Classified Ad Confidential

To attract not just more candidates but the right ones, pay attention to the basics and follow these tips.

Chandra Shekhar
Nov 1, 2006
<figcaption> Credit: © FERRAN TRAITÉ SOLER</figcaption>
Credit: © FERRAN TRAITÉ SOLER

When Linda Kosta, senior sales representative for classified ads at The Scientist, received an advertisement last fall from an NIH institute, she noticed something. The ad forced the reader to wade through two paragraphs before getting to what position was being advertised. That, she knew, would make the reader skip over the ad and also result in poor traffic for the online version, as search engines often hunt for keywords in the ad's title.

So Kosta picked up the phone and walked through the issues with the NIH contact, who quickly agreed to put the job title higher in the ad copy. The NIH contact explained that she had simply been following an NIH classified ads template. That explained the ad for Kosta, who says that such templates are often created by human resources departments that are often more concerned with the information in the...

For the biggest response to your ad, focus on position, position, position.

The visibility of the position being advertised is one of the most important aspects of classified ads, says Kosta. "After you've seen thousands, you get very good at spotting the ones that will make an impact with a reader, and the ones that won't. If your ad doesn't at least make a prospect stop and take notice, it won't matter what is written in it." In this case, the NIH template - a practice which many companies have adopted to standardize the look of their ads - wasn't the problem per se, says Kosta. "I see these really intelligent people trying to put too much information into their ads" or putting the information in the wrong place, she says. "They don't think about the way people look for and read ads." Ad writers should put themselves in the place of the job candidate when writing their ads, she says.

Knowing what works is a matter of experience for Kosta and others, as it can be difficult to track the effectiveness of specific ads. "In the old days, you placed an ad, got a resume, and knew what the source was," says Paul Grafmuller, director of staffing for Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Mass. Now, he says, you place an ad in print and online, but the ad is designed to drive traffic to a company's Web site for a job seeker to apply. You "don't have a one-to-one correlation" connecting a particular ad to an application, says Grafmuller. Instead, you "have to work with anecdotal information" to figure out what works when writing and designing an ad. Looking through some magazine classified ads for scientists, Grafmuller finds that the ads that work have a crispness in design. Also, he says, graphics may help draw the eyes to an ad. "People generally don't read the entire text," however, and he pinpoints three elements in particular that should be prominent: the title of the position, the company, and where to apply.

Ad Campaign

Donna Thomas, talent acquisition manager at Carlsbad, Calif.-based Invitrogen, looks at each ad through the eyes of a candidate. She pays close attention to the details of every job ad, making sure spelling and grammar are perfect, the layout doesn't overwhelm, and the information presented is concise. "We learned that writing is rewriting," she says. The company, though, wanted something splashier to better catch the eye of candidates, so it launched a campaign built around the ads. To fill positions for a marketing manager, a transplant diagnostics scientist, and a systems engineer for its Brown Deer, Wis., facility, Invitrogen took out back-page recruitment ads to promote its attributes: "Behind every innovation is a passionate individual on a quest," for example. It also used this approach to advertise other positions at other locations. The goal of the new ads is to get "people more interested in joining Invitrogen, and anything more enticing is good," says Thomas.

But what if your company does not bring in over a billion dollars a year in revenue? Can you still make things splashier without putting together a complete advertising campaign? The best ads describe not just the job, but also the organization, says Andrew Douglas, European sales manager at Nature's jobs Web site. "A job advert is as much a PR and marketing piece as it is for recruitment," he says. A small biotechnology company should always provide information about its size, funding, products, and services in the ad; without this information, applicants will not get the full picture. "The job might be right, but the organization might not be," says Douglas.

Methylgene, a 100-person Montreal-based biopharmaceutical company, leverages information in its ads by including its Web page address for more information. While certainly not novel, it makes sure that the Web site has abstracts and posters from its researchers available, as this is information important and attractive to a scientist considering a position, says company CEO Donald Corcoran. This not only acts to interest appropriate candidates but also can weed out the wrong people.

"The biggest complaint we get is the number of unqualified responses," says Drew Brennan, president of the online job portal, biotechnologyjobs.com. "With an online ad, it is almost too easy to respond." Moreover, many employers deliberately cast a wide net in order to get more applications. "They measure an ad's effectiveness based on the number of responses, but the quality could be horrible," Brennan says.

Your Ad Here

Check off the basics that add up to an ad that gets a major response rather than passed over

What to Tell the Potential Applicant:

? WHAT is the position?
? Job Title: Mention it prominently at the top. This is the first thing job seekers look for.
? Job description: include responsibilities, challenges, equipment and facilities, team structure, career path, evaluation, travel, and work conditions. Make the information as clear as possible and sufficiently, but not overwhelmingly, detailed.
? WHO is qualified? Include essential skills vs. desirable skills, soft skills, citizenship/visa status, licenses, certifications and special tests if any. It should not be too general or too specific.
? WHERE is it located? Describe the company or institution in sufficient, but not excessive detail: locations, size, products and services.
? WHY should somebody want to apply for this job? Sell the company and position. Don't ignore major selling points, for example a new program or facility, or a famous PI's name. Conversely, don't mention something inessential, such as a relatively unknown PI. Mention remuneration, benefits, corporate culture, management style, training, career paths, etc., if these are selling points.
? WHEN/HOW should someone apply? List contact information, application methods, deadlines, and special requirements.

How to Design the Ad:

? Make the LAYOUT accessible. Don't squeeze too much text into a small space: if necessary, either trim the text or buy a larger ad. Some things such as qualifications may be more suited for a bulleted list format.
? The SIZE should be dictated by the level of the position: More prestigious positions should have more space.
? The STYLE should be clear. And free of grammatical and spelling errors and obscure acronyms/jargon.
? For BRANDING, use the same logo, layout and format for all ads to establish brand name recognition.
? Use a TEMPLATE that can be adopted for both print and web, as running in both tend to deliver the biggest bang for the buck. The Web is easier for you to track and tends to get a higher response. Print attracts more candidates who are not actively seeking a new job and often higher-caliber applicants.

Less is More

To improve the quality of response without deterring qualified candidates requires a careful balancing act: The job description and the qualifications required should be sufficiently specific but not too narrow. "The less information an ad contains, the better," says Colleen Kelly, an advertising program specialist at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. "It is better to get a candidate interested and allow them to find out more on their own." If every job requirement and responsibility is listed, even qualified job seekers may be discouraged from applying, she says.

Ads should, though, provide details of the application procedure, including deadline, documents required, visa/citizenship requirements, and contact information. Also, "put as many different ways of contacting the company as possible," says Frank Heasley, CEO of the online jobs portal, medzilla.com.

Even if you are not mounting a full ad campaign, create a consistent and easily recognizable format for your ads, says Kelly. All the ads from her institute are based on a fixed template, and include identifiable top and bottom banners. "You must brand your company in order to become recognizable from a look," she says. But whether you use a template, remember that attracting candidates with your ad is all about "position, position, position," says The Scientist's Kosta. Above all else, put the right information at the right place in the ad, she says, and put yourself in the place of the job candidate when writing and reviewing the ad.

Click here to see the do's and don't's basics of recruitment ads.

cshekhar@the-scientist.com

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