Pushing The Envelope, Ad-wise

It’s the end of a hard day, and you’ve finally had a chance to check out the news. Your boss was a jerk, so you jump to a major board, and an online ad somehow catches your eye, describing exactly the kind of job you’re doing now, for the same pay, and in the same industry. With disdain, you say, “Great! Here’s a chance to do exactly the same work at similar company.” And you move on. Down deep, you wonder who writes this stuff. So why are most ads still being written this way, aimed at people doing the same kind of work – a job description with a predictable laundry list of “must-haves” attached? And is there any wonder that ads like these don’t bring in the kinds of candidates you’re really looking for? Here’s a tip: All you need to do to attract more top candidates is to stop describing what you want and start talking about what the candidate will get. Read this line again, it can make your career. To get the top candidates to respond to your ads, you need to understand what motivates people to act. The principle is simple – treat candidates as customers, not subordinates. When you treat candidates as subordinates in your ads you attract the person who needs a job. When you treat candidates as customers you attract the person who wants a better job. If you want to attract a top person who already has a good job, you need to describe a better job. It’s as simple as that. Knowing why candidates are motivated to take a job is the first step in putting together an effective recruiting program. Candidates take jobs for two basic reasons:

  1. A “Going-Away” Job-Changing Strategy: These people need to get a new job. This usually has to do with resolving an unfavorable job situation, such as a layoff or a spouse’s relocation. Recruiting these candidates is relatively easy, especially if their current situation is weak and their options are limited. Standards are lower because of personal circumstances. If you find a strong candidate in this situation, move fast: you have a useful but very temporary advantage, because opportunities will multiply rapidly.


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  1. A “Going-Toward” Job-Changing Strategy: This group is more selective, they don’t need a job right away. They want something better. Improvement of some or all aspects of their working life is usually why strong candidates take new jobs. They need some very compelling reasons to leave a good position, and it’s up to you to provide those reasons. Sometimes they’re openly looking, but even then, they’re discriminating. Most passive candidates fall into this category.

For most candidates, the underlying motivation to change jobs is usually a combination of these two strategies. It’s the interviewer’s job to determine the degree of both – and which one is most important. To quickly find out which strategy is controlling a candidate’s job-hunting efforts, early in the interview just ask why she is considering a move at this time. This usually lets you judge the “going-away” factor. Later, follow up by asking her what she’s looking for in a new job – a key to the “going-toward” strategy. For more insights into her underlying motivation, ask why these factors are important. This requires a candidate to think at a deeper level, and often reveals true motivation. You may be able to put this information to good use later in presenting the merits of your job. Another tip: Compare the consistency of the “going-away” and “going-toward” information. It makes sense if a person wants to leave a chaotic situation to look for more security. But it doesn’t seem logical for someone to leave a chaotic situation for more growth opportunities. Look for congruity at every level. Understanding motivation will help you to make an insightful decision, and negotiate the terms of an offer.

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).


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