Why Your Job Ads Should Be Brutally Honest

Attracting the right job candidates is easy--if you're truthful about the pitfalls of working at your company. See why honesty in your job ads may be the best policy.
August 21, 2013

We’ve all seen (and maybe even written) those job ads that make it sound as though the staff is a sunny, smiling crew and the environment is full of high-fives and atta-boys. You know—those job descriptions that make it sound as though you’d practically pay for the privilege of walking through the door and being part of the team? Staff discounts, tuition assistance, team building … all this can be yours if you’re lucky enough to be selected for the job.

In a way, it makes sense you'd want to write such a glowing ad. After all, you believe in your business. You’ve built it, and you know that it’s work worth doing.

The trouble is, employee retention is important, and if you’ve painted an unrealistic picture of what it’s like to work at your company, you run the risk of higher staff turnover. If you’ve mistakenly attracted candidates who aren’t even remotely qualified, your ad hasn’t really yielded the desired results. It’s expensive to hire and train staff, and you want to make sure you've done your best to find, hire and retain the right employees for your business.

Telling It Like It Is

Believe it or not, what you write in an ad can make a big difference in your retention rate. Here’s the secret: Use the vaccination technique (which is well articulated in Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work by Chip Heath and Dan Heath). Rather than filling your ad with all the wonderful things about the position you’re filling, do just the opposite. List all the difficult and challenging aspects of the job.

Think that sounds crazy? Here’s how it works: Let’s say you need to fill a manufacturing position. You look at the troubles that previous employees have had with the job, and you list the obstacles that might prevent the wrong applicant from successfully completing the work. You’re upfront and clear about what you’re looking for: candidates who can stand on their feet for a 12-hour shift and complete repetitive tasks. You clearly convey that you want someone tough enough to do the job properly.

You may be thinking that you’ll get far fewer applicants for your position, and you’re absolutely right. But here’s the key: The applicants you get will be the right ones. They’ll be informed. They’ll be qualified. They’ll be more likely to be competent for this specific position—and much more likely to stick around longer. Think of it this way: You don’t need a hundred applicants for a position; what you need are the right applicants. The vaccination technique allows you to sift out the candidates who wouldn’t be the right fit anyway. You don’t have to interview them, train them or replace them when they don’t work out.

The Benefits Of Bluntness

Let’s look at another example. Say you’re looking to hire a weekend bartender for your restaurant. Now, everyone thinks being a bartender is the coolest job in the world, right? What’s not to love? Booze, food, people having fun … that’s what novices think the job’s all about.

But you’ve seen those folks come and go over the years, and you know what you want in your new bartender. You want a professional, experienced, creative, serious person who knows the ropes. How do you find that person? You run an ad that clearly spells out that there will be late nights, heavy lifting (a half keg weighs about 160 pounds, for those of you who didn’t know), meticulous cleaning, difficult customers and really busy holiday schedules. You’ve just weeded out all the dilettantes who can’t make anything other than a rum and coke, and your frank ad will appeal to the professionals who’ll look at your ad and know that they’re the right person for the job.

By crafting an honest ad, you vaccinate your applicants, knowing that the ones who make it through to the interview stage are far more likely to work out in the long run. Now I can’t claim all the credit for this technique; the Heaths' book, Decisive, had a real impact on me. Their overall point is not that we can ever become perfect decision-makers, but that we can become better, more deliberate decision-makers.

Taking steps to ensure that the folks you interview for a position are the most likely to be qualified gives you better options. And better options nearly always yield better results. If finding and retaining good staff is a challenge for you, increase your odds of success by giving yourself a pool of candidates who understand the challenges of your business and are willing to take them on to help you succeed.

Read more articles on hiring and firing.

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