Queens “We Are The Champions”, Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On A Prayer” and Wheatus’s anthemic “Teenage Dirtbag” – all fantastic songs and each of them has just been included in the list of the Top 10 Catchiest Songs (As Proven By Science). But what makes them crowd favourites? What makes them all so annoyingly, but brilliantly catchy?! Well, the London researchers who compiled the list tell us that the 10 catchiest songs have 4 key elements in common:
- They contained long and detailed musical phrases
- The chorus (or hook) had several pitch changes
- The singers were male
- There was a noticeable higher male vocal level
When a song contains those 4 ingredients, they become “sticky”. They cling in your mind, you find yourself humming them absentmindedly throughout the day and you just can’t help your foot from tapping along when you hear it played. (You’re humming We Are The Champions right now aren’t you?!)
Like a great pop song, a well written job ad also stays with you. It sticks in your mind. It hangs around in your head for several hours after you’ve read it. It makes you think, “Mmm, now that’s interesting!”. And, just as you would a great new song, you might even talk to your friends about it.
But job ads don’t conform to the same principles as catchy songs. We know what elements you need to combine to create a catchy song, but what makes a “sticky” job ad? What makes some job ads resonate with candidates and others get passed by? Just what are the magical ingredients that set them apart?
Well, we looked to the research of brothers Chip and Dan Heath for the answer, and in particular to their book, Made to Stick – a fantastic book on the principles of what makes some ideas survive and others die. You want your ideas AKA the ones contained in your jobs ads, to survive, to resonate and to stick with the right candidates. And ultimately, you want those ideas to be so “sticky” that the candidate feels compelled to send you an application. The guys came up with six principles for what makes an idea “sticky” and we’re going to apply them to your job ads:
The 6 Principles of “Sticky” Ideas:
When creating truly sticky job ads, brevity needs to be your friend. Because, as author William Golding said, “the greatest ideas are the simplest“. If a candidate doesn’t understand the job and the type of candidate you’re looking for, they won’t (and to be quite honest, can’t) apply. You need to make it absolutely clear to the candidate what this job is and the type of candidate needed to fill it and you need to do so from the very first line of your job ad.
Take Google’s mission statement for example. Google are a huge organisation with several different products that all do different things, but their mission statement simply reads:
Google’s mission is to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
It’s a one sentence, very simple statement. You read it and you know what Google are about, what they want to achieve and how they plan on achieving it. You need to do the same in your job ads. Take the first sentence of a job ad we wrote for a recruitment role we’re hoping to fill later this year:
You will be responsible for hiring the people that will enable Social Talent to change the way the world finds and hires talent.
We’ve summarised the role and it’s importance to our organisation in one sentence. The candidate now knows what they’ll be doing and how they will fit into our company in the long term. There’s no room for ambiguity, just the simple truth. Naturally, we will go on to expand on the job and what it entails further in the job ad, but we want to establish what this job is and who it’s for, right from the off with one simple idea first.
Bottom line: Grab interested candidates with simplicity. They’re used to (and fed up) reading long, complex paragraphs about the nature of roles and why an organisation needs to hire them, so cut out all that waffle.
Don’t write your job description in the same way every other recruiter on the planet does! If you want to make your job ads memorable, it’s really important that you peak candidates curiosity and hold their interest, and the best way to do that in your job ads is to violate traditional expectations and be counterintuitive. What do I mean by that? Well, take the job ad for a recruiter I mentioned earlier, for example. Where most other job specs might say they would like the candidate to be “ambitious”, we said:
We’re not interested in people who want a job. Apply elsewhere for that. We want people who’d like to own a company like ours one day and if that fails , you’ll retire early off your great commissions. We have big dreams and we expect you to have the same.
By telling people we’re “not interested in people who want a job” and that they should “apply elsewhere for that”, we peak their curiosity – most job ads don’t tell people to apply elsewhere! And by telling them we really do want someone who has dreams of owning “a company like ours one day”, we hold their interest – most employers would not encourage staff to envision owning their company! By phrasing “we want you to ambitious” like this, we’ve completely violated the norm. In doing so we’ve surprised people. By surprising them we’ve sparked their interest and curiosity. And by sparking those two things we’ve grabbed their attention over and above every other job ad they’ve read today (maybe even this month).
Bottom line: Be different! Do the opposite of what everyone else does and inject some humour if possible.
Ultimately, you want your job ads to help candidates be able to visualise themselves in the job and working for the organisation – to see, in their head, who they’ll be working with, where they’ll be sitting and what it’s like to work there on a daily basis – to put themselves into the story. And the only way to do this is by presenting them with concrete ideas – ideas that stimulate the senses and engage emotions.
Imagine an ice-filled bathtub – you can feel the cold, the shivers, the pain involved with sitting in one, the redness of your skin. Now imagine a razor embedded in an apple – you can anticipate coming across that unexpectedly, how it’d slice into your skin, the warmth of the blood. It’s an image that stays with you. It’s not a wishy-washy image, it’s a very definite picture of what that thing is and how it feels.
