The 2 Keys to Killer Job Ads

Not too long ago, my company was approached by a client who wanted our help with a technical professional search. Our client provided us with the following job ad:

“C#.Net, ASP.Net, and MS SQL. Experience with ASP.Net a plus. Bachelors in Computer Science required. Experience with large database experience a plus. Excellent technical and non-technical communication skills required.”

Have you ever looked at the list of ingredients on the side of a cereal box? It looks like this:

“High fructose corn syrup, calcium carbonate, malt flavoring, artificial flavor, ascorbic acid and sodium ascorbate (vitamin C), niacinamide. To maintain quality, BHT has been added to the packaging.”

See the similarities? Can you imagine a marketing campaign where Kellogg’s tries to sell cereal with a one-page ad of ingredients? Pass me the oatmeal! To write the most affective job ad, you need to perform a thorough job analysis, which is time consuming. Lou Adler is the master of job analysis and performance profiles, but I want to focus on the minimal effort for the greatest yield. I’ll show you how to quickly take your list of ingredients, apply some basic marketing principles, increase your response rate, and increase the quality of your applicants. Your ad will help filter and recruit for you, decreasing time spent on junk resumes, increasing speed-to-fill openings, and maximizing your return on ad dollars.

The key to marketing is to know your audience and to get them to do what you want. The purpose of the job ad is not to tell the world how great your company is, or to demand a set of skills; it’s to sell, sell, sell! You are selling your opportunity in a saturated and competitive market. This is an ad, so let’s apply some age-old marketing principles and allow the ad to work for us. Focus on two things: 1) stressing benefits; and 2) a call to action.

Stressing Benefits

Article Continues Below

You need to make it about them – not about you. Job ads tend to focus on what you need, not what they gain; that doesn’t work in a tight labor market. You need to stand out amongst the crowd and penetrate deep within their minds.

  • Stress what you are going to give the candidate both now and down the line. The candidate, like you, is interested in the bottom line – what’s in it for me? So go ahead and tell him or her. Make sure he or she knows it’s a beneficial relationship on both sides and include the challenge, opportunity to grow, advancement, and non-monetary aspects.
  • Differentiate yourself from the rest. Think benefits! Rather than saying your company provides a work-life balance, go beyond the feature to the benefit of “more time with the family.” And don’t forget the unique perks your company offers – including specialized training to enhance your skill sets, and teambuilding outings to the ball game – as something tangible that people can imagine and get excited about.
  • Paint a compelling picture. Take those benefits and expand them to include a lifestyle that the candidate will find attractive. Be descriptive and specific. Illustrate the full range of possibilities and advantages for joining your company and taking this opportunity.

Call to Action Always keep your audience and what motivates them in mind. You want them to pick up the phone and call you today. Spark their imagination so that they are excited to learn more.

  • Motivate the candidate to act. Put a sense of urgency in the ad so they know that this opportunity won’t last long, so apply now. Better yet, make it clear that it’s a benefit for them to act quickly because you are growing fast; a new office is opening or a project is launching.
  • Provide multiple ways to apply. Just as in your print advertising for your services or goods, offer a phone number, an email address, or even a live chat to answer questions and talk to candidates. Remember that some candidates cannot call or email you when they are at work. Imagine how convenient it would be if with a mouse click they can instantly chat with you discreetly about the opportunity.
  • Make it easy for them. Don’t make it a hoop-jumping, marathon-running experience. You need these people now. You make it easy for your clients to buy, so make it easy for recruits to apply. And don’t sit on them once they have applied. Treat them with respect; if you want them to be responsive, then you need to be responsive.

Once you revamp your job ads, candidates will be more interested now that they have a clear picture of what the challenges and opportunities are. Rather than reading the side panel of a cereal box, they’ll feel they’re reading about a potential new and thrilling life. Lastly, they’ll be motivated to act, and you’ll make it easy for them regardless of where they are or when they see your ad!

Mo Edjlali ( is the CEO and founder of TalentFamily, a Microsoft niche recruiting and staffing firm and the president of the DC International Association of Microsoft Partners. He has a diverse background leading CRM and one-to-one marketing initiatives at a variety of organizations, including Accenture, Fair Isaac, Home Shopping Network, USPS, Commerce Bank, UNC Charlotte, and a number of start-ups. Mo Edjlali has a degree in Computer Engineering from Virginia Tech.


9 Comments on “The 2 Keys to Killer Job Ads

  1. Mo,

    This was a very good article.
    Hope it brings you a ton of business!

