Mark Hammer

Job ads have several functions. One is certainly to outline what is formally required to qualify. Another is to convey the hiring manager’s and organization’s needs and priorities. Another is to attract candidates such that the hiring manager has a bigger talent pool to select from. And still another is to allow potential applicants to self-screen out, and make processing the remaining applicants a more efficient, and less time-consuming, affair.

That latter bit strikes me as being the part that has the least attention paid to it. Not that I wish to chase people away, but a great many job ads are a bit like horoscopes in that a great many people can read too much into them, and think they are suitable. In some instances that can result in attracting applicants who resemble those American Idols applicants that believe they are possessed with “immense talent”. In other instances, it can result in attracting applicants that might meet the qualifications but end up being immensely unhappy in that job, and either soon leave or experience a significant drop in the value they add to the organization. Both of these add to staffing time.

Hiring is fundamentally match-making, and something which provides as much risk to the manager as to the candidate. As such, the job ad needs to be one which allows the potential candidate latitude and choice by presenting what the job actually entails. We surveyed some 30k public servants and asked them how well the actual job requirements matched the ad. Naturally, only those who were successful in the competition received that question. About 2/3 thought it was a very good match, 2-3% thought it didn’t correspond at all, and the remainder thought there was a modest correspondance. When the respondent was already working in government (as opposed to being in school or working outside government), a larger share thought the job ad and job matched quite well. When the respondent had been working in government for a longer time (e.g., 20+ years vs 2 yrs or less), they were more likely to say the job ad and job matched well.

What I draw from this is that job ads can often provide “code” which is easily discernible by some, but less so by others. In other words, the job ad does not stand on its own to convey what the job actually entails, in terms of duties, tasks, projects, desirable and undesirable challenges.

For me, the take-home message is that job ads need to reflect the mindset of the applicant a little more, and the mindset of the hiring manager and HR advisor a little less. If they’re going to work for you for a long time, then they need to want the job, and select it above all others, for all the right reasons, and you have to make those readily apparent.