How to Use Advertising to Attract Top People

Here’s something you might want to consider whether you’re hiring active, passive, or not-so active or not-so-passive candidates. At some point in time, they will all read your job descriptions to decide if it’s worth considering your open position. If the audience you’re targeting either can’t find this job easily or don’t find it compelling if they do find it, you won’t see as many good people as you should. Don’t be smug and assume that the candidates you’re trying to hire won’t read your ads. Even referred or passive candidates read your ads. Many even request them with the common retort, “Send me the job description and I’ll see if I’m interested, or see if I know someone.”

Since the job description is a primary marketing tool, it had better be well-written and convincing. On the business marketing side, these would be equivalent to the advertising copy, the flyer, or the product brochure. Now, to throw another twist into the equation, these marketing documents need to reflect the different buying patterns of your audience. The copy itself needs to reflect how different groups (age, race, gender) respond to advertising. This affects the length of the ad, the media used to deliver it, and the words used. Young people, for example, won’t respond to the same message as a mid-career person — nor will they look in the same spots. Many women have different career aspirations than men, and they don’t look in the same places. Diverse candidates are looking for different things than their non-minority peers, and passive candidates don’t care about compensation (unless it’s equity). Salespeople do. Since advertising is the front line of sourcing, you need to customize it to meet the varied needs of your target audience. Here are some ideas to consider and things you can do right away to get started making your advertising more effective:

  1. Stop using traditional job descriptions as the basis for your advertising. Not even the worst company in the country would consider using their product-specifications listing as their primary marketing copy as some HR/recruiting departments do. Online job descriptions should summarize the challenges and opportunities in the job in some type of flashy document or web page with a creative title and compelling copy. To get started, ask the hiring manager why a top person would want this job. Finish with, “What does a top person need to do to be considered successful?” Then start off your ads with the most compelling stuff.
  2. Article Continues Below
  3. Stop using a classified-ad mentality. In the olden days, newspaper classified ads didn’t attract top people, except in the career journal sections. So why do we still use this old-style approach online and expect better results? The career journal section worked because it highlighted big jobs with creative ads and big titles and was read by up-and-comers on Sundays or on their rapid transit commute to work. The same concept can be applied today. The key is to target the up-and-comers, not the down-and-outers.
  4. Make the job compelling. The best people take jobs based on this criteria and order: 1) the job stretch, 2) the quality of the hiring manager, 3) the quality of the team, 4) the importance of the job to the company, and 5) the compensation. Your advertising should clearly demonstrate the job stretch and importance to the company in the title and first paragraph. The up-and-comers in each group (age, race, gender, area of specialization) will decide whether to continue reading based mostly on what they read in the first 10 to 20 seconds.
  5. Don’t start with the part number. If your requisition number is the first thing people read after a boring title, the up-and-comers will have opted out long before they get to the really boring list of skills and requirements.
  6. The first two lines are critical. Compare these two ads for a creative marketing person. Which one would be easiest to find, which one might you read, and which one would you apply to? Does one appeal more to different age groups or gender? How could you target it to a specific diversity group?

    Web Creative Director: “…has an excellent opportunity for a Web Creative Director with five years of experience for our e-commerce site and other related sites. This position will be responsible for establishing creative direction for the entire…” No Doubt U2 Can Make a Difference, So Can U2 as Our Web Creative Director: “Can you bring vibrancy and pizzazz to our lackluster suite of websites? We need someone who will push the envelope on using the latest web technology to create WOW! user experiences time after time. You’ll have a team of the best designers to…”

  7. Track your results. I happen to know that 12.3 percent of the people who read my last ERE article went to our website and on average read 2.8 pages each. Most of these people spent 1.9 minutes reading one of the science of recruiting articles. We used a free web analytics tool from Google to track this. You should be tracking your ad response exactly the same way.
  8. Use instant messaging, podcasts and alternative communication channels. Teens, college students, and recent grads use text messaging as their primary means of communication. Everyone has an iPod. Why not have available text messages, SMS or IM versions of your open jobs or provide video or audio podcasts? Teens, college students, and recent grads use text messaging as their primary means of communication. Everyone has an iPod. Why not have available text messages, SMS or IM versions of your open jobs or provide video or audio podcasts? Perhaps a text message such as: ? GI RU CPP CLL 949-612-6300 O?
  9. Use creative titles targeted to your audience. Wells Fargo had a successful campaign using “Are You a Desperate Housewife?” as an ad title to attract thirty-somethings with children to work part-time during the day. The key to good titles: Longer so they stand out, they must grab your targeted audience’s attention — and being compelling, topical, and fun also helps. “Stand Up and Be Counted” might work if you’re looking for an accounting supervisor. It’s certainly better than “A/P Supervisor.”
  10. Use search engine optimization techniques. The best people don’t go to job boards or to company career sites first to find new jobs. The best people sometimes look (especially on bad days) for new career opportunities — not just a job — using either Google or Yahoo! search. They’ll put the word “job” in the search field along with the standard title and the location. If your jobs don’t show up in the first 12 listings, you’re missing out on some great talent. If your jobs do show up, are they compelling? By the way, one job board always comes up on Google every time you do this. You should post your jobs there.
  11. Make it viral. If you do all of this stuff, people will refer other people to your jobs. Allow these people to forward the link via email, via cell phone, via IM, and through, or through any other new communications device that comes along. Great ads describing great jobs that up-and-comers want to hear about delivered right to their doors are the key to hiring great people. Most companies are still marketing their jobs to the down-and-outers who are willing to knock on your door to get in. If you want to hire better people, you need to knock on their doors.

