What comes to mind when you’re asked to describe tech startups?
Is it the intangible energy, the entrepreneurial spirit, the lure of working towards a mutual purpose or mission? Or maybe it’s the sense of momentum, the autonomy, the team spirit, the all-hands-on-deck approach.
So in an environment which is undeniably high octane, why do so many tech startups continue to use such generic, uninspiring, cliché (and dare we say, boring) words in their job ads?
It’s because they’re failing to see the difference between two very different concepts: the job ad and the job description.
As tech startup recruiters, we’re still amazed at the number of founders we see using a detailed job description to excite and engage. A badly written job ad can create a ripple effect – not only to the recruiter (if you’re using one) and the subsequent candidates, but it can also reflect poorly on your startup too.
Trust us when we say that nothing is more off-putting to prospective candidates than a vague, generic job ad with boilerplate text and a cut-and-paste list of tasks and responsibilities.
The first step to differentiating your job ads from your job description is to understand how they’re used. So, let’s start with two key differences between a job ad and a job description: purpose and content.
Ads sell, descriptions tell.
A (good) ad – whether that’s for a product or service – will convince you to do or buy something. It’s marketing 101. On the flipside, a description will tell you what that product or service does.
The same logic applies in recruitment. Put simply, a job description should describe (in detail) the scope of the role and what the candidate will do within that role; a job ad should focus on what you and your startup can offer the candidate and why they should consider joining you.
This is the most important difference. It’s also the part that many startup founders fail to fully grasp, whether through lack of experience, understanding or time.
A job description serves a specific purpose – to tell employees (or prospective employees) exactly what their role entails and what is expected of them. It’s a functional document, typically detailed and comprehensive, and includes information about the scope of duties, responsibilities, reporting lines etc.
Sounds pretty dry, right? So you can imagine our frustration when we see long, drawn-out job ads regurgitating the contents of the job description into a slightly shorter (but still wholly unpalatable) format.
Job ads, on the other hand, are so much more than a laundry list of responsibilities. They’re concise. They’re tailored to attract good quality applicants.
In terms of content, a good job ad should be short. Punchy. Tone of voice is important, so use you/your/you’re to connect with the reader. Use positive, action-orientated language. Your job ads should be concise, well-defined, inclusive, and written without bias.
Think about the hook – WHY should someone want to join your startup? Much like a product or service ad, writing a job ad is ultimately a marketing exercise. So inject some enthusiasm. Show your passion. What makes this opportunity special? Tell the reader why they should want to join your startup.
This is particularly important in a competitive jobs market where you simply can’t afford to focus solely on active job seekers. You need to use your job ads to cut through the white noise and connect with passive candidates – i.e. the significant percentage of the (sought-after) labour market that isn’t actively looking for a new role.
Your job ad should be a representation of your company, your culture, your successes and your aspirations. Because what you say about the role and how you describe expectations and requirements will dictate whether the market’s top tech talent will be attracted (or not) to a role within your startup.
So what makes a good job ad?
Actually, let’s consider what makes a BAD job ad.
I recently saw an advert that was 800 words long. Of those 800 words, over 700 focused on what the company wanted. A list of skills, experience, qualifications. Important information – but was this level of detail needed? Definitely not.
Less than 10 per cent was focused on providing insight to the candidate. That’s less than 100 words focused on exciting or intriguing a prospective employee and persuading them that this opportunity was worthy of them investing time and effort in finding out more.
In other words, this job ad failed to answer one fundamental candidate question: What’s in it for me?
How to write a good job ad
When writing your job ad, start with your job description. Firstly, identify three or four key responsibilities and a couple of key skills. This is your starting point.
Secondly, think like a candidate. Rather than tell them what they’ll be doing, talk about the outcome, the opportunity, the potential. Excite them. One way to do this is by using a model like AIDA: ATTRACT, create INTEREST, generate DESIRE, prompt ACTION.
Skip the boilerplate text, the jargon and the cliches. Hook the reader with what makes your startup unique. Clearly outline the scope of the role and responsibilities. Say how this position fits into and influences the wider business.
You might think that you don’t have anything to shout about. You’re not a big tech firm, like Google or Apple, with a huge list of perks and cash to splash on salaries. But startups have huge appeal to candidates – the entrepreneurial spirit, the autonomy, the opportunity to be part of something brilliant. These are the qualities that are going to appeal to your ideal candidate.
There are many people out there, actively looking for the things that your tech startup can offer them. But if you haven’t teased and showcased these things in your job ads, or if you’ve buried it at the end of your cut-and-paste job ad, then you’ll never get the chance to meet them.
Find out more
If you’re one of the startup founders using the job description as their job ad, then you shouldn’t be surprised that candidates aren’t excited enough by the opportunity to apply.
If you’re still struggling to understand and communicate the unique purpose of your business, get in touch. We call this ‘founder blindness’ and it’s you’re so close to what you do, you’re not recognising the value (and it’s there, I promise you!). We can help you tease it out and create exciting job ads that appeal, attract and excite incredible candidates.