How to Write a Job Ad: Best Practices and Tips

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If you’re wondering how to write a job ad, you’re not alone. It’s an inexact science that comes as part of the job for recruiters or human resources professional. Those who do write the perfect job ad only often do after trial and error – writing a job ad that doesn’t work, tweaking it, refining and then improving. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all job ad or template that works for every job, industry or company, but there are strategies and tips to follow that can help you attract the best candidates through writing a job ad.

“While we hope that writing an employment ad will magically attract only perfect candidates, that isn’t typically the case,” says Twin Cities HR consultant Arlene Vernon, President of HRx and a speaker and small business advisor on all things human resources. “I agree with writing an ad that matches your branding, is engaging and sells the company. But most important is that you write an ad that honestly and clearly describes the opportunity to prospective candidates. The ad needs to attract them to you but if there’s no substance to the posting, if they can’t understand the responsibilities after reading the ad, and if it’s too broadly written you won’t attract the right people. The objective is to write an ad where the reader says ‘this is exactly what I’m looking for and qualified to do.'”

If you’re posting an online job ad with unlimited length, Vernon recommends including a bulleted “soft” version of the job description.

It should include the primary tasks in understandable terms so readers can decide if it’s the right position for them. She also recommends being very clear on what qualifications you want the candidate to have. If it’s an entry level position or only requires 2+ years of experience, clearly state that. The same applies if you’re seeking 10+ years of experience. An ad that’s too generic, will attract candidates who are too generic – and that wastes everyone’s time.

“Make sure the ad title isn’t your internal company jargon,” says Vernon. “Create a title that tells the candidate what the job is. People are attracted to what they understand and can relate to.”

Many employers require items such as cover letters, work samples, and salary requirements. If it is relevant to the position, include that required info in the job ad, says Vernon. For example, for a job ad for an administrative position that involves writing, Vernon would require a cover letter.

“I have clients who do not consider applicants who can’t follow instructions and omit the cover letter,” says Vernon. “But that’s up to you. The cover letter can help you assess writing skills as well as acquire more information.”

It’s really important that the job ad is very clear about how candidates should apply and what is required for the application, says Susan Heathfield, Human Resources Expert for about.com.

“If an applicant fails to follow instructions, their application is not a valid application,” says Heathfield (@SusanHeathfield) .

It is also important that an employer’s fundamental requirements like education and experience are shared. This is how the employer will review applications to set up interviews.

“Beyond that, the ad should attempt reflect the company’s culture, and attempt to attract the types of candidates the company wants to hire,” says Heathfield. “It should mention perks and benefits. But the fundamental excitement of the ad must describe a great company, a great job and the commitment the employer has to develop employees.”

One way to analyze job ad is to look at the ads your competitors are writing for similar positions within your organization? What do you like? What would you change? Does it spark new ideas to include in your ads? Evaluate their ads and borrow/tweak accordingly to strengthen your ad.

Writing a job ad is one more reflection of a company culture and brand, says Elizabeth Laukka (@elizabethlaukka), a recruiter specializing in placing advertising, public relations and digital professionals.

“If it’s an ad for a job within the creative industry, be creative,” says Laukka. “If the company or job is more serious and buttoned up, the ad should reflect that.”

Some job advertisements read like apartment ads, says Laukka. There can be hidden meanings behind the language. For example, a “garden level apartment” can mean “basement”. And “dynamic, energetic environment” can mean “constantly changing, perhaps chaotic.” Or “entrepreneurial setting” can mean “very little structure and candidate should be ok being self-directed.”

“Every company wants to portray itself in the best light and use euphemistic words and at the same time capture their company’s strengths and challenges,” says Laukka. “So when writing a description I make sure candidates know what they are applying for and that our descriptions are attracting the right culture fit which is so important when hiring.”

Laukka recommends having a description of the company up front, such as the history, size and compelling reasons one would want to join the organization. That gives a nice backdrop as it leads into the job description, and any language around the company’s mission, values, awards won and nonprofits they support can also be helpful to promoting the company, culture and values.

Help a candidate know the priorities and values of a company and assess whether it’s a match with their own values and interests, says Laukka.

“As you can see, there’s no one single correct answer to this question,” says Vernon. “So apply what makes sense to you. And if your ad doesn’t bring in the candidates you’re seeking, update the ad and see if you get a better response.”

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