The Death of Superlatives in Job Ads

Recruitment agencies oftentimes fall into a trap when it comes to posting job ads. I get the sense they feel they have to sell people on the opportunity or the company through the ad’s title in order to get them to click through and read the job description. Think of when you were looking for jobs on Craigslist or Indeed and you saw titles like “In Need of a Marketing Guru” or “Looking for .Net Ninjas.”

Although at first glance I get what they’re going for, it’s an attempt to set their ad apart from the rest, and for that I can appreciate the effort. However, what I don’t think recruiters realize is the back-end implications they are opening themselves up to that can seriously handicap them in getting the perfect candidate.

There’s a vibe out there that adding superlatives in job titles for almost every industry is considered passé now a days. I recently took to Quora to get some input on my theory about whether or not developers still appreciate being called “rockstars” or “ninjas.” If you click here, you can see I got some very colorful answers:

Although I’m inclined to agree with them, there was some evidence to the contrary. When discussing it with recruiters in my company, there were some who said they’ve had very good success with it. They claim it incites applications from young energetic developers who are looking to come into a company with guns blazing and ready to make a splash; so if that is what the company is looking for, then I suppose there is some value to it.

However, there is no excuse for putting those words in the title. If you are in fact looking for young talent who can come in and make a difference, there are ways around it that are much more SEO friendly. For instance, I recently came across an ad that said “We are Looking for a Drupal Rock Star.” That ad may get clicked on by people scanning for jobs, but chances are it won’t be found high up through searches for relevancy.

Let’s compare someone looking for a “Drupal Developer Job in Boston” with “we are looking for a Drupal Rock Star on Google. Think about the words being used:

Drupal Developer Job in Boston

We are Looking for a Drupal Rock Star

The odds you will ever get anyone from that Rock Star ad are worse than with the other headline, because the only really job-descriptive word is Drupal. There is no mention of location or the fact that it’s even regarding an employment opportunity, not to mention the fact that Google is now confused as to what you’re really looking for. It originally thinks you want something Drupal related, but then it sees the term “Rock Star” accompanying it and now it thinks you’re looking for a band called Drupal or something music related.

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When putting an ad out there, what do you really want: to look unique, or to attract the right people? When creating an ad to get into the mind of the jobseeker, what will they be typing, what do they want to see that will make them click through?

We did research on this very topic and discovered the traditional search string for candidates is something along the lines of “job title+job+city” so for example “.Net Developer Job in Boston.” Google can now read that and pull up a job ad looking for .Net Developers that are located in Boston, nice and simple!

In the ad itself you now have more space to add superlatives in, despite it still being considered an out-of-date practice. If you truly think saying you’re looking for a “Java Master” will drive in applications, then do whatever it takes, but just know there are people out there who will be instantly turned off by it. SEO and keywords are king. If you want the right people to find you, you need to make it easy and direct for them; otherwise, you may have actual ninjas show up at an interview!

I’m curious to hear from other recruiters or recruitment marketers to hear their take on this issue. Have you noticed success from superlatives or do you find the pactice to be out of date?


17 Comments on “The Death of Superlatives in Job Ads

  1. Excellent advice, Justin.

    It is too bad that so few people who post jobs to Monster, Careerbuilder, or even a niche board like our understand the basics of search engine optimization (SEO). If they did, the vast majority would likely take the extra minute or two to craft an SEO-friendly job title. More than anything else, that job title determines the success or failure the posting because your job can be the greatest in the world but if no one sees it, no one will apply to it.

    The jobs which tend to underperform on our site are those which use internal jargon in the job title, such as SE2 instead of Software Engineer II. I doubt that very many software engineers are going to search Google, Bing, or a job board using the keyword “SE2” but you can bet that they will search using the keyword phrase “software engineer.” It is likely that the SE2 job will come up in the search results as the recruiter likely included “software engineer” in the job description, job requirements, or education requirements fields but the search engines place much greater emphasis on page titles / job titles than they do on the paragraphs of information on those pages.

