CEO Adviser: The Art of Recruiting

October 14, 2015

Paul Freed


If you want to attract top talent to your company, you need to tell your story in a way that makes you stand out from the pack. Yet most job descriptions fail to tell a compelling story. Here are the three most common mistakes:

Story Fail No. 1: Culture Cool
In an effort to appeal to young talent, some job descriptions use a lot of buzzwords and paint a picture of a cool workplace. These are usually accompanied by images of people playing ping pong. Serious applicants wont respond to a want ad that doesnt explain what the job entails.

Story Fail No. 2: The Kitchen Sink
Then there are the job descriptions that read like a laundry list of activities, such as attend team meetings as needed and keep manager updated on projects. Really? This comes across as, Here are 25 soul-sucking activities you will have to do, although were not really sure why theyre important. Interested?

Story Fail No. 3: Cut & Paste
This is where a company uses the same old recycled job description, even though its for a different job, team and mission. Companies often fail to spend time on a job description because they see it as grunt work that has to be done before getting to the real job of recruiting. The message it sends the applicant is: We are asking you to change your job and life for us, but we dont respect you enough to tell you what the job really is. Interested?

Take an extra hour to write a great job description and you will save your recruiting and interview team dozens of hours by getting more responses from the kinds of candidates appropriate to the job.

Three Practical Storytelling Tips

1. Hook recruits on the quest. Inspire candidates with the bigger mission you want them to pursue. People want to be inspired by something more than increased profits. For example, Guidant Financial is a fast-growing Bellevue company offering financial services for small-business owners. But its job description talks about the bigger quest of helping business owners succeed and live out their dreams. Its website and office are full of specific stories about happy clients, which makes what it does seem inspiring.

After hooking a reader on the quest, offer the kind of job details that any smart candidate would likely ask. Write conversationally. Test it by reading it aloud to see how it sounds.

2. The Hero. Everyone wants to be a hero, so explain how the candidate who fills the role can be one. That means focusing on outcomes instead of activities. You can still list bullet points of the detailed activities the job entails, but put your emphasis on the three outcomes that would make the company (and the recruits new boss) really happy. That is what really matters. That is how the candidate can be a hero in the job.

3. Deliver WOW. Not everyone is Mad Men creative, so talk with people in sales and marketing for creative feedback and examples of how customers benefit from your product or service. Use video. It has a much higher response rate. But dont overproduce. The video of an iPhone is fine and more authentic.

T-Mobiles want ads link to video interviews of employees expressing excitement about their jobs.
You can also wow candidates by walking them down a hallway of company pictures that allow you to tell a few quick stories about the companys history and values. Starbucks has such a hallway that not only helps win over job seekers but also doubles as a great introduction to visitors.

At a time when competition for top talent is getting stiffer, give yourself a head start by putting out compelling job descriptions that will attract the kind of creative, passionate employees you are looking for.

Paul Freed is cofounder of and a managing partner at Herd Freed Hartz, an executive search firm with offices in Seattle and Portland. Reach him at [email protected].