“The truth is that as much as a company is only glancing at a job applicant’s resume for 6 seconds, candidates are doing just about the same thing with job descriptions. If you are not attracting them at that first or second sentence, you’ve lost them,” explains Elena Valentine, CEO of Skill Scout Inc., and an expert at creating job descriptions that capture and keep the attention of job candidates.
We recently spoke with Valentine, who will be presenting on the topic of job postings at RecruitCon Road Trip East, being held in Boston this fall.
In this very insightful Q&A, Valentine outlines what a great job posting accomplishes, common mistakes employers make when drafting them, and innovative ways to connect with candidates.
BLR: Why is the drafting of the job posting such a crucial element of attracting qualified candidates?
Valentine: Really it’s because unless you’re the Google or the Facebook of the world, this is likely the first time a candidate will have come across your company or role. The short answer is that first impressions matter—because it is at this point that a candidate’s going to make a decision on whether or not they want to apply.
BLR: What does a great job posting accomplish aside from communicating the responsibilities of a job?
Valentine: I think there are three key things that a great posting accomplishes. First, there’s the aspirational piece. That’s a huge part of storytelling. It’s the idea—it’s not just about the responsibilities—it’s “How does my role fit into the larger mission or vision of this company. How does my role interact or impact groups of individuals?” That’s key.
I think the second one, which in some ways can also be very difficult, is addressing a candidate’s anxieties. We know that this role is not going to be sunshine and rainbows. You put yourself in the job seeker’s shoes to be able to portray what is a realistic window into this role. Let’s just say it’s working long nights or it’s lifting 50 pound boxes if we’re in a warehouse, or it’s working in 110-degree heat. Whatever that is, candidates need to understand that because that gives them an opportunity to self-screen and then screen themselves out if this may not be the role for them.
I think the third thing—and I think this requires more detail and whole workshops dedicated to it— is a good job posting also communicates the personality of the company. I think the thing that we often miss is that the job posting is about talking to and with the reader. It should feel like you are communicating with a human. I think it’s super important that companies be able to demonstrate and showcase their personality in their language and how they describe the opportunity.
BLR: You’ve created and reviewed a lot of job postings in your day—what mistakes do you commonly see employers make? Do they try cram too much information into their descriptions, resulting in postings that are too long and text heavy?
Valentine: The written word is a beautiful thing—there are whole 1,000 page books that are riveting. It has less to do with whether it’s too long or too text heavy as it is “Am I actually capturing someone’s interest in 6 seconds or less?”
As an exercise, what I’d like to think about—before we even write the job posting—is can all of the hiring managers and recruiters in one sentence describe what this person would be doing, and describe it to me as if I was your 11-year-old niece or your grandmother? So, in the most layman’s, simplest terms, can you accurately describe this in one sentence?
If you can, then you can actually get to the crux of what this job posting needs. The next part of the exercise is thinking about how do we bring those terms to life. You don’t want to make it a laundry list because no one wants to touch that. You’re going to lose someone’s interest. Look at the simplest way of describing it first. Then from there, you’ll have more control into how long it will be and what’s the right amount of information that you need to have.
BLR: What other mistakes do you see in job postings in terms of what that they often include that can make a job sound less than ideal or unattractive?
Valentine: One thing that keeps coming up is aggressive language versus modest language. Some hiring managers use terms such as “I’m looking for a rock star”, or a “ninja” or “Work hard, play hard.” We’ve talked to a lot a people and found these terms are a turn off.
We’ve found that people—women in particular—would like to see language that’s a bit more welcoming and modest, talking about opportunities to learn and collaborate, and less emphasis on the individual rock star. They want more language that speaks to “How are you going to impact your group of individuals and vice versa?” Again I think it gets to that larger theme of how is this role bigger than yourself? How does your role interact with other roles?
I think another thing that doesn’t serve a company well is using these generic phrases that everyone since the beginning of time has used: “team player,” “self-motivated,” and “fast paced,” applies to almost all companies. You would describe your role to be a team player, self-motivated, fast paced; I would describe my role as being the same thing. These terms have been so overused; candidates see through that and what they see is this is a company that’s practically copy and pasting from someone else’s job description. By doing that, you basically are assimilating yourself to look and feel like your competitor companies vying for the same talent.
