What your job ad says about you

I have written and read so many job adverts over the years that I have almost become immune to phrases like “rockstar developer”.
That’s a lie. I still throw up in my mouth a little every time I see that kind of nonsense.

I’m going to walk you through some of the elements I regularly see in your job advert and hopefully this will help you write better job adverts that don’t make me want to break things.

Rockstars and 10X Developers

It blows my mind that people are still using these words. Let’s assume your dev team are literally the Arctic Monkeys. If musical ability and fame are absolute prerequisite experience in order to build your CRUD app, then by all means tell people you’re seeking a Rockstar Developer. Until then, let’s ease off on the hyperbole.

Look, I get it. You want to communicate the fact that you’re an exciting company and are only interested in ‘the best’ developers. The thing is, the best developers don’t usually look in the mirror and congratulate themselves on being better than the rest. Typically, they are more interested in continuous personal development and mentoring more junior colleagues. The best developers don’t actively seek out companies that will put them on a pedestal. They seek out companies that will challenge them and encourage them to become even better developers.

If you are dead set on only hiring the best, the first thing you need to acknowledge is that the talent pool is drastically smaller than you might initially think. Jacob Kaplan-Moss really nailed this point in his keynote at PyCon a few years ago. I highly encourage you to watch his entire keynote but assuming you don’t, here’s a takeaway that’s stuck with me ever since that event.

If you were to objectively chart the skill level of every professional developer on the planet, it would look a little bit like a typical bell curve:

In my experience, real life ‘very good developers’ are often too humble to place themselves on the righthand side of the scale. Typically they place themselves closer to the middle. Often, developers that do consider themselves worthy of being on the righthand side of the scale, overestimate their ability and are usually more suited somewhere close to the middle.

When your job advert explicitly states that you are only interested in hiring ‘rockstars’ or ‘10X developers’ then you are immediately excluding the very people you want to hire.

To put it simply, to attract the best developers and to vastly broaden your talent pool, your job advert needs to appeal to everyone in the middle.

Salary: Competitive

I’ve covered this one in a lot more detail in my last post but to summarise:

Saying your salary is ‘competitive’ is as effective as saying ‘we definitely pay more than minimum wage’

If you think you have legitimate justification for not being honest about what you are willing to pay, please shout at me on twitter. I’d love to hear more.

Must have 5+ years of experience in X

In your head: Well our team would really benefit from having someone with significant, commercial experience with X so lets make sure that people reading this advert understand that we need someone who can bring that level of experience to the company.

In the candidates head: Well I have spent the past four years doing X at an enormous scale and could probably add an incredible amount of value to this team but they clearly want someone way more experienced than me so let’s move on to the next ad.

Please stop specifying a minimum number of years of experience. I have yet to see a single example where X number of years is more applicable than the context of the applicants experience.


You are not writing a novel

A report by TheLadders suggests it takes people 49.7 seconds to determine if a job is a good fit for them. According to Indeed, job adverts that are between 700 and 2,000 words get, on average, 30% more applications.

You don’t need to include an entire history of your company as a preamble. Give the elevator pitch and provide a link to elsewhere for further reading. In simple terms, skip the bullshit and get to the job.

Requirements — No longer required

The most significant improvement you can make to how your job is perceived by potential applicants is to eliminate your lengthy requirements and instead focus on what the right person will be doing during the first twelve months on the job.

If you are transparent and specific about the type of work a person will be expected to do, the people who will apply for the role are those that feel they are capable of doing that job well, regardless of how much or how little experience they really have.

Interview or The Hunger Games?

Tell people what your interview process looks like and where possible, give them an idea of how long it typically takes you to complete your hiring process.
One of the best examples of this in practice is Hotjar. Setting expectations up front will only ever benefit your company and result in a much better experience for your applicants.

Hotjar interview process

Any additional context you can provide upfront about what a person can expect if they were to work for your company is going to not only generate more interest, but it’s also going to improve the likelihood of you finding the right person for your team.

Keeping in mind the earlier advice about not writing a novel, provide the context in the form of external links. Share photos of the office environment and share links to blog posts written by your existing team.

Ask for feedback!

Ask your existing team for feedback before you publish your job. Ask them for their perspective. Ask them if they feel the advert is appropriately representative of the work they do and the environment they are in.

Ask applicants what they liked and didn’t like about the job advert. Don’t be afraid to experiment with new formats, new language and new ideas. It’s through continuous feedback that I learned about invaluable tools such as Kat Matfield’s Gender Decoder.

For real, use Kat Matfield’s Gender Decoder.

Post your job

After putting in all that effort into crafting a better job advert, you now need eyeballs on your ad. That's where Honest Work comes in. If you want to make a statement with your job advert, go and post a job right now: https://honest.work/

Rockstars and recruiters need not apply.

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