The Simple Change That Attracts Great Job Applicants

Sometimes you read an article and it “works for you” this one did that for me and we’ve shared it fully with our friends in the Job Board world – why? Because you should share it with your clients and although the article is North American centric the conclusions apply globally.


“Ever wonder why the best and brightest aren’t applying to work at your company? An experiment by researchers in Canada and the U.S. suggests that the problem may be as fundamental as the way job postings are written.

The vast majority of job ads tell applicants what the company wants, with laundry lists of requirements and qualifications. That approach might make sense to bosses looking to fill a role, but it may alienate the very people the company is trying to attract, researchers found.

As the labor market gets tighter and talented candidates juggle multiple job offers, companies need to put themselves in the applicant’s shoes. That boils down to a simple question for anyone writing a job ad: What can the company do for a prospective employee? Writing a job ad with this in mind—for example, emphasizing career growth or the significance of the job—the quality of applicants rises dramatically, the researchers found.

“You really need to focus on what you’re going to do for applicants,” said David Jones, an author of the paper and a professor at the University of Vermont’s School of Business Administration.

In academic parlance, that means employers can write job ads by focusing on Needs-Supplies fit (what the organization can supply to meet an applicant’s needs), or Demands-Abilities fit (what abilities and skills the organization demands of candidates).

Mr. Jones and his co-authors, Joseph Schmidt from the University of Saskatchewan and Derek Chapman from the University of Calgary had the rare opportunity to test their hypotheses by manipulating  real ads and analyzing the resulting applications.

The authors partnered with an unnamed employer—the “Canadian head office of a large multinational engineering-consulting firm,” according to the study—with whom Schmidt had a previous relationship.

The researchers wrote or rewrote 56 ads, primarily for engineering and project management jobs, to emphasize either the Needs-Supplies or Demands-Abilities approach, and then collected data about application volume and applicant quality based on hiring managers’ ratings of the resumes submitted. In all, 991 people sent in applications. The paper will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Business and Psychology.

Not only did the candidate centered postings draw in slightly more applicants, but applicants’ talent level was significantly higher, with an average of 1.37 applicants per position receiving the highest rating from hiring managers. For the positions advertised using employer centered ads, on the other hand, only 0.48 applicants got top marks.

The Needs-Supplies postings emphasized things like opportunity for advancement, the autonomy workers in a role have, and the significance of the work. They included statements like “You will have the opportunity to work on a variety of tasks and develop your skills in many areas,” “We seek to provide employees with constructive feedback to foster their career growth,” and “You will have many opportunities to collaborate with talented people.”

The other postings focused on job requirements and performance expectations, with statements like “The successful applicant will have excellent written and verbal communication skills,” “Job incumbents will be required to show initiative in prioritizing tasks and carrying them through to completion,” and “The successful applicant will enthusiastically support and cooperate with others to develop effective solutions.”

Why are companies not getting the message? Jones suspects that hiring managers are trying to fill a gap in expertise, and not thinking from the applicants’ perspective.

“Applicants looking at a job opportunity have limited information,” Mr. Jones said. “They’re trying to figure out, ‘is this a place I want to work?’”

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