UB op-ed: Job ads that attract the best and brightest

Effective employment notices should tell a story
By: | Issue: April/May, 2019
April 11, 2019

Carol Patton writes about human resources issues.

Wanted: Job ads that help attract top talent by sharing a school’s story about its mission, values, culture and the people it serves.
Such ads are talent magnets. Job candidates want employers to pull back the curtain. What is it like to work at the school? How will my contributions make a difference? Will I fit in?

Grab attention

“There’s a lot of precious real estate wasted in job descriptions,” says Cheryl Naumann, chief HR officer at the University of Phoenix. “We need to learn some things from the journalism industry about headline writing. We’re not particularly good at grabbing attention early on.”
Naumann says the university is refreshing its job descriptions by replacing tired, dated language with “higher value” phrases.

For example, a recently published ad for a social media copywriter asked: “Have you ever come up with a killer headline in the shower? Do followers think your tweets are pretty sweet? Is video your secret vice?”

This job description contributed to a 40 percent increase in qualified applicants.
Short videos will soon be embedded in job ads to help generate excitement, says Naumann.

Too often, job descriptions look alike regardless of the position. An ad for a software developer should be different from an ad for an admissions counselor. “People look for purpose-driven organizations,” Naumann says. “If applicants understand what they’d be contributing to, that builds great excitement.”

By understanding a job’s contribution to the school mission, individuals will be more motivated to apply.

Promote a lifestyle

Some ads describe a typical day on the job, which gives candidates a sense of school culture, says Carolyn Warfield, HR business partnership manager at Oregon State University.

Such ads are likely to include subtext. Take an ad that portrays someone who makes hiring decisions. By reading between the lines, applicants know that this individual also manages a staff.

Just as important, job ads need to reflect school brand and style. If your university or college is known for innovation, for instance, your job ads had better be creative.
“You can’t attract people based on job duties,” Warfield says. “People will spend less than 15 seconds looking at that ad. Think about what type of life you’re offering them.”

Emporia State University in Kansas includes a vision statement in some of its job ads so applicants understand how positions support the university and students, says Asher Delmott, a recruiter at the school.


Read: Engaging faculty throughout their careers


Younger workers want their jobs to matter. By connecting the dots for them, Delmott says, “They’ll think, ‘I want to be part of this university, which is doing great things.’”

Take a layered approach

In its effort to build a stronger, more diverse workforce, Coast Community College District in California consulted with the Center for Urban Education at the University of Southern California to create job descriptions that cite the diversity of the district’s staff and students, says Marco Baeza, vice chancellor of HR at the college district that hires 150 people each year.

Online job ads are peppered with links to other pages, such as one that describes what the applicant can expect from the interview and screening process.

Baeza says it’s a collaborative effort among HR, employment services and board members. “Highly qualified candidates have come forward. Our recruitment effort and job descriptions are now more aligned with the students we serve.”

Carol Patton writes about human resources issues.