    Also, wanted to make sure you know to congratulate Amir on becoming an AIRS Certified Recruiter He passed the, very difficult, exam yesterday. You should note the CIR designation on your website…if you haven’t already.

    Sorry we did not connect at SHRM. Did you end up attending? I was glued to the AIRS booth. This was a great venue for us.

    Kind regards,

  2. Mo,

    I enjoyed your article! It’s good to hear a fresh perspective on this subject. Too many ads are so boring I don’t read through the first paragraph! We have all read on the forums about how busy recruiters are and I have even read where some recruiters wrote, ‘if the initial power statement or objective at the top of the resume does not impress me, I do not read the rest of the resume. I have too many resumes to sort through!’

    Recruiters and hiring managers need to turn this thought process around and apply it to the candidate! A candidate should be able to open an ad and see in the first line what the position is all about and what the company is offering…most ads, and I mean a large percentage of ads, print a long and boring paragraph about their company, then if you’re lucky, you might find what they are really looking for in the second paragraph. About the third or forth paragraph down, you will find out the requirements of the job and at the end, you might get a contact email address, and you might get a salary range. Then there are the simple ads as you mentioned in your article…nothing about the position itself.

    Turn that ad upside down! Start with the title and dynamics of the position, list the requirements and benefits and put the company statement/summary at the end. The company statement is necessary and if a candidate is interested in the position, they will read the company statement at the end and do further research on the company.

    Some companies offer great benefits and perks, such as discounts at major retailers, ball games, free lunch once a month, etc. You are so right, these things should be mentioned in the ads. I was going to write you privately and tell you what a great ‘article writer’ you are, but I thought it better to mention it publicly! Keep up the good work!

    Brenda Lepick

  3. Kathy that week was insane – my basement flooded! Missed most of the expo. Thanks for the feedback, see AIRS has some updates on the way – looking forward to them.

  4. Mo

    Great article, but like so many of these creative job listing stories, you take the reader to within feet of the shoreline but not close enough to the water to drink.

    Please, next time, if you lead off with a ‘poorly written ad’ story, show us the revised ad with the sizzle you say should be there before you end the article.

    The reason this is important. I know from experience that recruiters will take your article to hiring managers as justification for their wanting to change the way job postings are written. In my experience, managers are going to want to see a sample revised ad from the ?expert? in the article, most likely because they are then going take that article upstream for approval from their boss or reassurance from other colleagues before giving approval for the recruiter to change any job postings.

    So please, next time you write an article like this, follow it up with an example that recruiters can use as leverage with their sometimes not so forward thinking managers.

  5. Mo,

    Great article. I think the only thing you may have left out was to be sure to include or at least aware of Employer Branding. For ex., if your company supposedly a fun place to work, then please make your ads fun! If your environment culls brainy people, then make the ads brainy, e.g., Google’s bill board with the numerical tease.

    Brenda, flipping the ad upside down, borrows from the School of Journalism’s model taught in beginning journalism studies. I understand it was invented during the American Civil War; journalists v. number of telegraph lines, v. never knowing when one was going to get cut off.

    Print media was and is the same way given limited space due to advertising and column widths.

    Roy Peter Clark, captures the idea, thus ‘… the inverted pyramid has served the needs of readers in a hurry, reporters on deadline, and editors who love to hack from the bottom.’

    Clark, Roy Peter, ‘A New Shape for the News,’ Washington Journalism Review. (

    Mark, et al., see the following link to Yahoo, if you want to see some novel advertising, employer branding, and exceptional teamwork between engineering and recruiting:

    This Yahoo effort, however, doesn’t go across board: The jobs listed on the Corporate website begin with, for example, title, Job No. RX1000013925, Location, Function. IMHO, it’s a bit of a turn off, and a repeat of what one sees anyway, under Job Search Results.

    Geeks and other candidates are sensitive to having their time wasted, especially by recruiters. Seeing the info twice is a waste of time, space and bandwidth.

    Carmela Kelly
    ad lib field reporter 😉

  6. To continue with Mark’s aquatic analogy, the boat is still being missed here.

    Truly passive candidates (aren’t they all until the first phone call), seldom cite tangibles as primary motivators to make a change. This is supported by numerous surveys, as well as Abraham Maslow.

    A job ad must answer the critical passive question: ‘Why should I leave my current position for this one?’ Those differences are almost never found in health plans, on site dry cleaning or a subsidized cafeteria. If you cannot illuminate a meaningful (in the eyes of the desirable candidate) difference quickly in any job ad, regardless of media, you lose the candidate.

