How to write a job ad that gets great applicants? Here’s what job-seekers have to say

by Rachel Smith
26 November 2021

Job ads generally fall into three camps – the good, the could-be-better and the ones that make us run screaming from our computer screens. The Rachel’s List team really HAS seen it all. We know it’s not always easy to write a job ad that gets results, but there are things you can do to ensure it’ll get more eyeballs and applications coming your way.

Of course, we all want to see ads that give us the kind of butterflies you get on a hot date. There are job-posters out there who tick all the boxes – they pay well, trust an applicant’s portfolio, don’t ask for free content AND they reply to every applicant. Even those who haven’t made the short list.

And job-seekers talk. During the pandemic, there was a lot of discussion about job-posters at our Facebook Gold group.

This group is a lovely little goldmine (see what I did there) of opinions and ideas – by the kind of people you’d be mad NOT to hire. And they often tell us what makes them want to throw their CV on the table and scream, ‘Pick me goddammit’ when they see a good gig or job hit our jobs board.

So we threw out a survey to the industry on bad job ads. We asked all the questions. What kind of jobs and gigs our job-seekers look for. What’s important to them in a job ad. What makes them want to run a mile.

We got hundreds of replies. Even more comments. All up, we had well over 300 job-seekers respond from across the industry, which is a small sample, but still offers the kinds of insights that’ll make your ad get noticed.

Here are nine of the biggest things that came up.

1. Remote or flexible work is super important to job-seekers right now

Remote jobs make up an estimated 15 percent of job ads globally right now. At Rachel’s List it’s often a lot higher than that (which we love!) Most of the respondents in our survey (88.5 percent) said they were looking for freelance gigs or projects.

We asked job-seekers what was most important to them in a job ad and for 43 percent of respondents, flexibility / remote working was top of the pops. Luckily, we’re seeing a lot of job-posters start to offer this across the board, which is great.

When we asked why flexibility was so important, 39 percent said they needed it in order to work and juggle family commitments, while 16 percent said it was the way of the world now. Plus, we say it to job-posters all the time: offering a remote or flexible option enables you to widen the talent pool of job-seekers available to you – including those in regional areas. 

Said one survey respondent: “Flexibility makes me more productive, helps my time management, lets me juggle my other interests and it’s the way of the future.”

We’ve got to agree.

2. Covid is still having an impact when it comes to on-site roles

Again, it’s pretty clear to the RL team that Covid has changed the mindset of many who may have been happy to go into an office before.

Over half our respondents (53 percent) said they’d scroll on by if a job or gig needed someone to work on-site.

That said, 29 percent said they’d apply, but try to negotiate a flexible working arrangement, and just 11 percent said they’d apply, even if it wasn’t their preferred mode of working.

Some did comment that they’d be happy to do a mixture of on-site and off-site, while others said they’re prepared to be on-site for short gigs.

“I’m more than happy to work on-site but I’d like to know why. If it means my day will be filled with meetings, that’s a red flag.

3. Being paid decent rates is a biggie for job-seekers

Around 41 percent of survey respondents wanted to work for clients and employers who paid fair, market rates. And fair enough.

Where does that come in when writing your ad? Well, 73 percent of respondents said transparency was extremely important to them, with 38 percent saying they probably wouldn’t apply for a role if the job-poster wasn’t transparent about money.

“Salary range or pay rates are important, otherwise you’re just wasting everyone’s time,” said another.

And a third added, “In my experience, nobody who wants to pay you properly is cagey about it.” Ouch.

4. Ads that want senior experience but pay peanuts are a red flag

Budgets are tight for many companies right now, but this is an important insight when investing in recruitment – you want to make the job spec match the salary.

Around 60 percent of respondents from our survey said they’d give a job ad a wide berth if it wanted 3-5 years experience or senior / mid-level experience, but the pay rates or salary were at a junior level.

“Nothing beats applying for a dream role only to find they’ve budgeted for a salary you were on 10 years ago… as a junior!” wrote one survey respondent. 

