In the long run, the people that work at a company are its only true competitive advantage. Despite this, 75% of organizations state that they are not able to find the talent they need. Thankfully, new research has identified a simple--but effective--technique that can help reduce this problem.

One of the obstacles with finding the right people stems from the many options available to the best talent. With their sought after capability, higher quality applicants can be more selective when determining which jobs to consider. As a result, companies must decide how they want to create awareness of the job opportunities they have. The most prevalent technique organizations use to boost this awareness is through online job postings and descriptions.

These postings are often loaded with information on the requirements necessary to succeed in the job. While this information is important, it is boring. It does not excite great applicants and inspire them to want to apply for the job. Top candidates want more--they want an opportunity to fully use their skills and abilities, which is frequently reported as one of the top drivers of employee engagement.

Using real job ads, the researchers manipulated the postings* to assess the impact of how jobs were described. Some job postings focused on what the company needs and used phrases like "must work well with others, show strong initiative, have excellent communication skills."  In other postings the description of the job centered more on what the person would gain through the job. This includes valued job aspects such as a chance to work on important projects, career growth, autonomy, and variety.

The researchers found that jobs ads more focused on the company resulted in fewer job applicants. It could be that this emphasis on job requirements makes it easier for someone to quickly tell if they are qualified. When ads were more focused on the person, the number of applicants went up, as did the caliber of those that applied. Top candidates know they will meet the qualifications of the job, and instead focus more on the contribution they can make and what they will get out of the job.

Interestingly, differential effects were found based on the type of job. For jobs in high demand (e.g., engineers, tech positions) the importance of focusing on the person was magnified. For low demand jobs (e.g., clerical) the focus of the job posting was less relevant.

Taken together, the results of the study reveal that organizations should pay attention to how they advertise jobs. For hard to fill jobs, in particular, it is prudent to focus on not just the job, but what the organization provides in return. Employees want to ensure good fit with companies and jobs, and this additional information makes it easier for them to assess it.

Put simply, companies that want the best employees must not focus just on what it needs, but also on what the employee will get out of the job.

*Schmidt, J.A., Chapman, D.S., & Jones, D. A. (in press): Does emphasizing different types of person-environment fit in online job ads influence application behavior and applicant quality? Evidence from a field experiment. Journal of Business and Psychology.
Published on: Feb 24, 2015