"We're looking for extremely talented and awesome people who are willing to be demeaned applying for a job and are willing to take said job without knowing what it is. But we are an awesome company. And by the way, we'll negotiate the compensation before we know if you're qualified or interested."

I'm dumbfounded.

I just went to Indeed.com and searched for software developer jobs in Santa Clara and found 12,000 postings. There were another 10,000 in San Francisco, 5,000 in Chicago and 10,000 more in New York City. Surprisingly, when you read between the lines they looked pretty much like the above posting. The standard format goes something like this:

  • A hyperbolic statement about why the company is the best in its industry
  • Some glossy statement about the technology and how it will revolutionize something
  • A generic list of job responsibilities pulled from an HR manual written in 1979
  • A very specific list of "must have" requirements and semi-god-like personal competencies
  • Some things that are irrelevant like the job req number
  • An "Apply Now" button

If you've ever hired someone or were that someone who was surprised that the content of the actual job taken was inconsistent or different than what you expected, welcome to the disengagement club. According to a recent Gallup Group report, 68% of the U.S. workforce is disengaged. And according to another Gallup report, the primary cause is lack of clarification around real job needs.

Focusing on what a person needs to have rather than what a person needs to do is the root cause of why companies hire the wrong people for jobs that are actually really good. The problem is worsened by the use of skills-laden recruitment advertising designed to weed out the weak rather than compelling messages designed to attract the best.

A little Marketing 101 spin might be just the thing to turn these job descriptions into attractive career opportunities. Many years ago I took such a course, and remember the following highlights:

  • Explain the product by emphasizing the benefits, not the technical specifications.
  • Understand the primary buying needs of your target customer.
  • Put your advertising in places where your target customer will find it. A great ad not found is a waste of money.
  • Have a compelling title and copy that's of interest to your target customer.
  • You only have 10 seconds to convince the buyer to read more. Use pictures, stories and high impact statements to create interest.
  • Highlight a critical customer need in that 10 seconds.
  • Make it easy to learn more.

Is it possible that HR majors were not allowed to take this class? But if they had, they might have come up with these commonsense ideas on how to convert job postings into compelling career-focused advertisements:

1. Differentiate your title.

We used "Oscar Winning Controller" for an accounting position with a small entertainment company in LA. A partner at PwC found it and sent me two referrals. "This Sales Job in Dallas is Shagadelic" worked to attract 50 awesome JC students for an entry-sales job for the Yellow Pages when the first Austin Powers movie came out.

2. Use the first line to emphasize the candidate's intrinsic motivator.

The McFrank and Williams recruitment ad agency used "You Give a Whole New Meaning to the Word Meticulous" to attract job cost analysts in the construction industry.

3. Emphasize what the person will learn, do and become.

Describe the two to three most important performance objectives for the job and tie these to a major company initiative. This sample also shows how to convert skills and experiences into deliverables.

4. Tell stories rather than list requirements.

We sent this email to a group of HR leaders from the division CEO describing his need to hire an HR VP to build the company. It received accolades from the HR community. Notice the complete lack of any mention of skills or experience.

5. Short circuit the apply button.

We suggest that interested candidates prepare a short summary of a major accomplishment that relates directly to real job needs. This is followed up by a 15-minute exploratory chat. This legally validated approach is called the two-step.

6. Listen to good lawyers.

When writing The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired I asked one of the top labor attorneys in the U.S. to validate the above ideas. Here's why he agreed it's not only legally sound advice but the right advice for attracting stronger people.

Recruitment advertising should be designed to attract the best, not weed out the unqualified. This seems like such a simple idea yet companies continue to waste money attracting hundreds of people they won't be hiring. Worse, to correct the problem they post the same boring job ad on more sites and then complain more loudly that there are not enough good people to hire.