a particular nationality. “Native-level fluency” may be more appropriate.
- “Neutral accents” discriminate against locations with naturally strong accents.
- Even if you have a legal exemption allowing you not to hire workers under a certain age, for example drivers who have to be over 25 to obtain insurance, it’s best to avoid mentioning this. Be careful not to refer to age indirectly, for example, by stating “you will be joining a young dynamic team”.
- Certain passport holders may be required for work visas. Again, it’s best not to mention this in the advert.
There may, however, be certain legal exemptions that you need to spell out. For example, some social care and support workers have to be the same as gender the clients they care for. In these cases, check with a lawyer if you can include the disclaimer “the employer claims exemption under the Equality Act 2010”.
The golden rule is if you’re unsure, don’t put it in your advert and save yourself the stress of defending a claim.
Don’t bother including a statement that you’re an equal opportunities employer. Everyone has to be by law, so you’re just stating the obvious and using up space and jobseekers’ limited attention.
I see quite a few organisations that work with vulnerable and young people using up space and attention by stating that Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks will be required. This is well known and accepted by professionals in such sectors, so can be left off.
A gender bias checker is also available on our website www.starget.co.uk. It’s based on work by a group of researchers (Gaucher et al, 2011), who used lists of female- and masculine-coded terms and found evidence that gendered wording in job advertisements leads to gender inequality. For instance, there’s a stereotype that women resonate more than men with “polite” and “cooperative”, even though men do exhibit these characteristics. These findings have been used to create tools to ensure that women in particular aren’t under-represented by avoiding certain kinds of language in job adverts
Check Spelling and Punctuation
Given how often employers complain about mistakes in CVs, I find it ironic how many job adverts contain glaring errors. A company once ran a campaign specifying that they were looking for someone capable of “ruining” their office! Another favourite was a job with “dull days” rather than “full days”.
Most jobseekers only scan advert copy and are unlikely to find every mistake, but errors do reflect badly on your organisation
Be Careful with Screening Questions
A few job sites allow you to ask job seekers screening questions. Sometimes these are ‘knock out’ questions whereby if an applicant doesn’t provide the desired answer then they’re immediately declined.
The first big issue is that they create an usability issue. The best way to improve completion rate of a form is to reduce the number of form fields, especially form fields that have a high cognitive load (aka, require thinking). Many web user naturally resist completing long forms, regardless of whether it is requesting an insurance quote, or making a job application. Remember, you can’t use forms to determine an applicants is motivated because they might instead be desperate.
The second big issue is I often see employers use them wrongly in three key ways:
- They ask and applicant to confirm they have read the job advert. For example if the advert stated “proven sales experience required” they may ask a screening question “Do you have proven sales experience?”. Another common example is an advert which clearly explains applicants require a car but then ask “Do you have a car?”
- They may ask an applicant to reiterate information already contained on their CV which greatly frustrates applicants.
- Finally they may ask all applicants to confirm they have a right to work in the country because a minority won’t. Again this frustrates some applicants who don’t appreciate being asked such basic questions. Furthermore, in the UK at least, the only way to check an applicant has the right to work in the UK is by checking his/her passport or birth certificate.
Many jobseekers find these questions patronising and pointless leading to them believing the hiring manager is lazy using knock out questions rather than taking an application seriously.
They are becoming so frustrated, that whenever they see screening questions they now boycott applying altogether, so use them with great care if you want to get applicants.
Equally I’ve heard plenty of cases where applicants know they will be rejected if they don’t provide the desired answer, so lie. This benefits no one. Therefore, in general I recommend not asking screening questions because few job seekers like them and some applicants game the system.
Don’t Include Your Company Logo or Name
Including your company logo or name on a job site is not employer branding. It’s the equivalent of banner advertising and is practically useless now that we’ve subconsciously developed “banner blindness”. In reality a company logo is so small, its relatively pointless:///
This is why unbranded classified advertising works so well on the web. Just look at Google’s search results. Their ads are text only and contain crisp, plain content that quickly communicates relevant information. Literally millions of pounds are being spent on these text-only adverts because they generate results. If Google thought adding an image would increase click-through rates, they’d include one, because that’s how they make money.
Our eye-tracking studies showed that jobseekers scan through job search results in seconds. Company logos almost never get scanned. This is partly why so many recruitment agencies are successful on job sites without mentioning the names of employers.
<span class="grey-callout"><span class="text-color-purple">Tip:</span> Explain why your company has such a great future and describe its employment culture in the body text of the advertisement. This is where you have the space to tell a compelling story.</span>
There’s value in anonymity
In today’s market, you may actually need to hide your company logo and name:
- Companies which constantly advertise, even if this is because they’re growing fast, may be perceived as having a high staff turnover. Active jobseekers notice because they visit job sites daily.
- Applicants prefer applying to anonymous jobs because this gives them plausible deniability if it’s with a competitor of their current employer
- You may prefer not to signal to your employees, competitors and to the stock market that you’re about to move into a new market.
- If you’re bragging about how well you pay your employees, customers may notice and wonder if they are getting good value for money.
- If you identify yourself, you’ll get inundated with calls from applicants chasing the progress of their application and from sales people trying to sell you recruitment services. If you can’t extend the courtesy of speaking to them, you may damage your employer and consumer brand. This became such a big problem for one UK supermarket that they tried pacifying applicants by including gift cards with rejection letters – until they realised that they were receiving many fake applications sent in to obtain the equivalent of free money!
