Finding the Why Behind That Failed Job Ad

By Peter Weddle
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When a posting yields nothing but yawns, it’s time to check on three main factors that can make a big difference when it comes to attracting quality talent—and in a timely way.

You know how to fill a job requisition. You meet with the hiring manager to develop a clear understanding of the skills and attributes the client is looking for in a new hire for a critical opening. You invest the time and effort to write a job posting that will draw the attention of talented candidates. You upload the ad to a job board and to social media sites. Then, you sit back and wait for applicants to appear…but what if they don’t? Your client and your boss want to know why the ad hasn’t resulted in a good selection of candidates. How do you figure out why that ad missed the mark?

There may be any number of reasons for a low response rate to an ad. Perhaps the hiring manager’s requirements were unrealistic—or even unreasonable. Or perhaps the client has a lousy employment brand. Those would be tough for a recruiter to correct—however, there are some explanations for an ad not attracting applications that it is within your power to address.

A recent survey of two million job postings across some 800 job boards found that 75% of the ads failed to draw even a single application. That’s probably not the job boards’ fault—most job boards today are seeing record traffic, so they’re delivering the prospects. What those prospects are reading, however, apparently leaves them cold.

To figure out how you can buck that trend where your own ads are concerned, ask yourself these three questions.

Did You Write a Job Posting That Was Good Enough to Attract Top Talent?

Far too many job postings today are simply position descriptions repurposed and disseminated online. They use a vocabulary only a hiring manager could love—terms like “requirements” and “responsibilities.”

Top talent don’t see themselves as job seekers, so they dislike the vocabulary of the job hunt. They think that requirements and responsibilities refer to information your staffing clients want them to know and tell them none of what they want to uncover about an opportunity.

Instead, write your posting so it answers these five questions about the job opening:

  • What will the candidate get to do?
  • What will the candidate get to accomplish?
  • What will the candidate get to learn?
  • With whom will the candidate get to work?
  • How will the candidate be recognized and rewarded?

Remember, the job posting also should serve to inspire interest from a group of individuals who would seemingly be the least interested in your posting—passive job seekers.

The job posting should serve to inspire interest from a group of individuals who would seemingly be the least interested in your posting—passive job seekers.

Did You Select the Right Site or Sites for Posting Your Ad?

There are two behaviors that can undermine outcomes when posting an ad online: habit and herds.

When you post your openings habitually on the same sites over and over again, without either evaluating the yield generated or checking to see if any potentially better sites are available, you are putting your response yield at risk.

When you simply follow the herd and post your ad on the site du jour—the one everyone else is talking about—you’re exposing it to more competition than would likely be found at other sites.

The key to success, therefore, is to shop for job sites the way you shop for electronics or a car: Be a smart consumer and do your homework. Diversify your strategies.

Did You Rely on an Applicant Tracking System That Let You Down?

If you test out many applicant tracking systems today, you’ll find an appalling candidate experience. In far too many cases, the job application form provided with these systems is too long, too cumbersome, too complicated, and too bureaucratic to do anything but turn off anyone except the most desperate of job seekers.

The survey mentioned earlier also found that nine out of 10 candidates who started filling out a job application abandoned the application before completing it. Your firm may be hemorrhaging talent from its system—and the fault may lie with the developers of the ATS rather than with anything you or your firm are or aren’t doing.

Try to find an ATS with a job application that collects the pertinent information from the candidate without getting bogged down—or use an application that does.


Peter Weddle is the author of more than two dozen employment-related books, including Next Practices: Doing Better Than Best in Online Recruitment and The New Golden Rules of Job Board Success: Four Principles for Optimizing Operational and Bottom Line Performance. He is editor and publisher of Weddle’s LLC (weddles.com), a publisher of print guides to job boards.. Send feedback on this article to s******@americanstaffing.net. Follow ASA on Twitter @StaffingTweets and on Instagram @americanstaffingassociation.