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Why Your Job Posts Are Preventing Great Hires

September 5, 2017

My unscientific observation: more than half of the time I see an employee underperform, I believe the match was doomed from the beginning. 

It often comes down to two key issues: poor role design (a topic for another day) and/or an inferior candidate pool. That inferior pool is often the result of an underwhelming job post. Let's explore.

Good 'nuff

Hiring decisions are often (incorrectly) made on a relative rather than absolute basis. This means they pick from the best of the applicants at hand, and move on: similar concepts to what economists call satisficing and mathematicians call local maxima. Small teams and organizations are particularly susceptible to this as they're often hiring the first, second or third instances of a role -- as opposed to large orgs with dozens or hundreds -- and lack the expertise and pattern matching to measure fit on a more absolute scale.

Therefore, when the pool isn't filled with amazing candidates, the role often gets filled anyway, and the hiring manager may never even know it. A particular candidate stood out from all the rest, and this presented the illusion of fit.

So what role do job posts play in the substance of that talent pool? They are the marketing funnel through which that pool is filled. 

There are obviously many ways to impact that pool: passive recruiting, adding sourcing channels, network node tapping, etc. But let's focus today on the job post.

Who's marketing to whom?

Let's think about the job seeker user experience for a second. Any look at a job board or job aggregator will show an endless stream of 'opportunities' (I use that world loosely). None of the major platforms have ever been able to significantly improve the searching process for a job seeker, so there's still a lot of hunting. And reading. And clicking. It's a low signal-to-noise ratio.

Additionally, in most markets, openings outnumber good candidates (let alone great candidates). Unless you have a clear hiring advantage -- an amazing brand, world-class colleagues, huge pay premiums -- then this supply / demand imbalance poses a disadvantage for you as the employer. But too often this realization doesn't manifest in the recruiting effort.

A job post is a marketing piece in every sense of the word. The job of marketing is to sell. The obstacle here is that most businesses have the sale conceptually backwards: the job opening is a gift to the labor market, and great workers should pitch their goods.

Here's the reality: You are selling a role and you want great candidates to buy. 
Ignore this at your own peril.

The key here is to really believe this (we're not talking about the famous Dead Sea tupperware in Aladdin) and bake that mindset into the recruiting process from the get-go.

Information Asymmetry

When the PC market was first making the push into mainstream houses across the country, the selling criteria were a mish-mash of mHz and kilobytes. (I still remember the CircuitCity rep downselling us to the 129MB harddrive IBM PS2, because we "couldn't possibly ever need 179MB of hard disk space"). The difference between the many components were often opaque to most consumers, who couldn't really balance the trade-offs of RAM or GPU with the extra cost.

Intel Inside was a brilliant marketing campaign for many well-documented reasons, rocketing a supplier of a tiny component of the overall system to a position of superior value capture in the PC supply chain, but a key reason was that it offered consumers a way to cut through the noise. Intel Inside became a signal of quality.

Let's assume for a second that the role is already well-designed and presents a solid opportunity. The reality is that all the great things about your company, your team, the role and its potential that you know — the whole kit-n-kaboodle — is largely invisible to the job seeker. You have a few seconds to capture their interest, to motivate them to read deeper, and to earn consideration in their eyes. And the better the candidate, the higher that threshold of interest is.

In design and product management work, there is a great deal of emphasis on the user. Understanding the user journey, her pain points, her context, her feelings. Everything that falls in the bucket of 'customer experience' and 'empathy'.

To reduce that information asymmetry, you need to signal quality in a way that matches the user's needs. Job seekers aren't out looking for a laundry list of qualifications. They don't get jazzed reading a dozen daily tasks. Your internal acronyms and pleadings for 'self-starters' and 'fast-learners' are better at getting eye rolls than quality applications.

Job posts to upgrade that candidate pool

Let's bring this full circle with how you can quickly improve your job posts.

Step 1: Flip your marketing mindset

Internalize who's selling to who in the recruiting process. Again: You are selling a role and you want great candidates to buy. This mental shift means you won't take candidate quality and volume for granted anymore. If you don't believe this, the rest is doomed.

Step 2: Become your user

Go through the exercise of pretending to be a qualified candidate. No, aim higher: a great candidate, already happily employed elsewhere. What would that person want to see in a role to classify it as a career opportunity? This will have one of two results: 

1) You'll realize it's not a career opportunity for quality folks, and you'll need to rethink the role design. This means a lot more work, but it's better now than later.

2) You'll see specific growth opportunities and challenges that would excite that candidate, and this will be the start of your job post.

Step 3: Focus on outcomes

Good performers are goal-driven (and great ones are systems-focused to get to those goals). Rather than micromanage in advance with a mundane list of tasks, your job post should focus on the outcomes of excellence in the role. What does the successful product launch look like? After a year what does great division growth look like? It's the framing of the work and the allowance for the candidate's own expertise creativity that will stand out from the crowd.

There are many moving parts and tough work in hiring great people. But with these three concepts, you'll hopefully be able to write job posts in a new, empowered way.

Chris Rosenbaum
Chris has long focused on unlocking the potential of people in organizations. His experience includes a variety of start-up and corporate leadership posts, many in the field of education, with more recent roles ranging from M&A work to COO of a marketing firm.