I read job ads all day long — people send them to me, to make me smile or to make me weep or rage around my office breaking things. Heres what I dont understand about job ads:
If youre trying to hire someone to work in your company, you want someone pretty cool, right? You want someone whos smart and flexible and fun and creative. Not only do you need this person to solve big, hairy, expensive business problems, but you have to spend all day around this person, too.
So wouldnt you want, above all, to hire people who have great character — ethics and values and interests and priorities and a great sense of self? Dont you want people who are comfortable in their skin, wholl work together to make a great team and to get amazing things accomplished? Isnt that what every success story weve ever read or heard has been based on — the quality of the people on the team, whether its a winning sports team or a business team or a Broadway musical that sweeps the Tonys? Isnt that what were always talking about — our amazing teams?
How can a company expect to hire rock stars and ninjas when its very first communication to the so-called Talent Community is a hateful boilerplate list of a gazillion requirements that the successful candidate will possess? Do we really think that complex, amazing people come in bundled sets of particular skills and attributes, and that if someone walked into the company today and had all these bullet points in order, that person would necessarily also be the worlds greatest hire by virtue of also being smart and insightful and all the things we need from a person in business?
Can we delude ourselves that it works that way — that the endless list of bullet points will somehow add up, when it walks into our office in human form, to an amazing person who can untangle and solve our trickiest problems and lend his or her great insight and wisdom to our challenges? Can we keep lying to ourselves and our shareholders that way?
Isnt hiring and keeping amazing people pretty much the one thing a successful company cant afford to screw up?
So if Im right about any of that, then why in Gods name would employers run job ads like this one?:
Acme Explosives is actively seeking an experienced Application Architect to join
The candidate must be experienced with web, and server application software
design and development. The candidate will assist in the functional design,
oversight, analysis and development of custom-developed software as well as
integrating XLTS products into a complex and dynamic infrastructure. Duties will
• Provide architecture leadership for ongoing development and improvement of
distributed web/GIS software systems
• Collaborate with team members to design technical architectures and perform
• Develop standards and best practices
• Design, develop, enhance and maintain GIS applications using C, , Web
Services, SQL Server, Visual Studio and object oriented methodologies
• Interface with Enterprise Architecture team members to ensure compliance with
Enterprise Architecture technical guidelines
• Document architecture decisions and results as part of Software Development
• Bachelors degree in Computer Science or similar discipline is required
• 2-5 years of technical experience in application architecture, requirements
definition, business process analysis, or similar disciplines
• 8 yrs hands-on experience in web application development
• 5 yrs hands-on experience developing geospatial applications
• Excellent written and oral communication skills including the ability to
interface with various subject matter experts.
• Previous experience as a development lead or significant development team
• Demonstrated knowledge of GIS software tools
• Demonstrated experience incorporating web services into desktop and web
• Experience with Microsoft development environment, including .Net/C, SQL
Server 2005/2008, Windows Server 2003/2008 (R2), and Visual Studio.
• Experience with Service Oriented Architecture management tools and software
• Ability to create and maintain network infrastructure diagrams
• Experience with SQL Server spatial capabilities
• Experience with OSGeo MapServer development
• Experience designing for virtual configurations
• Experience with Bing Maps web services
• Working knowledge of ArcGIS Desktop
• Ability to determine how business and systems requirements are managed as
components within a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) framework
• Understanding of scalable deployment options (on-premises, cloud, hosted) for
custom and COTS software applications
• Familiarity with Federal government regulations and policies (SCH 119-4, CRR&-4,
Zircon-Encrusted Tweezer Spec $53X, Appliantology Reg 453-8J)
• Familiarity with Agile development methodologies, such as Scrum
• Familiarity with CodeBeamer or other collaboration tools
The successful candidate is subject to a background investigation by the
States government and must be able to meet the requirements to hold a position
This opportunity is available on my team. If you are interested please feel
Here is a job ad that gives the reader:
NO sense of what the project is about.
NO feel for why a smart person with options should consider this opportunity.
NO warmth or human feeling whatsoever.
NO insight into what challenges or learning were likely to get on the job.
NO confidence that if we apply for this position, well be treated like valued partners and co-collaborators.
Look at how the job ad begins: Acme Explosives is actively seeking… Most job ads start that way: We have an immediate need for… or We are actively seeking. Well, bully for you! As my husband says, You have a need? People in Hell need ice water. Who cares that you have a need? How about if you tell me, the candidate youre trying to hire, why this job is worth my time and energy to pursue? What, in other words, is in it for me?
This job ad isnt unusual — its depressingly typical. The worst part is that the person whos written this ad addresses the very person he or she is trying to hire IN THE THIRD PERSON.