It doesn’t really serve you to use those kind of generic phrases that you know are constantly used. If in creating your job description, you think you’re still going to come up against these generic phrases, think to yourself how do they actually manifest themselves and can we have a conversation and can we create a job description around that. If you were bereft of being able to say “team player”, “self-motivated,” and “fast paced,” in that job description, how might you describe it so that people understand it? I think that’s a really interesting exercise that people should think about.
BLR: On the flip side, what’s the most common error of omission that you see employers make—what they don’t include but should when drafting their job postings?
Valentine: I think this ties into what I brought up earlier: Let’s look at what we call the triple A’s of storytelling, which is the attributes, the anxieties and the aspirations. Most job postings hit off on the attributes—it’s the who, what, where, when—your basic language of the facts versus really being able to understand your audience and know that the other two things they want, which is what’s going to be really challenging about this role, what’s going to give me headaches, what’s going to give me a worry about wanting to apply.
What’s also going to keep me to stay and aspire to be? It’s about taking a step back to put yourself in the candidate’s shoes to ask yourself how might this candidate want to grow with my company and what can I do to make sure that I’m telling that story as well. It’s really important and I think is a missed opportunity in a lot of job postings.
The last thing, which I mentioned before, is job postings that are bereft of any personality. Who made up the rule that this had to look like some bullet pointed legal sounding document that was in a white paper hung up on a shelf that no one wants to look at? I don’t know who made that a rule because it’s not a rule.
I think that the more that we can take this as kind of a human centered writing exercise, the better—that you’re not talking at them, you’re talking with them. Your job description should feel more like an invitation for additional conversation. Unfortunately, I think that job descriptions often become very one sided. It’s like “here’s what we want, this is what you need, you will have…”, as opposed to “let me start a conversation with you” and going through the exercise.
We all know that of course a job description is not going to be your end all, be all. It’s a glimpse. It’s an invite. It’s an ad. You still have to come through the doors. There’s still going to be the rest of your interview process.
You need good bait. Your job description is a good bait. I don’t think enough people have treated job descriptions this way, but people are wising up now to see that. Similar to fishing, you want to get the best bait. You should put more time and effort into getting that bait together.
BLR: At Skill Scout, you produce job videos that allow candidates to see rather than read about a job. Can you tell us more about these and the advantages to job videos versus traditional job postings?
Valentine: A lot of what we see ourselves doing is we’re creating job postings in motion because a picture says a 1,000 words, a video is a 1,000 words a second. There is so much information that one gets and our brains as humans are wired both for storytelling and for visuals—80% of our brain power is to process visuals.
We retain 65% of what we see and hear versus only 15% of what we read. If we look at the data of visual job posts, companies see an increase in viewership by about 50%. They’re viewed three times longer and they’re attracting higher quality performers because now you actually have candidates who can self-screen or self-screen out based on more information.
Your post is being differentiated from the rest of the “self-motivated, team player, fast paced” job descriptions that are out there. If you look at the generation of Millennials, my generation is moving forward. Media is the literacy of the 21st century. This is how we communicate. This is how we learn.
Our aim is to be YouTube for hiring because this is where people are going to learn about and understand jobs and everything else about the world. I think if we also look at where the internet is going, video is and will continue to be the largest driver of internet traffic, especially by 2019.
The data is there; the technology is there. Our generation is there. We’re wired for it. It’s not to say that the written word isn’t powerful, that job descriptions are going to be completely obsolete because there are absolutely people that learn from reading. We are certainly at a point where there are other mediums that we can explore and that there are no rules what job descriptions could be.
I encourage companies to think outside of the box of what that could be, what that could look like. That’s Skill Scout’s aim—to promote a new way to hire. We call it experiential hiring because we aim to change how candidates are experiencing companies. I think there’s a lot of ways to do that. I think written word can do that, videos can do that. We’re going into the virtual reality phase too. That’s our direction and what we promote.