Hello! I’m Aaron Gertler, and I’ve spent the last six months looking at hundreds of job postings on Yale University’s career site. Some of them were awesome; many were awful.
In the first part of this post, I examined common mistakes companies make when trying to hire students. This post is much happier: I’ll be looking at the common traits of my favorite job postings, and explaining how companies can use them to improve their hiring process!
Of course, I’m not the first person to write about this stuff, and others have done it better. If you’d like to read the best articles I’ve seen on writing job postings, jump to the references.
These are all things I’ve spotted in at least one job listing that seem like very good ideas. I’m not sure why more companies don’t use them.
1. Explain what applicants will be doing if they get hired
Specific details are always important. But this is especially true for hiring college students — most of whom have little or no experience working “real jobs”.
Telling me that I will be “working on a myriad of diverse implementations with far-reaching implications” doesn’t help me form a picture in my head of what the job will be. If I can’t form a picture in my head, I’m less likely to care about the job.
If you instead say something like: “You’ll be talking to doctors and helping them learn to use the software that our company makes, while also customizing the software for each hospital’s specific needs”, the students reading your job application will be much happier.
Another way to do this is to assign applicants problems to solve, or miniature projects to submit alongside their applications. Khan Academy does a great job of this, especially their “content writer” postings. When I read a job listing that asks me to submit an article explaining how the Pythagorean Theorem works, I have a good sense of what I’ll be doing in the job, and I’m more likely to stick with the position if I apply and get accepted.
2. Explain the day-to-day lives of current employees doing this job
This is very common on companies’ websites, but not in their job postings. Why not?
Check out this Harvard Business School page on their website for hiring Research Associates. Two associates tell their stories in a paragraph each: They aren’t especially detailed, but they still help me picture what it would be like to work at HBS.
3. Explain your dealbreakers
Every company has some filters set up to remove certain applicants from the playing field. That’s fine. But tell applicants what those filters are, so that they don’t waste hours applying only to be turned away by a robot.
- Don’t just say “great GPA” — if you filter out anyone whose GPA is lower than a specific number, give that number. Same for SAT scores or keywords on resumes.
- Does the person applying have to speak a certain language, or be authorized to work in a certain country? Put that fact at the very top of the application. You’ll eliminate many more candidates by saying “you must be fluent in German” than by saying “you must be a good problem-solver”.
4. Explain why your company is unique
Almost every company I see explains how “fun” their offices are, and how much they care about “work-life balance”. Eventually, that all fades into white noise. I want to know what makes you different from other companies.
Often, this is the kind of thing candidates hear during final-round interviews. For example, I didn’t realize until late in the interview process that Epic gives nearly every employee a private office. I almost didn’t apply to Epic, but knowing that detail would have made me much more excited about doing so.
Another example: Bridgewater Associates runs a completely honest office. Employees are encouraged to give each other huge amounts of feedback, positive and negative. This environment is paradise for some people — and hell on earth for others. Bridgewater is not shy about admitting that not everyone will like the unique aspects of their system. Because of this, they spend less time interviewing applicants who won’t be a good fit.
5. Study companies that are good at hiring people
This technique is most applicable to young, small companies, but anyone can benefit from it.
One good measure of how well a company hires is the happiness of its employees — if they love the company, the company was right to choose them.
Dropbox has perhaps the highest Glassdoor rating of any large company, and they have a beautiful job website. I especially like the “employee stories” (see #2, above) and the use of specific verbs in the job listing. No “working on myriad implementations” here — instead, we’re “tracking”, “reporting”, and “responding”. These listings aren’t perfect, but they’d make a good template for any company.
Other companies I’d examine:
- Google (extravagant, welcoming)
- Whole Foods (minimalist, detailed)
- Epic (the company I will be working for soon)
- Just about any of FORTUNE’s 100 Best Companies To Work For (they won’t all be good, but some will be fantastic examples)
Finally, I’d like to suggest an exercise you can work through with other members of the HR team:
Get together and think about some recent candidates you did or didn’t hire. What were the things you spoke about amongst yourselves when making that decision? Was it one candidate’s low GPA? The way another candidate was a clear speaker and didn’t say “um” very often?
Not every one of these traits can be added to a formal job posting. Still, recalling how you actually chose to hire or reject a candidate might help you get a clearer sense of what information you want in a cover letter, or which people you really want clicking the “submit resume” button.
Advanced tactics for finding the RIGHT candidates (my favorite line: “If half the people reading the job description can imagine themselves to be qualified, your inbox will be full within hours.”)