Imagine that youre a marketer, and youre trying to sell Diet Pepsi to consumers. Would you write ads that say The person who will buy a Diet Pepsi will have attributes A, B and C. No! Youd speak to the target buyer directly. Youd say Man! Even though its winter, it sure gets hot in those stuffy offices. Sometimes a Diet Pepsi is just the thing to cool you down and give you that shot of caffeine that keeps you awake during boring staff meetings. Or maybe your boss is more electrifying than most?
Youd speak to the guy you are trying to reach. Thats the purpose of communication, as I understand it. When you write a job ad, youre hoping the the guy youre trying to hire (I use guy as a unisex term) is out there reading your ad. So why would you overtly and gratingly NOT speak to the exact guy youre targeting your ad toward, avoiding direct communication by using the danged third person form? The selected candidate — what? You mean ME, the guy whos reading this ad?
We drive talented people away from our companies with these hateful, bureaucratic job ads that sound like replicant battle drones wrote them.
You know what a job ad like this makes me think of?
It reminds me of the part inThe Silence of the Lambswhere the psycho
guy says to the girl in the hole, It will put lotion on itself, or it will get the hose. The psycho serial killer is trying to terrify and isolate the girl on the way to killing her (she lives, in the movie) and part of how he does that is by talking AT her instead of TO her. Thats what we do in these boilerplate job ads.
Its insanity! And employers complain that their job ads sit out there for months, with no qualified applicants. What a shocker! When we treat people like dirt starting with the very job ads weve written to attract people, we cant expect sharp candidates to come knocking.
Did you ever hear of a massively successful start-up or large company with terrified, wrung-out and browbeaten employees who skulk about in fear and fantasize about working elsewhere? Im betting you havent, because great companies dont hire robots and lemmings. But tons of companies write job ads like the one below, that scream Robots and Lemmings Please Apply! If you have enough mojo to imagine that your next best employer would bother to address you directly in a job ad or market to you or open the kimono one inch to tell you whats going on in the business or otherwise acknowledge your existence as a human being on this planet, youre not the right person for us!
We can do better. We can write friendly jobs using a human voice, the same way wed talk to our friends. Heres an example:
TELL YOUR FRIENDS I LAUNCHED THAT!: PROJECT MANAGER OPPORTUNITY AT ACME
There are all sorts of Project Managers, from people whose focus is the
product-development pipeline and the checklist, to folks who get excited about
the collaboration that a new product launch requires. Here at Acme Explosives, a
family-owned business and the second-largest stick dynamite manufacturer in the
U.S. (still manufacturing all of our products in this country, with no plans to
move) we view Project Management as a 50/50 mix of functional/technical
activities and listening, coaching and problem-solving ones. Our Project
Managers might have PM certification or not, but all of us have wonderful and
horrendous war stories about managing real projects and getting tremendous new
If youre someone who loves to get people excited about their piece in the
complex new-product-launch mix, whos fanatical for schedules and budgets but
can maintain a sense of humor no matter what level of chaos is going on around
you, talk to us about our Product Manager opportunity in our downtown Phoenix
facility. Read about us, our history and our culture at
and write to us at the link on that
page, telling us how your background and passion relate to what were doing, in
300 words or fewer. We promise to acknowledge every inquiry with a personal
response, because we have no robots currently working in our HR department.
At Acme Explosives, we value people for their rich histories and perspectives,
not just for their certifications and degrees and former employer brands or for
the buzzwords on their resumes. We love quirky candidates and believe that our
own only opportunity to win in the marketplace will come by hiring and keeping
the best people in the industry. If thats also your view, please give us a
I know that some fearful HR people will read this imaginary job ad and say Wed be deluged with resumes if we ran that ad, and we wouldnt be able to sort those 300-word essays with our wonderful keyword-searching algorithms.
For starters, if an employer is ever deluged with resumes for any job, that recruiting team has only itself to blame. Good marketing is always targeted. It matters a lot where we run our job ads (if we run them at all; Ill write a story on social marketing recruiting, before long.) If any literate person on your team who understands the job (thats critical) can invest a minute per resume to read the 300-word essays youve requested from each candidate, youll be able to do a first-screen WFC (thats wheat from chaff) split on the resumes without much trouble. Lots of people wont write the essay youve requested, so theyd fall by the wayside immediately. As for the essay assignment, youre going to be way better off getting the job-seekers take on his or her appetite for, perspective on and preparedness for the role through a 300-word paragraph than through any goofy keyword-matching exercise, I guarantee.
The era of soul-crushing, talent-hating job ads and mojo-repelling recruiting systems is coming to a close, and not a moment too soon. If youre in HR or Recruiting or a hiring manager yourself or if you know any of those folks, you can help your employer jump into the much more fun and stimulating arena where organizations go after talented people and snag them. Sorting and sifting and saying No thanks is no way to spend an hour, much less a whole career. Writing zombie job ads is a reasonable pastime for zombies — living humans can do better.
Speaker, writer, soprano and mom; founder, Human Workplace
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