Writing Job Postings for Adults

Posted January 31, 2013 by

MOOCs are massive open online courses. They’re the next big thing in higher education. They link hundreds, sometimes thousands of students in free educational programs offered on the Internet. What’s that have to do with recruiting? They’ve learned how to deliver content that adults will read.

Peter Weddle

Peter Weddle of Weddle’s

Tragically, job postings are often ignored by the very candidates recruiter most want to reach. That’s not a criticism, just a fact. Passive, high caliber talent has the attention span of a gnat, so getting them to focus on an opening isn’t easy.

Sometimes, however, we make grabbing their attention harder than it already is. How? It begins with our vocabulary.

We use language in our job postings that only an employer could love. Talking about a job’s “requirements and responsibilities” may be the way we’ve always described vacant jobs, but, in this case at least, tradition is a trap. People’s behaviors and preferences have evolved and so too must the job posting.

What do job seekers – and especially the passive top performers -most want to read in a job posting? They want to know “what’s in it for them.” That means the ad must answer five key questions:

  • What will they get to do?
  • What will they get to learn?
  • What will they get to accomplish?
  • With whom with they get to work?
  • How will they be recognized and rewarded?

Yes, those answers present a job’s requirements and responsibilities, but they do so from the candidate’s perspective. They provide information as candidates want it articulated, not as employers have traditionally presented it. They adhere to the most basic of consumer principles: always put yourself in the customer’s shoes.

But, here’s the rub. Even with the right vocabulary, a job posting is likely to remain unread, at least by the best talent. Why? Because more often than not, it’s presented in the wrong format.

The Handcuffs That Keep Adults Reading

MOOCs apply the latest research in adult learning to capture and hold the attention of tired, stressed, overworked and, occasionally, lazy adults. And, their completion rates – the number of people who successfully pass the end-of-course exam – is proof positive that students are actually reading and absorbing the content.

At the risk of trivializing some very sophisticated studies, the key concept MOOCs use in their content delivery is to format it in bite-sized pieces. It turns out that most adults – a population that includes active as well as passive job seekers – have the attention span of a gnat. Or, to put it in more general terms, adult minds tend to wander if not stimulated regularly.

For that reason, a MOOC lecture is interrupted every 15 minutes with a test of attention – an inquiry which forces students to absorb, think about and react to the content. And, job postings should be organized to do the same.

Every three paragraphs, a job posting should insert a test of attention – an inquiry that acts like a set of handcuffs on the reader. These inquiries should be carefully crafted to help the reader (a) better understand the information that’s being presented and (b) relate it to the answers they seek to those five key questions.

This format prevents the job seeker’s attention from wandering because they aren’t just reading the ad, they’re participating in it. They experience the content rather than simply being shown it. They are challenged by rather than spoken to, and that stimulates their interest, especially if they are high caliber talent.

Like resumes, there are plenty of critics of job postings and yet, they remain the lingua franca of employer-to-candidate communication. For that reason, it’s important to get their vocabulary and format right. And the key to success is to craft both for adults, for they are the readers we’re trying to reach.

— Article courtesy of Peter Weddle, the author or editor of over two dozen employment-related books. His latest is The Career Fitness Workbook, a complete regimen of career strengthening activities for today’s job market and workplace. It’s available at Amazon.com.

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