There are profound changes taking place in how companies are marketing in the B2B and consumer space. Unfortunately, HR/recruiting hasn’t taken full advantage of them yet. That means you should take action now. Caveat: Don’t follow the masses unless you do it better. Better yet, do it first. Being an earlier adopter is key here. Otherwise, you’ll fall into the black hole of recruiter technology, commonly referred to as the law of diminishing returns. This basically says that the more successful a recruiting technology vendor becomes, the less successful their customers become. Logic dictates that if everyone has the same tools to find the same candidates, everyone will wind up finding average candidates. The answer then is to be an early adopter or push the envelope using the technology more creatively. If you want to win the war for talent, you’ll need to do both — and then constantly update this every two to three months. This way you’ll always be ahead of the pack.

Note: My next book will be on how to find, hire, and manage diverse and multi-generational teams. If you’d like to be part of this important work, email me directly ( I’m looking for a few organizations who want to challenge conventional wisdom and try out some news methods to reach a dynamic and changing audience.

Lou Adler is the CEO and founder of The Adler Group – a training and search firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring℠. Adler is the author of the Amazon top-10 best-seller, Hire With Your Head (John Wiley & Sons, 3rd Edition, 2007). His most recent book has just been published, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013). He is also the author of the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! Using Performance-based Hiring to Build Great Teams (2007).


14 Comments on “How to Use Advertising to Attract Top People

  1. I think Lou’s article was excellent, but it begs the question ‘who has the time and expertise to turn mundane job descriptions into compelling ad copy and also devise an inspired media schedule’?

    The answer dear reader is your friendly RECRUITMENT AD AGENCY . I am amazed as to how many of our best clients rely on us to create dynamic print ads, brochures and collateral… yet still insist on posting their own boring online ads. What a shame!

  2. I would agree with Mr. Adler’s comments. In fact, I would take it a step further relative to advice to the recruiters out there. There will be a day because of technology that companies will be hiring ‘Requisition Writers’ and their only mission in life will be to write compelling talent branding messages that persuades candidates to apply for a position with their company.

    In fact, recruiters will become what I call ‘Talent Marketing Managers’, because, in a nutshell, that’s what recruiters do – market the company to top grade talent and then spend personal time ‘selling’ the company to that talent. TMM’s will ultimately report to the COO as operations is where your ‘sales’ end up supporting – not HR. I could be way off on this, but for those companies who do make the shift in realizing that they need to be selling to candidates, the reward will be having the best talent pool to help grow their respective organizations – and there will be a SEAT waiting for TMM’s at the TABLE!

  3. Michael, you’re absolutely right that it is amazing how many organizations spend incredible sums of money creating ‘dynamic print ads, brochures and collateral… yet still insist on posting their own boring online ads.’ Almost without exception, the organizations that I speak with who are unhappy with the quantity or quality of the responses they receive from job postings on our site or any other premium site start off by pointing their fingers at the job board or the candidates. Yet when I review the postings they’ve been running, they tend to fall into one of two groups:

    1. No information that speaks to the needs and the wants of the candidate. All of the description and requirements speak only to the needs and the wants of the candidate. Great recruiters know that they need to be great sales people. They need to sell their organization and the specific opportunity to the candidate, for if they don’t then they will fail to generate applications from stars and be overwhelmed with applications from candidates who are barely or perhaps even under qualified. Stars know that they can be hired by just about any organization, so you need to convince them that it is your organization for which they want to work. Qualified hires do not drive successful organizations. Stars do.

