Skip to main content
power points

Your job posting may need to be juiced up.

"You simply can't catch trophy fish with weak bait, and similarly, you can't attract quality candidates with dull and ineffective job post descriptions," says HR specialist John Sullivan, a management professor at San Francisco State University. "But most corporations simply post their descriptions without design criteria or any pre-testing."

The notion of testing job postings may seem odd. So might the notion of asking your marketing folks to prepare the postings rather than HR. But Dr. Sullivan suggests considering both. Indeed, in an article on his website, he notes that often when you compare your job postings to at least five talent competitors you'll find descriptions put together by marketing professionals are rated 50 per cent better than those written by hiring managers and recruiters.

"Bad job postings can be the top killer of a firm's employer brand image," he warns.

Your job posting may be the first thing that most potential applicants read about your company. It offers a snapshot of your firm that an applicant will probably read in a minute or so, leading to a critical decision about the job and your firm. If it's not better than your competitors, you could lose out. Indeed, he warns that poor job postings can scare potential applicants away.

He offers some quick tests you might consider:

Side-by-side ranking comparison: Get a group of professionals or potential applicants to conduct a side-by-side review of your firm's job posting description and that of a competitor, eliminating corporate identifiers and substituting the same job titles. Ask them to rank each of the anonymous job descriptions from best to worst. If you're not consistently winning, you need to conduct other tests to find out why.

The circle test: To identify the strengths and weaknesses in your job descriptions, have professionals working in the field or potential applicants go through one. Ask them to place a W by each Wow factor, circle each element that impresses, put a question mark by those that are confusing, and mark an X through turnoff elements. In his sales effectiveness test, he urges you to test what elements of the description effectively "sell" the potential recruit on your company. Use the advice to improve your descriptions. You could also apply this same technique to a competitor's descriptions, illuminating wording and other factors you might want to copy.

The one-minute test: Give each evaluator one minute to review the description and indicate whether they would be convinced enough to read more or follow up on the job. The percentage willing to do so indicates whether you have a posting with some legs.

The search-term word test: Use Google Analytics or ask new hires what words they use when searching for a job and then check how prominent the key words are in your posting.

"Every firm that is seeking to attract active prospects uses job post descriptions. And like it or not, those descriptions will appear side by side with the descriptions of your talent competitors. So if you're going to do them, design them so that they are extremely powerful and compelling," Dr. Sullivan concludes.

2. Make sure your website is readable

Software engineer Kevin Marks feels the web is becoming unreadable. At first he thought the problem was his eyesight. Now he believes it's design. And his concerns might apply to your company's website – and whether it is effective or not.

"There's a widespread movement in design circles to reduce the contrast between text and background, making type harder to read," he writes on

To evaluate your website, you can use the guidelines of the Web Accessibility Initiative, which in 2008 introduced a ratio for creating easy-to-read webpages, based on the text and background contrast. If the text and the background are the same colour – and thus very unreadable – the ratio is 1:1. Black text on a white background, high contrast, is 21:1. The Initiative set 4.5:1 as the minimum ratio for clear type but preferred a contrast of 7:1 or more, to aid readers with impaired vision.

It's easy to ignore that advice, as the trend to reduce contrast gathers momentum. Mr. Marks notes that Apple's typography guidelines for developers suggests a 7:1 contrast ratio but the text used to state the guideline is only 5.5:1.

Pushing the trend is a belief that black type on white background can strain the eyes. As well, it's argued that people with dyslexia may find contrast confusing, although the usual recommendation is to dim the background colour instead of lightening the type. But he feels a big culprit is designers who work on big screens in well-lit offices. "However, as more of us switch to laptops, mobile phones, and tablets as our main displays, the ideal desktop conditions from design studios are increasingly uncommon in life," he says.

He urges designers to ignore the fads and return to the typographic principles of print. If you oversee a website, you may want to keep that in mind as well.

3. What your high-performing employees yearn for you to say

Your top employees may seem like Energizer Bunnies, always on the run. They don't complain. They don't appear to need your help.

But consultant Karin Hurt says they long to hear one of the following seven statements from their bosses:

Wow! Thank you: It's nice to know you're impressed and appreciative.

I know what you're doing isn't easy. I'd love to hear more: Employees "are dealing with all kinds of crap that they're not bothering you with (and may even think you don't understand)," she writes on her blog. "They would love to tell you some stories. And the stories are worth hearing. Pull up a chair and listen."

Can you show me how you did that?: When people figure out something special, they love to share it with others. Invite them to.

What should we be doing better to serve our customers?: They know, so listen and act.

What's getting in your way?: Just because these top performers are low maintenance, that doesn't mean they don't have a list of barriers. You can't fix all of them but surely you can make progress on some.

What do you want to do next?: Show you care about them, not just what they produce.

I want to help you do even better: Challenge them – and work with them – to grow.

4. Quick hits

- Eliminate standing meetings. Consultant Craig Jarrow says repeat meetings only multiply wasted time. Make sure your team only meets when absolutely necessary, not because a weekly invite is on your calendar.

- Entrepreneur Seth Godin warns that peeves make lousy pets. "They're difficult to care for, they eat a lot, and they don't clean up after themselves."

- Use the rule of three to determine whether somebody is so toxic you should avoid him or her. Harvard University psychologist Martha Stout explains: "One lie, one broken promise, or a single neglected responsibility may be a misunderstanding instead. Two may involve a serious mistake. But three lies says you're dealing with a liar, and deceit is the linchpin of conscienceless behavior."

- First-time CEOs are vulnerable because while they have run divisions and overseen profit and loss statements, their new role requires moving beyond sheer profitability to handling the balance sheet and coming to grips with return on capital. Consultant Marwaan Karame notes what they thought was profit did not include the cost of equity.

- Next time you find yourself with some time on your hands during an airplane flight clean up your phone. Get rid of apps you never use and unnecessary photos taking space. It can also be a chance to organize your apps by categories.