Recruitment & Hiring

How crappy recruitment ads trigger an eight-step spiral into disillusionment

Ian Whitworth /

Scene Change co-founder and Motivation for Sceptics blogger Ian Whitworth. Source: Supplied.

You’re a vibrant, motivated business person, and you’re going to get unrivalled take-home value from reading this.

Woah, what’s going on, Ian? This is not your normal tone, you’re weirding me out.

Sorry, I’ve just been reading through a pile of recruitment ads. They put a rainbows and sparkles filter on the world of work, a shower of jacked-up adjectives that are a triumph of hope over reality.

Few things are as effective as recruitment ads in setting everyone involved up for disappointment.

Here’s a job I know of in a company that has a history of:

  • Management by random impulse;
  • Employee humiliation;
  • Backward technology;
  • Active suppression of staff innovation; and
  • Bottom-of-the-barrel remuneration.

‘Are you a dynamic team leader who can deliver next-level outcomes with a group of passionate, results-driven sales staff? You’ll be proactive and meticulous, with outstanding planning and communication skills, going above and beyond.’ (It goes on but we’ll leave it there.)

Dynamic. Next-level. Passionate. Meticulous. I have never employed or worked for a single person who delivers all those things, and thank god, because they would be insufferable. If I had to write a review of my own work as an employee I’d say: ‘He worked hard, had a few good ideas, and generally did the best job he could. And that was enough.’

There’s an inverse law of workplace quality, where the more they describe the company as corporate nirvana, the more uninspiring the place actually is. No ‘passionate’ individual would last more than a few weeks at the company that ran that ad.

The eight-step spiral into disillusionment

All that self-basting exaggeration sets up expectations that can’t be delivered. New hires turn up all shiny and keen, ready to change the world, and they get pitched into the whirlpool of descending reality.

And right there you’ve set up the grim vibe that inhabits so many companies, particularly large ones. When most of your staff are somewhere between phases five and eight, your customers can sense it.

So your beautiful marketing cruise ship gets dashed against the rocks of service indifference. It’s a complete waste of all that money.

Your recruitment ads would work better long-term if you used more realism and less sugar frosting.

The art of self-selecting copywriting

And wouldn’t it be better if your recruitment ads were a bit more self-selecting? So they spoke more directly to the specific people you want? And they weeded out people who don’t suit the gig, so they don’t bother applying?

It brings me to the best recruitment ad ever written. The ad you run when you need polar explorers tough enough to leave their families for five years, lose most of their comrades down crevasses, eat their own dogs and, if they’re lucky, get back with one or two fingers unclaimed by frostbite.

It’s a great ad, the ultimate in self-selection, and thus legendary in advertising circles for the lessons it passes down.

The only problem being the ad almost certainly never existed. Such a shame. Seems like it was written later by someone saying what they thought Shackleton would have said.

So it’s a century-ago version of those too-good-to-be-true LinkedIn recruitment anecdotes.

Source: @StateOfLinkedIn on Twitter.

But those self-selection principles still stand.

Side note: this entire blog is an exercise in self-selection. People who are thinking about doing business stuff with me read it, and I’m pretty certain half of them think: ‘This is too loose for us, let’s not arrange that meeting.’ The ones that do dig it aren’t in any doubt about where we stand. So it saves a heap of meetings with white shirt PowerPoint jockeys.

We recently advertised for an operations manager for our Brisbane office. We weren’t looking for someone who’s done that job for years, but rather, someone who saw it as their next career step.

Hence the opening line: “You are probably an AV tech wizard, but frankly, you’ve had enough of sitting up the back of hotel ballrooms playing Pharrell’s Happy.”

No disrespect to Pharrell for what is a great song. But anyone in that job knows the Groundhog Day vibe of sitting at the back of a dark room, at conference after conference, hitting ‘play’ on Happy until you want to cauterise your own ears.

So the ad instantly says: ‘We understand your life.’ Without actually using those words.

And a dose of realism: “It’s AV. The work will be hard and on occasions, the hours weird. Our whole team has each others’ backs, without the sales versus operations shenanigans that can make your life difficult in other places.”

Good bits seem much more realistic when they’re balanced with realistic not-so-good bits.

If you’re open about some parts of the job being difficult, it’s much more likely you run a business that cares about making those bits better. Rather pretending they don’t exist, as a lot of places do.

Do fewer interviews

Hopefully, we’ll do fewer interviews with better people.

And right upfront people have a sense of our company vibe, which is incredibly important in keeping your culture the way you want it.

Every point of contact is your chance to be different from your competitors, and when your staff are a big part of your brand, why wouldn’t you start with your recruitment ads? Why not let your marketing copywriters get involved, rather than some HR drone with no persuasion skills?

If your recruitment ads can’t instantly show you’re different from other businesses, you have more work to do. Not just on your recruitment ads, but in your entire concept of why your business exists.

And as those recruitment ads are increasingly written by auto-populate apps and AI (you guessed it, the results are ‘perfect’) and thus will all be exactly the same, here’s your chance to stand out with your human touch.

So you can attract better people who actually get it. How good would that be?

This article was first published on Motivation for Sceptics. Read the original article.

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Ian Whitworth

Ian Whitworth is a reformed branding and advertising creative director turned entrepreneur, who co-founded corporate audiovisual company Scene Change.

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