    2. Postings that contain virtually no information at all. I am always amazed to see postings that consist of one or two sentences. No information about the organization, department, work environment, culture, team members, responsibilities, requirements, etc. Basically just a re-stated job title. And then these organizations are amazed when people whose competencies, interests, and values diverge markedly from their pre-conceived notion of the ideal candidate. If they can figure out that their applicants diverge so markedly from the vision of their ideal candidate, then why can’t they write out a description of that ideal candidate and include that in the posting? And then be sure to include plenty of information about why that ideal candidate should want to work for you rather than the organization across the street which is competing for the same talent.

    Steven Rothberg, President and Founder job board .

  4. Great article and great responses!

    Coming from a product/service marketing background, it seems obvious to me that a company should be doing all of these things to secure their most precious assets – their employees. After all, a company would spare no reasonable expense when it comes to ensuring their revenue streams.

    But alas, this kind of thinking scares away many companies because they automatically associate a large amount of additional ‘cost’ with this kind of employment marketing. Whether hiring the personnel with the expertise to pull it off, spending for the new media channels, or taking time from their marketing personnel to learn the lessons – companies are resistant to the change for a variety of (mostly speculative) reasons.

    My personal experience in developing and executing these messages for large and somewhat risk-adverse companies is that metrics really pave the way for acceptance.

    Since my company plays mostly in Interactive media for client campaigns, we frequently test multiple creative massages against one another to ensure optimal results. The metrics we develop lend strong support for a more carefully crafted and engaging message.

    In addition, the ability to track a client’s investment all the way from media exposure to converted hire really drives home the value of the advertising methods referenced in Mr. Adler’s article. This ability has profound implications for workforce planning. In addition to developing a low-cost serviceable talent pipeline, these measurements can give a historical basis for the amount of quality talent an organization can expect to attract to satisfy a staffing need in relation to a given investment.

    When confronted with these real-life examples of how the proper messaging and distribution tactics can impact the age-old success measures of cost-per-hire and cycle time, we find that companies are more open to shifting their focus toward innovative recruitment marketing.

    In the end, it is hard to argue with proven success!

  5. Great points Lou!

    I think too often we see ‘boiler plate’ type ads that don’t come close to reaching the seeker.

    People will ask the question on how to stand out on a job board and I think there are several avenues:

    1) look at the postings that you have and compare them to similar ads (start asking yourself questions)
    *are my postings exactly the same as others?
    *what buzz am I creating around my listings?
    *see Steve’s points above…… have the creative license to engage with the seeker and try to convert them into an interested candidate.
    2) put yourself in the shoes of the seeker as you do this exercise
    *would I be moved by the copy in my ad

    Also, Michael…………I could not agree more, getting a candidate to sign on is sales………selling them on the opportunity, making sure there is a mutual fit, keeping reality and expectations in check (great follow up)


  6. Lou, this is the issue that we struggle with each and every day as our company is not a traditional job board it’s a methodology. In order to attract not even recruit a viable passive audience there are numerous steps to accomplish when advertising. The message itself, message placement, message formatting, message direction and finally message outcome. What happens with our clients is that they think we insert a job we advertise via pay per click and they get applicants. From our side that is what happens and we are able to capture their information, however when we pass these people along to the url of the employer they may not capture the candidate for various reasons. So it takes two to tango and get the job done, if I was a customer of anything and my product/service offering wasn?t up to par I would want to work with the company I purchased it from to get it right. A lot of times we don?t see that. Just my opinion.

  7. Hello Lou and ERE Members,

    I agree, most job advertisements are for internal use only. I’d like to see what a compelling job advertisement looks like. Does anyone have a job advertisement that they would like to share with the group?

  8. Great example, Michael. Note that the posting goes far beyond the needs and wants of the employer by speaking to the needs and wants of the candidate.

    Star candidates understand that they can find a great job with just about any organization, so for you to land them you must convince them that they should want to work for you. And you can’t do that by just telling them about your needs and wants.

    The posting that Michael cited discussed the industry, the organization, the culture, describes the position, describes the requirements, and sells the candidate on why they should want the job. The most desperate of candidates are willing to take a job because they need a paycheck. But those are not the candidates that most of us want to hire. Rather, we want to hire the stars that truly make a difference and provide us with competitive advantages over our competitors.

  9. Another good article from Lou Adler on how to use advertising to attract top people. I recently received a mailer from HotJobs on the same topic ( <> ) that I also found really helpful. At least attention is being drawn to the fact that online job specs take a great deal of our time and a huge amount of creativity. How about a collective pat on the back (grin).

  10. Hi Everyone,
    I’d like to bring this article and discussion forward to the current date of August 10th 2010. Is this still the case with potential employees being “picky” even in this current economic climate? We all know that obtaining a job now is completely different than it was in the beginning of 2006.
    Thoughts anyone?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *