How you can attract more top talent and compete with the big name players — in half a day

I was on the phone with a designer who I’d hired to come up with a logo and brand identity for my recruiting practice. “It has to be VERY professional,” I warned over and over, intently focused on projecting a serious image.

And then I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I laughed as I took in my snowflake fleece pajamas, monkey slippers, and unbrushed hair. (It was noon, by the way.) A very professional image indeed.

While some things need to be very buttoned up, not everything does. Too often, job descriptions are endlessly stiff and overly professional. This does nothing to help differentiate a role and attract people at the high end of the desirability scale. In this inaugural issue, we look at how you can craft a job description to show your company’s authentic image – slippers and all.

Often when high-growth smaller companies hire analytical talent, they are competing for candidates against big companies like Google and Microsoft, with their campus recruiting squads and snazzy career websites.

You may not have developed an employment brand or a big Facebook page or a flashy website to attract candidates. And that’s OK – leave that to the big players.

But you can attract more of the right talent by spending a short amount of time making your job specs more compelling. Here’s how to start:

1. Treat your job description as a marketing document. Design your job spec to showcase the role and your firm. Too often people write a job spec like it’s a product requirements specification: “The selected candidate will have 2.6357 years of experience doing widget design and will need to work nights and weekends…” Instead, use your job description principally to market to talent, by writing — in English — about what’s unique about your company, the role, and your culture.

2. Air your dirty laundry – really, it’s OK. Marketers and consultants are motivated to solve hairy challenges. Don’t be afraid to say, “We have figured out how to sell our products, but our problem now is attracting more senior-level customers. We need someone to fix that problem.” Don’t be afraid to show how things are not perfect now —  the right person will want to fix things and have an impact. Consultancies are in a great position here, since they can showcase not only the problems they have but also the problems that their clients come to them to fix.

3. Show what the new employee will learn and how they will grow. Good people want to build their careers for the long term. These top candidates expect to be stretching into the job. So don’t just focus on what the person will need to bring in and do on day one. Instead, show how the role will affect their career. Rather than say, “you’ll write two blog posts per month,” how about: “Become a thought leader in the innovation space, sharing your evolving expertise at conferences and in blog posts.” Maybe someone isn’t a thought leader yet, but they will develop into one in that job. And rather than say “Manage relationships with C-level clients” you can opt for a more aspirational version: “You’ll build your network of C-level executives.”

4. Talk in a real way about what the culture is and what it isn’t. Ever hear something like this? “We’re a fast-moving entrepreneurial organization where ideas and innovation matter and where you can grow.”

Yuck. Does that stick in anyone’s head or make anyone want to join your firm?  How about really bringing your culture alive, by explaining  — again, in English! — about how it is unique from other companies? For instance, how about this? “On the spectrum of get it right versus get it done, we veer more towards ‘get it right.” Or, how about saying, “Our pace is so fast that you will have one on one meetings while walking with your boss to the parking garage at night.” Don’t be afraid to be honest, since the job description is your opportunity to help prospective employees self-select into your culture. The job spec doesn’t have to be everything to everyone — in fact, it shouldn’t be. It just needs to attract more of the right people.

5. Use what you’ve got. Your company may not yet have a big brand name. But you may have well-known advisors, Board members, investors, executives, or clients. If so, mention them in your job specs. Bonus if you can get a quote from one of them, which adds liveliness and legitimacy to your job description.

You don’t want to come across as something you’re not, of course. No one appreciates false advertising, least of all those of us with marketing backgrounds.  Recreating a job description as a marketing tool isn’t about covering up the truth – it’s about showcasing and describing a role in an authentic way.

Revising a job description can take as little as a few hours. In return, you will likely get more of the right people opting in to talk to you.

Contact me to see some examples of compelling job specs.