When describing Social Talent in a recent job ad for a Customer Service Executive, we could have said “we’re an e-learning company selling into the recruitment industry worldwide”. But that’s boring. It’s neither exciting or memorable. It doesn’t give you a picture of what it’s really like to work in Social Talent. It’s not a concrete idea. So instead, we said:
“We are 20 people, 12 in Dublin, 6 in Poland and 2 lads (Vince and Walter) living in Cork and refuse to move to Dublin. Our office is next door to a cool university, on the tram line, we have a cool Smeg fridge and our oldest plant’s name is Harry!”
By highlighting the “20 people”, the lads who “refuse to move to Dublin”, the brand name of the fridge and even the name of our “oldest” plant, we’re giving you a very concrete picture of our organisation. We’re letting them visualise the look of office, the things in it, and the characters that fill it.
Bottom line: Try giving specifics like this in your job ads. Name the people in the department, number the people, tell them how many floors are in the office and where it’s close to and what shops are nearby – give concrete descriptions of the organisation. Concrete ideas will add much needed character and personality to your ads.
Simple ideas, unexpected phrasing, and concrete images are all well and good, but as the man says, “paper never refused ink“. What you say and how you say it, also has to be believable. Just because you tell the candidate “you will work in an innovative, high-paced environment with lots of opportunity to progress” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true, and the candidate knows that. All they have is your word for it and, let’s face it, you’re the one looking to find people to fill the job!
Your ideas need to carry their own credibility. So from this moment on, it’s out with the broad sweeping statements like “innovative, high-paced environment”, and in with the employee quotes. For example:
I started here 4 years ago and have had 5 different jobs in 3 functions. I work with amazing people who inspire me to be the best I can be. Come join us, it’s awesome!
– Amy, Accounting Team
Adding a quote from an employee and naming them, makes what is said much more credible. Include a photo of that person and it becomes more credible. Link to that person’s actual LinkedIn profile and it becomes even more credible! For example, when we were looking to attract a new Customer Service Executive to work for our team, this is how our ad looked:
Candidates can sense how proud and appreciative we are of our current Customer Support person, they can see her name and they can put a face to it because we’ve included her picture.
Bottom line: Don’t be afraid to include an actual quote from an actual team member. It will add massive credibility to your job spec.
The easiest, most foolproof way to get people to care about your job ad is to make them feel something about it i.e. to employ their emotions. And the best thing to remember when trying to employ someone’s emotions is that people are hard wired to feel things about other people, not abstractions.
While it’s very difficult for a candidate to feel something about a typical job description when it says something like, “you will report to the Commercial Director as part of a team of five”, it’s much easier to get them emotionally involved if you introduce people into the equation. For example:
“You will report to Vince (referred to as “Vincent” when he’s done something wrong), the Commercial Director. Vince is a father, husband and sales animal – in that order. His team consists of Dave, Graham and Naomi. Naomi’s the real boss!”
Not only have we named the four other team members the candidate will be working with giving them an identity, but we’ve also given you little snippets of personal information about them that gives you get an insight into their personality. We give you investable information about these people, and once you’re invested in something, you start to care about it.
Bottom line: Emotions make people care. So make them care about your job ad by introducing people into the equation.
Storytelling is super important in the writing of your job descriptions. Why? Because stories act as mental flight simulators. By telling a story in our job descriptions we are able to put somebody into the shoes of that role, so that the applicant can envision what their job is to do.
Good stories make people act. Think of all those charity appeal ads you’ve watched on TV. They almost always tell the story of a particular child leaving in poverty. They tell you their name, where they live, that her mother and father have passed away, that she has no clean drinking water, and that she may only live to see her 5th birthday. Then they tell you how you can help by calling this number or texting that word to donate a sum of money. We want our job ads to get people to react by applying to the job or getting in touch.
In a traditional job spec you might say something like: “You will have responsibility for the identification and hire of 15 new staff”. Instead why not say:
“We started last year with 6 people. Stephen and Reza joined us as interns after responding to a YouTube video; no salary, just the will to grow and learn. We hired them full time 3 months later. Lisa trained as a Black bely 3 years ago in her old job. She called asking us us if we ere hiring and we snapped her up! Since then we’ve hired Johnny’s brother Graham and his mate Dave. This year you job will be to scale this to 15 more people. You’ve got your work cut out for you!”
Bottom line: While it may be a longer way of essentially saying the same thing, this type of job function description will put a smile on someone’s face. It puts into perspective what they need to achieve within the role. They can see the story of how we got here and they also envision how they will fit in and what they have to do.
Proof That This Method Really Works!
After adding these tips to the Job Advertising module in our Black Belt online training course, we received the following email from a user who had decided to give this new style of job ad a go:
I tried out an alternate style of ad copy for some internal roles – so far the results have been an eye opener. Those that read the advert properly and who followed the call to action are a much higher quality!
One of the job ads in question can be found here. Check it out to see how they’ve used the tips above to create a truly “sticky” job ad.
For more information on best practice when it comes to writing truly engaging and effective job ads, check out our Job Advertising module as part of our online training programme, the Black Belt in Internet Recruitment, or download a FREE copy of our whitepaper, The Ultimate Sourcing Ninja Guide to: Job Advertising.