Shaking Things Up With Outrageous Ads

I wrote a great recruiting ad the other day. Maybe you saw it — maybe you even answered it! It was the one that asked the candidate to fast-forward to next year and listen to a boss raving about all the terrific things that candidate had achieved during the past twelve months. I closed by saying, “If you’d like this story to be yours, send in your resume…”

Okay, so the Oscar-nominated screenwriters have nothing to worry about from me. But at least my ad stood out a bit from the others on the computer screen. It had enough of an edge to catch the attention of the people we’re all trying to reach — the best candidates, the ones who already have good jobs.

We call these Outrageous Ads, and I’m here to tell you that they work. Smart people like to be talked to in smart ways; they like to be seen in the company of people as smart as they are. Here are five secrets to writing outrageous ads that we’ve refined over years of practice:

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  1. The Doing — Get as much action into your ad copy as possible; focus on what the candidate will have to do once they’re hired. This is the heart of your ad — setting up what you expect the person to accomplish. If you make the “doing” sound exciting, you’ll prompt all of those qualified candidates who aren’t actively job-seeking to sit up and take notice. (You’ll also discourage people who don’t want to work very hard.) If you want to motivate people to excellence, devote at least 50% of the ad to the “doing”. Add lines like this to your ads: “Get set to rebuild a electro-mechanical consumer product line with lots of potential, but little direction.” or “Take over a customer service department of 10 people that needs an energizing force and a new direction.”
  2. The Becoming — Use your imagination to paint a clear and attractive picture of how the person can grow and develop over the first year. Give them something to reach for. People stay at jobs when they can see a compelling future. Often they’ll take less of a salary increase: The career opportunity more than compensates for an additional 10% salary. The “becoming” needs to be mentioned subtly in line with some salesmanship about the company. For example, “Become an e-commerce guru as you lead the launch of our state-of-the-art Internet application.” Here’s another, “Enhance your UNIX Systems Administrator skills as you take on one of the biggest IT challenges to come to Austin.”
  3. The Having — Don’t pack your ads with lists of requirements, skills, academics or duties. These are a big turn-off and exclude the best from even applying. Not surprisingly, unqualified people, who often only read the title, apply in great numbers (Do you get too many responses?). “Experience” is a poor predictor of on the job success, so minimize this in your ads — no more than one general sentence. Something like, “Send in your resume if you have a few years in our industry, solid academics, and a track record of building awesome teams? works best, we’ve found. Keep this part simple and vague.
  4. Outrageous Titles — Use interesting and exciting titles for your positions. Be a bit creative here. Instead of “UNIX Administrator” use “UNIX Guru”. Instead of “Sales Manager”, use “Sales General” or “Decorated Road Warrior”. An “Inside Sales Person” could become a “Tele-sales Wizard”. This causes candidates to read the ad to learn more.
  5. Qualify Candidates Right from the Start — At the end of your ad, ask the candidate to submit a one-page write-up of their most significant comparable accomplishment (or add this request to an auto-email response). This is a more meaningful way to filter candidates. The quality of the accomplishment is more predictive of success than all the degrees and experiences in the world.

Once you’ve got your Outrageous Ads up and running, there are lots of ways to keep on tweaking them for peak performance. I’ll tell you about those next month, in this same slot. Now I’m going back to look again at that great ad I wrote — to see if I still like it…

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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