The Element of Job Ads That Is Most Important (And Often Forgotten)

We’ve all seen (and maybe even written) those job ads that make it sound as though the staff is a sunny, smiling crew and the environment is full of high-fives and atta-boys. You know – those job descriptions that make it sound as though you’d practically pay for the privilege of walking through the door and being part of the team? Staff discounts, tuition assistance, team building….all can be yours if you’re the candidate lucky enough to be selected for the job.

In a way, it makes sense. You believe in your business. You’ve built it, and you know that it’s work worth doing. The trouble, though, is that employee retention is important, and if you’ve painted an unrealistic picture of what it’s like to work for you, then you run the risk of higher staff turnover. If you’ve mistakenly attracted candidates who aren’t even remotely qualified, then your ad hasn’t really yielded the desired results. It’s expensive to hire and train staff, and you want to work hard to find, hire, and retain good employees. Believe it or not, what you write in an ad can make a big difference in your retention rate. Here’s the secret…..

Use the vaccination technique. Rather than filling your ad with all of the wonderful things about the position you’re filling, do just the opposite. List all of the difficult and challenging aspects of the job. Think it sounds crazy? Here’s how it works: Let’s say that you need to fill a manufacturing position. You look at the troubles that previous employees have had and you list the obstacles that might prevent the wrong applicant from successfully completing the work. You’re up front and clear about what you’re looking for: a candidate who can stand for a twelve-hour shift and complete repetitive tasks. You clearly convey that you want someone tough enough to do the job properly.

You may be thinking that you’ll get far fewer applicants for your position, and you’re absolutely right. But here’s the key: The applicants you get will be the right ones. They’ll be informed. They’ll be qualified. They’ll be more likely to be competent for this specific position, and they’ll be much more likely to stick around longer. Think of it this way – you don’t need a hundred applicants for a position; what you need is the right applicants. The vaccination technique lets you sift out the candidates who wouldn’t be the right fit anyway. You don’t have to interview them, train them, or replace them when they don’t work out.

Let’s look at another example. You’re hiring for a weekend bartender for your restaurant. Now everyone thinks that being a bartender is the most fun job in the world, right? What’s not to love? Booze, food, people having fun…that’s what novices think the job’s all about. But you’ve seen those folks come and go over the years, and you know what you want in your new bartender. You want a professional, experienced, creative, serious bartender who knows the ropes. How do you find that person? You run an ad that clearly spells out that there will be: late nights, heavy lifting (a half keg weighs about 160 lbs, for those of you who didn’t know,) meticulous cleaning, difficult customers with pain-in-the-ass requests, and really busy holidays that will have to be worked. You’ve just weeded out all of the dilettantes who can’t make anything other than a rum and coke, and your frank ad will appeal to the professionals who’ll look at your ad and know that they’re the person for the job.

You vaccinate your applicants, knowing that the ones who make it through to the interview stage are far more likely to work out in the long run. Now I can’t claim all the credit for this technique; Dan and Chip Heath’s book, Decisive, had a real impact on me. Their overall point is not that we can ever become the perfect decision maker, but that we can become better, more deliberate decision makers. Taking steps to ensure that the folks you interview for a position are the most likely to be qualified gives you better options. Better options nearly always yield better results. If finding and retaining good staff is a challenge, then increase your odds of success by giving yourself a pool of candidates who understand the challenges of your business and are willing to help you succeed.


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