5. Shoe-horning multiple jobs into one ad scares job-seekers off

The biggest turn-off in an ad? For 77 percent of survey respondents, it’s the ‘unicorn’ job posting – where the job wants a candidate with an almost mythical laundry list of specific skills and experience. 

“Don’t give an impossible list of requirements such as editing, writing, social media skills, advanced video editing, marketing and drone flying. The drone flying was the last straw in a recent ad.”

For a bit of crossover, it came up quite a few times in the survey that the job spec was doable for one person.

If you’re ever not sure about this when posting a job or gig, always get in touch with us for advice.

6. Applicants want a reply – even if they’re not successful

Yep, we get it. It takes time, and you’d rather just reply to the short-listed candidates, right? 

But replying to candidates is something we urge all job-posters to do – even if you use a stock standard email. It shows respect and gives closure to job-seekers who may have put a lot of time and effort into applying for your job or gig. It also makes your company / brand look better.

“Replies don’t have to be involved (although feedback would be amazing!) Simply say, ‘Sorry you didn’t get it, we had 438 applications’,” said one survey respondent.  

Not surprisingly, 89 percent of job-seekers say a response of some kind is really important to them. “We’re all busy,” said one survey respondent, “and it’s only good manners to send a reply, even if it’s a proforma ‘this position has been filled, thanks anyway’ email.”

“Try to put a mechanism in place to circle back to those who’ve taken their time to apply,” suggested another. 

7. Asking for an unpaid test is a gamble, but paid might be okay

Would job-seekers do an unpaid test? For 64 percent, it would depend on the test – and how much they wanted the job, but 28 percent would scroll on by if the job involved an unpaid test.

“I’ve done this as part of an interview process and they gained all my knowledge and suggestions for no money – AND I didn’t get the job. Really bad form,” wrote one respondent.

Quite a few respondents mentioned how they felt unpaid (or paid) tests were a way of job-posters getting content, and they were dubious about that.

Said another: “I’d consider a very small, short amount of time on a required test where it was clearly a test of my skills, not a way of the poster gathering free content.”

If you offered a paid test, though, a whopping 85 percent of respondents said they’d do it, but they’d prefer not to.

“I would [do a paid test] but I prefer not to. I’m a copywriter and my writing samples are on my website. I just don’t have time to do tests!”

Another added, “Too much hassle – sending the invoice, chasing the payment. Couldn’t be bothered. I’d rather they looked at my CV and published work.”

Over and over, we heard the same thing: the person’s CV and published work should be enough for a job-poster.

And to be honest, we tend to agree.

8. The right benefits can really add value to your perm job ad

Hiring for a perm role? Just under 30 percent of respondents said they were looking for perm jobs, so the demand is there. And in terms of data, we’re back to flexibility here: remote working options were key for 91 percent.

A supportive company culture was next in line, followed closely by opportunities for ongoing training and upskilling.

The chance for promotion and career growth – and an easy to get to location – also scored highly.

And – no surprises here – a dedication to hygiene and Covid-safe policies made the cut too.

9. Making job ads clear and straightforward is important

At Rachel’s List, we spend a lot of time negotiating with job-posters and tweaking or completely re-writing their ads (if requested). When you see so many ads go by, you get a sense of what works.

So we weren’t surprised that survey respondents said they’d scroll on by if the ad was waffley, had an overwhelming or misleading job spec, was ‘clothed in corporate speak’ or OTT about the job or gig. 

“Writers don’t want to read a soliloquy about finding the best wording wizard who lives for grammar and turns everyday moments into storytelling magic,” said one survey respondent.

“We’re used to being briefed, re-briefed, writing essays, headlines, scripts and slogans. We manage multiple deadlines and clients all at once. So when it comes to job ads, I think most of us just want something super clinical and straightforward that speaks to ACTUAL incentives and benefits and reflects why the job is an opportunity we’d want to pursue.”

If you often struggle to write a job ad that gets results, we hope these insights have been useful to you.

Rachel Smith

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