Art of the Job Post

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Mona
Lisa When I was a bright eyed bushy tailed senior in college, I remember wading through pages and pages of job ads in Jobtrak (which has since been absorbed into Monster.com).

Most of the ads held my attention in the same way reading a phone book does. The bulk of them had something like the following format.

Responsibilites:

Design and develop data-driven internet based applications that meet functional and technical specifications. Use [technology X] and [technology Y] following the [methodology du jour] set of best practices. Create documentation, review code, and perform testing.

Required Skills and Experience:

Must have X years in language [now outdated language]. Must be proficient in BLAH, BLAH, and BLAH. Ability to work in a team environment. Able to work in a fast-paced [meaning we’ll work your ass off] environment.

I know what you’re thinking. Where do I sign up!

Yaaaaawn. Keep in mind, this was in 1997 just as the job market was starting to reach the stratosphere. Competition was tight back then. Do a search on Dice.com right now and you’ll still see a lot of the same.

I’m sorry, but your job posting is not the place to spew forth a list of Must have this and Must have that and a list of responsibilities so plain and vanilla that...that... I just don’t have a good analogy for it. Sorry.

These type of ads are attempting to filter out candidates who do not meet some laundry list of requirements. But this is not the goal of a good job ad. A good job ad should not explain what hoops the candidate must jump through to join your company, it should explain why the candidate should even want to jump through those hoops in the first place.

This of course assumes you are attempting to hire some star developers away from their current jobs rather than resume padders who have spent most of their careers in training classes so they can place your laundry list of technology TLAs underneath their name on their resume.

Certainly, a job posting should explain briefly the type of work and experience desired to fill the role. No point in having a person who only has experience in sales and marketing applying for your senior DBA position (true story). But first and foremost, you want to catch the attention of a great candidate. Boring job ads that read like the one above do not capture the imagination of good developers.

Back to my story. As I said, most of the ads fit this mold, but there were a few here and there that popped off the screen. I wish I had saved the one that really caught my attention. It was from a small company named Sequoia Softworks (which is still around but now named Solien) My memory of it is vague, so I’ll just make something up that resembles the spirit of the ad. All I remember is that it started off by asking questions.

Are you a fast learner and good problem solver? Are you interested in solving interesting business problems using the latest web technologies and building dynamic data driven web applications?

We’re a small web development company in Seal Beach (right by the beach in fact!) looking for bright developers. We have a fun casual environment (we sometimes wear shorts to work) with some seriously interesting software projects.

Experience in Perl, VBScript, and SQL is helpful, but being a quick learner is even more important. If you’ve got what it takes, give us a call.

I ended up working there for six years, moving up the ranks to end up as the Manager of Software Development (never once writing a line of PERL). They did several things right in their ad, as I recall.

Challenge the reader and demand an answer!

Do you have two years experience in C#? is not a challenge to the reader. This is not a question that captures my attention nor draws me in demanding an answer.

Do you know C# like Paris Hilton knows manafacturing fame?Now that is a challenge to my intellect! Hell yeah I know C# like nobody’s business. That kind of question demands an answer.  And a good candidate is more likely to drive over to your headquarters and give it to you.

Appeal to vanity

Not every appeal to vanity is a bad thing. It doesn’t always amount to sucking up. This point is closely related to the last point in that an appeal to vanity is also a challenge to a candidate to show just how great they are. Asking someone if they are a good problem solver, for example, conjures up a desire to prove it.

Show some personality

Sure, many corporations seem like soulless cubicle farms in which workers are seen as mindless drones. But surely not your company, right? So why does your job posting have a tombstone all over it?

Who wants to be another cog in a machine performing mundane tasks for god knows what reason? Your ad should express a bit of your company’s personality and culture.  It should also indicate to the reader that people who come to work for you are going to work with people. Interesting people. And they are going to work on interesting projects.

I write all this because of an article I read about business schools. It was a throw-away quote in which some employer mentioned how his new employee fresh out of business school helped rewrite some job postings and they were able to quickly fill some positions with high quality candidates they had been struggling to fill.

A well written job posting makes a difference.

I mentioned before that I am participating in the HiddenNetwork job board network because I really believe in the power of blogs to connect good people with good jobs. It’s in its nascent stages so I really don’t know how well it is fulfilling that mission yet, but I believe that it will do well.

If you do post a job via my blog (yes, I get a little something something if you do), be sure to make it a good posting that really captures the imagination of good developers (as all my readers are!  See. Appeal to vanity.). It’s even more of a challenge given how few words you have at your disposal for these ads.

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