  2. Wonderful article. We have just gone through a complete overhaul of our job titles and have seen the increased exposure on the web. We have managed to take out all the “excellent” and “experienced” in the job titles as well:-) Now we just have the actual title to increase the SEO.

    Very relevant thank you!

  3. This article touches on something I’ve been very curious about: with all the discussions in the recruiting world about sources for candidates, search engines (namely Google) are rarely mentioned. However, we know on our SEO friendly job board, about 20% of all page (job) views show Google as the referring source. In other words, it would seem many job seekers are using Google as their go to search tool but that fact seems to rarely be discussed or studied.

    On the flip side, I have seen titles that provide a different twist, or even simple additional information, get viewed more often than a “bland” job title. For example, one employer who was getting low response to an ad titled “Inside Sales” embellished it to “Inside Sales – Family-owned, great work/life balance!” After the change, they saw the views increase more than two fold.

    The balancing act, it would seem, is to assure the title is search engine friendly while seeing to it that when a job seeker sees 10 nearly identical ads, yours is the most interesting and thus the first one to get clicked on.

  4. It’s questionable to generalize feedback from IT professionals on this matter. They tend to be sophisticated, exceptionally intelligent candidates who have been pandered to (the good ones anyway) even through a rough employment market. I think candidates for other types of jobs may be a lot more impressed and motivated by job postings that actually attempt to be something more than job descriptions.

  5. The irony about the superlatives is that, because everyone is using them, they are no longer effective. The term ‘ninja’ in a job ad, if it doesn’t actually have to do with martial arts, is incredibly irritable. Most job seekers want to know what the job is and what your company does – one of my clients, for example, is in photography software. I want people who think what my client does is cool so I refer to this in the ads. Too much fluff in ads is annoying and, with the cynicism out there (especially in tech), having a personality in your ads is fine but make sure ultimately they can quickly and easily know what the job entails & requires.

  6. Great points Justin! I have always believed that the title must be easy to find vs. having some catch phrase. All job seekers believe they are rock stars. I like to always remember that Simplicity is Genius. We too have just went through our job titles in the Manufacturing segment of our business. Seeing good results!

  7. @ George. Well put.
    IMHO, putting out lots of salesy/markety superlative-hype is a good test of your postings. Anyone who responds non-ironically to them is quite possibly too ignorant, too stupid, or too desperate to be the kind of people you want, but are likely to be the only people you’ll be able to get….

    Saw a good idea online, maybe it was here on ERE:
    Marketing’s job is to turn ordinary crap into World-Class BS (like much of what we see here on ERE), so companies should give Marketing the basic information, and then have them write the JDs- They might be interesting, they should be in some form of English, and they might even have an element of fact in them, too.



  8. This is a great article. Even before the invention of search engines, whenever I trained consultants in the fine art of copywriting for recruitment advertising, I always stressed how important it is never to mislead or deceive the reader by exaggerating the level of the role or job title (which often came about through superlatives or a string of exclamation marks). This article adds another important layer on top of that.

  9. Great article.

    The same can be said when constructing a resume.

    When searching for candidates online, ‘Rockstar’ and other overly and incorrectly descritive key words are never typed into a candidate search engine. Similarly, Words like ‘passionate’, ‘hard-working’, ‘leader’, ‘mentor’ and many others in this strain are not on top of any search keyword list.

    With this in mind, writing a resume should be conducted with the job you are aiming for in mind. Think about how a recruiter would conduct a keyword search on you and make sure you have SEO optimised your resume.

  10. I agree with you Justin… In searching for jobs the titles need to be relevant to the job. Too many wordy superlatives can lead to the job not being found and bad SEO and EOI. It is also a good idea to put as much information about what the job entails and what qualifications are nececssary in the description of the job. This isnt to say that it cant be cleverly written so as to keep interest or to put your company in the best light. By all means spin it to show your best side. But keep it relevant. People are busy and want to get to the root of things, learn what is important and know how to get more information if it fits them. Key words that are specific to the job function are important. Great points!!!

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