    I delivered a couple of dozen seminars on this very topic to corporate recruiters/directors, helping them to understand what the intangible opportunities were with their company, the hiring department and the position. Then, these intangibles are crafted into strong headline messages, which put the difference right up front.

    The source for these differences? Ask those in the department why they joined the company, why they stay and what they find different than previous positions. Not only will they tell you, but this will serve as a great re-recruitment tool for your key players.

    Now, for the fun part. Say, for example, that in a particular department the climate is particularly change-friendly and innovative. Then tell prospective candidates: ‘Need a platform for your brilliant ideas? Then step up to ours!’ This should be followed NOT with a paragraph about the company, but with conversational words about how the company delivers on that.

    Just one quick example, at the seminars it was amazing to see recruiters/directors most of whom felt they could not write job ads actually waving their hands asking to be called on to read their headlines, taglines and lead paragraphs.

    Too much to get into in detail in this format, but I hope you get a feel for where this needs to go. Mo got us off to a start.

  7. Instead of being over critical, I decided that it would make more sense to write my own and pass on what I believe makes a good ad it can also be found on my blog Over the years I have written thousands of adverts and as a result you get to know what works.

    Fortunately when I started writing recruitment ads I had a great tutor, who pointed me in the right direction it was a shame he couldn?t help me with my grammar!

    When it comes to writing your advert it comes down to 3 main points

    1 Location

    2 Presentation

    3 Content


    The two main areas are Job Boards and Newspapers/Magazines

    With Job Boards it is imperative to ensure your vacancy appears in the first 10 results, after which the candidate will not go much further. If you combine this with the fact that your vacancy has been advertised by many other agencies it could get ignored completely.

    To get round this you should refresh or re publishing the vacancy regularly and ensure it has plenty of content i.e. key words for the search engines to rank the vacancy highly. If you have a bigger budget then you can always look at banner advertising.

    It is also important to search as if you where a candidate, regularly to see how it fairs against the competition and how quickly it drops off top spot.

    In regards to Magazine and News Paper advertising it is down to the budget you have, because the best positions have the premium price i.e. the top right hand corner and the bigger the better. With a bit of savvy and spending time analysing the publications, I have saved hundreds of pounds on advertising. For example I found that the center spot on the back page stood out, because all the other adverts acted as a frame for my semi display. It actually had a better response to ads 4 times the size costing 10 times the price.


    Here is it needs to stand out on the website or the publication, and it is about a balance between the content and how it looks spatially i.e. ?less means more? the use of bold is important and if you can go the extra budget then a banners, logo or pictures will catch the candidates attention, but with pictures we are getting in the realms of using advertising agencies.

    With Job boards you can generally write as much as you want, but it is important that the title and the first paragraph stands out to make the applicant read on.


    This is where most of your time is taken and it isn?t all about what is written but how you communicate to your target audience i.e. a brick layer will be very different to that of a HR Director. It is also important to know that their needs are the same. If you ask anyone ?what is the most important thing they want from a job?? it will be Job Satisfaction.

    You do not need to take my word for this as Maslow described our needs back in 1943, which is out lined below with the most important at the top.

    1. Actualization


    Need for self-fulfilment. Desire to realize your full potential and become the best you are capable of becoming.

    2 Status (esteem)


    Need for reputation, prestige, and recognition from others. Contains the desire to feel important, strong and significant.

    3. Love/belonging


    Need to be loved and to love. Includes the desire for affection and belonging.

    4. Safety


    Need to be safe from physical and psychological harm in the present and future, and trust in a predictable future.

    5. Physiological (biological needs)


    Need to stay alive! Biological and cultural imperatives to live. Includes having enough healthy food, air, and water to survive

    Taking the above into account will help you write better Recruitment Adverts because it isn?t like most ads in that they just say what they want its about appealing to the candidates dreams and goals.

    So when I write my ads they always take the same format as below

    Title (plus embellishments)

    Package (if attractive + benefits)

    Company Profile

    Opportunity to sell company

    Job Role

    Emphasise interest, challenge and opportunity


    What the company can offer, the dreams an opportunities

    Contact Details

  8. Stephen,

    Thanks for your well thought response.

    One point on which to expand: Maslow’s hierarchy provides an excellent framework for all we do. It’s usefulness extends well beyond constructing the proper ad, and to my mind, should be probed/benmarked with each candidate during the recruitment process.

    In addition to providing better information to your clients and bringing some clarity to your candidates; by applying Maslow concepts during conversations you should be able to forecast your placements (acceptances / turndowns / falloffs) with improved accuracy.

    Stephen thanks again for the primer.

    Happy hunting!
    Jim Butler

Leave a Comment

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