- A few brands have poor reputations. For example, some people wouldn’t want to admit working at HMRC or a fossil-fuel company.
- Other brands may be perceived inaccurately. For example, we recruit for royalty and some applicants incorrectly assume only upper-class, ex-military people can get a job there.
The “party test” proves most brands aren’t worth mentioning
The truth is that most organisations aren’t well known. Most small companies don’t have a well-known consumer brand, let alone an employer one. If they’re a business-to-business brand, they may not be known outside their own niche.
To appreciate this, use the “party test”. If you’re asked at a party what you do, do you begin with the name of your organisation or your job title? If you mention your job title first, that means you identify more closely with your role than with your employer’s brand. If someone works in retail at Apple they’ll say “I work at Apple in retail,” but if they work for a less famous company they’ll just say “I work in retail.”
If your employees don’t mention your company name when asked this question at a party, you likely don’t have an employer brand worth mentioning.
Well-known brands are the exception
The exception we’ve found to this rule are well-known organisations, such as Amazon, Google and Walt Disney. Most of them need only whisper that they’re recruiting and they’ll receive lots of applications (particularly during recessions when jobseekers want the security of working for a well-known employer). Evidence about the benefits of including a company logo and name in adverts is based on the experience of big brands, which isn’t relevant to SMEs.
But there are exceptions to this exception!:
- A minority of applicants want any job so they can be associated with a popular brand.
- Some brands have a reputation that isn’t borne out in reality. For example, jobseekers might think that Innocent Drinks offers a fun, quirky work environment where you blend smoothies all day. However, Innocent is majority owned by Coca Cola and requires people with a high level of business skill and commercial aptitude. Consequently, if the perception is wrong, they may end up with the wrong people applying.
- Other brands are misunderstood. For example the NHS is often seen as a single organisation, when it actually operates are multiple providers, each with distinct and important differences.
<div class="grey-callout"><p><span class="text-color-purple">Tip:</span> If you are going to advertise a job with your company name or logo brief your team on how to manage enquiries. I’ve often phoned employers to discuss a role and received a very unprofessional response. It immediately damages an employer’s brand which is ridiculous when they spend so much time and money trying to portray they’re an “employer of choice”.</p><p>At the very least your team should know what jobs you are recruiting for and who is managing the applications.</p><p>Naturally you’ll need to screen calls from recruitment agencies and sales people. Simply asking “Are you applying for the role” is sufficient, they don’t need an interrogation.</p><p>Never try to fob off an applicant by asking them to send an email. If they’ve taken the time and initiative to speak with you, take their call.</p><p>They may ask basic information that you forgot to include in the advert – this feedback helps you improve the advert.</p><p>Often they’ll just want confirmation you have received their application and any update. In which case ensure you send acknowledgement emails and include a statement similar to “If you haven’t received a response within 14 days, this may sadly mean your application has been unsuccessful.”</p></div>
When to Advertise Your Job
We consistently find job seekers search and apply for jobs mostly during the working week. The amount of job seeker activity usually drops off at the weekend. With this in mind I normally recommend jobs are first advertised Monday to Thursday.
With this in mind, avoid publishing jobs on a Friday. I appreciate you may have worked hard to get it finalised after several rounds of revisions with several stakeholders. You may even just want to mentally tick it off your to do list before leaving for the weekend. Yet taking action for the sake of it doesn’t always make sense, and at least you can publish it first thing on Monday morning and have a quick win.
Interestingly jobs are likely to get more applications in the final-third of the month. This could coincide with pay day. However, because most duration-based jobs will cover an entire month, you’re only likely to modify publishing dates and advertising budgets if you are using a performance-based model.
There is also a certain degree of seasonality. Job seeker activity seems to drop slightly during school holidays and rise significantly between Christmas and New Year. A clear exception to this are trainee, apprenticeship and graduate roles which see most activity during Summer holidays when exam have finished and results are released.
Be Careful Advertising Too Much
Although mentioned a moment ago it is worth reiterating, if you’re constantly advertising job seekers may incorrectly perceive you have a high staff turnover. To avoid this trap, fundamentally change the copy so it appears to be a new job role. Or you could simply advertise jobs anonymously.
Avoid Reactive Recruitment
Recruitment is often done best when it is not rushed and there are few surprises.
Often hiring only occurs when an employee resigns. This can lead to compromises being made in a rush to ‘back fill’ a job. Because recruitment advertising and flat fee recruiters are so affordable, if you spot any subtle clues someone is unhappy and about to leave, it may be prudent to generate applicants.
Similarly, if you know someone may be dismissed, can you get ahead of the situation and confidentially start recruiting a replacement.
Other times there is a constant churn of staff departing (such as in call centres). In these situations you should always be recruiting.
In a growing business or team it is also possible to identify potential recruitment needs. For example a new piece of business may require increased capacity. Or as a company grows beyond the capabilities of generalist staff, it may require more specialists.
Help Google Index Jobs in Multiple Locations
Finally if you want to advertise the same/similar job in multiple locations, it may be wise to allow 24 hours between each posting. This is so that Google is less inclined to consider them duplicate content and fail to index them in its search results.