Attracting Your Dream Hire: How to Write a Winning Job Ad

Written by
Emily Tobey

Mar 19, 2020

Mar 19, 2020 • by Emily Tobey

Odds are your ad for a job in the humanities will attract plenty of applicants. The key is attracting the applicants you want: the best, most qualified people in the field. Here are some tips on what to do and what not to do when advertising your job within or beyond the university.

The Hook: Writing a Job Ad Title to Optimize Views

  • Use familiar and specific language to describe the position. This isn’t the place to get creative. You want your job to show up in searches and the right people to see it, so make your title keyword-friendly. 

Effective title:  Marketing Content Writer 

Ineffective title:  Experienced Writer for Promotional Materials 

  • Don’t leave them guessing: Candidates should know from the title alone if your job is one they want to know more about.

Effective title: English Department Chair

Ineffective title:  Department Chair

Getting Job Seekers to Read beyond the Job Title

  • Before they do or don’t settle into the details of your ad, job seekers will quickly scan it for points of interest. Instead of a wall of text in paragraph form, use subheadings and bulleted lists to make scanning easy.
  • Speaking of lists, people love them! You will draw the reader’s eye, break up content, and keep people interested with information relayed in list form. But don’t overdo it! A list of three to six items is great, but thirty bullet points are counterproductive.

Fourteen Seconds

  • Fourteen seconds is how long the average job seeker spends reviewing a job description before they decide to apply or not. Make your job description distinctive so that it stands out from the crowd. When composing your ad, keep in mind your ideal candidate and what would make that person excited to work at your company or institution.
  • Use real language and not jargon or boilerplate phrases. Don’t copy and paste a job description from internal documents. You’re not addressing the search committee; you are trying to attract and engage your ideal applicant. Pique that person’s interest.
  • Don’t lead with a long list of qualifications and requirements. Do concisely describe the job using candidate-focused language. For example, instead of “The successful candidate will demonstrate the ability to work in a collaborative environment” try “As a colleague, you’ll enjoy working in close community with our exceptional staff.”
  • Communicate why this position is a great opportunity and why your organization is a great place to work. Describe your company or institution and its mission. Help candidates envision the impact their work will have. And highlight any benefits or perks of this job. 

Don’t Induce Heartburn

  • Communicating required and preferred qualifications, job responsibilities, and instructions for applying is important, but it can be done without boring, or worse, losing your reader. Don’t make this section a laundry list of everything you can think of! 
  • Use headings and bulleted lists, and eliminate anything that isn’t critical to this first round of the hiring process. You can elaborate and inquire in the next round and in interviews with your top choices. 
  • You can also direct readers to a Web site or other linked material if they would like more information, and keep the personal touch: “Does this sound like the perfect fit for you? More information about us and what we are looking for can be found here.”

Last but Not Least

  • Your ad should be a lot shorter than this blog post! Short job ads (around 300 words) tend to do much better than long ones.
  • Don’t put your ad out in the universe before having a few people read and proofread it! Get feedback on readability, accuracy, and possible typos that inevitably rear their ugly heads when one is rushing to get something out there.

If you scan job listing sites, you’ll see that most ads are written in long paragraph form, often in blocks of copied and pasted text. Very few ad writers even bother to use boldface subheadings to differentiate sections. Bulleted lists are often exceedingly long. The language in most ads sounds almost identical to every other ad, and the person doing the hiring wonders why they’re not getting the response they want from the candidates they want. Fortunately, this makes it easier to stand out. Take time to craft your ad using the tips above, and your dream candidates will be knocking down your door!