It might be folklore, but it’s still a great story. 

The most successful job ad ever written was Shackleton’s broadside advertising for the crew of the Endurance.  Printed with hand-set type on cheap paper and glued to piers and posts around the harbor, it read:

A reported 5,000 men lined up to apply.   If your knowledge of history extends to arctic explorers, you know how the expedition turned out.  But the ad was amazing on so many levels, including honesty.

So how did the recruitment advertising business go from honest, succinct, well-placed and candidate-producing gems to the pages-long, generic, unnoticed and ineffective garble that is posted on job boards and career sites today?  How did we get so bad at this?

Bizarrely, the answer is technology.  While technology usually makes communication and processes better, it has actually undermined the way we advertise our jobs.

If you start at the beginning, think 3,000 BC to 600 AD, employment worked entirely on employee referrals (and large doses of forced conscription).  If you needed a worker, someone in your village recommended a cousin or neighbor.  With the introduction of paper manufacturing in the early 1300’s, broadsides were posted in public places advertising jobs. 

The adoption of movable type in 1609 gave birth to the newspaper and around 1700, the first Help Wanted ad appeared.  By the beginning of the 1900’s, they looked something like this:

Through the 19th and 20th centuries, the Help Wanted ads became the backbone of recruitment advertising.  Since they were paid for by the line, great recruiters mastered a form of haiku that rarely exceeded 100-200 characters (and you complain about Twitter because …?). 

Every major newspaper, and small town gazette had pages of ads.  They still exist in newspapers today, even in the playground of the wealthy, the Hamptons.

But then the internet became the primary communication tool replacing newspapers, magazines, telephone and mail, and with it came the job board.  Monster launched in 1999, not the first digital help-wanted source, but for a decade the dominant one.  At its height, it listed over a million jobs on any given day.  During the 2000’s, the industry exploded and currently counts more than 100,000 job boards (not jobs, job boards).  A secondary industry emerged to aggregate the boards with the launch of Indeed in 2004, SmashFly in 2007 and others. 

And the content changed because pricing changed.  No longer charged by the line, job ads could be as long as you wanted for one flat fee.  Going from the 2-3 sentence Help Wanted ad to the unlimited-length job posting could have been an opportunity to provide detailed and useful information about jobs; but generating original content is difficult and time consuming.  Instead, recruiters (with some prodding from the Legal Department) started posting job descriptions.

While technology usually makes communication and processes better, it has actually undermined the way we advertise our jobs.

Job descriptions were originally created as legal documents.  They are the basis against which an employee is evaluated, and potentially fired.  They were never intended to be marketing documents and work poorly in that capacity.  It is comparable to real estate agents selling a house by posting the mortgage documents. 

And technology advanced faster than the recruiting industry again by making computers mobile and reducing screen size to 2.5x4 inches.  Reading job descriptions on small screens, even when they are mobile friendly, is tedious at best.  Yet the majority of jobs are posted on a job board or corporate career site,both of which were designed for a desktop computer. And in this age of functional full-employment, visits to job sites are in precipitous decline.

So we have gone from having honest posters prominently displayed where potential candidates are looking, to mind-numbing paragraphs hosted on sites designed for obsolete equipment. 

If that is not discouraging enough, the entire format of information delivery has changed.  Assuming straight-line growth in Cisco’s estimate of video content on the internet, 72% of internet content will be video this year.  Candidates aren’t reading.  They want to see, and hear, and watch.  Text-only job descriptions are as obsolete as the equipment they were designed for. 

Candidates expect to see current, authentic and relevant information about a potential job.  They want to know who they will work for, and who they will work with.  They want to see the work environment and get a sense of the culture.  They want a video-mobile job profile that can be shared on social media.  For companies that are using this new format, the number of shares, views and applies is many times the response they get with posted job descriptions.  The technology and content are once again aligning, for the first time in 300 years. 

Anyone need employees for hazardous journey?

 

Maury Hanigan is CEO of Sparc, a job marketing platform that is designed for video, mobile and social recruiting.  For more information, visit: www.sparcstart.com

Views: 234

Comment by Alasdair Murray on March 1, 2016 at 1:47pm

An interesting piece but not strictly true about Shackleton. http://discerninghistory.com/2013/05/shackletons-ad-men-wanted-for-... Also, as someone who writes recruitment content for a living, while many recruiters DO simply cut & paste drab job descriptions these days, those who know how to sell a job focus a bit more on creating an advertisement rather than what is effectively a dull listing with no allure.

Comment by Maury Hanigan on March 1, 2016 at 3:30pm

You're right, the Shackleton piece is iffy. People have tried to find it in old newspapers from the day, but can't.  Several of the books about Shackleton's journey cite the ad as a broadside which would explain why it isn't in newspapers and why there is no trace of it.  It is entirely possible that the story is completely invented, but the tone and style match Shackleton's so well, odds are it has some validity.  Regardless, it's great copy.

Alasdair, as a good copy writer, you have to admire the power and brevity.  Bravo to you for making the effort to produce compelling prose.  Candidates deserve information that is interesting, useful and accessible.  I'm not sure why people pay to post content that doesn't meet that basic criteria.

Comment by Alasdair Murray on March 1, 2016 at 5:50pm

It baffles me too. If you think about other aspects of life and the influence advertising has on people, it seems bizarre that anyone would seek to create something that completely fails to sell what they are trying to sell - but that is what so many job post do.

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