2. Move away from rigid templates and toward more flexible structures
Writing job posts takes time, but Katrina advises against taking one particularly tempting shortcut — the template.
“We instinctively want templates,” Katrina says. “We want a library of 1,500 options that we can copy and paste. But templates are what got us into this trouble in the first place. There are parts of job postings that I can literally recite to you.”
Rather than using a template, Katrina recommends building out a rough structure for your job posts — essentially saying, “This paragraph does this, and this paragraph does that.” This layout will be informed by your conversations with hiring managers, employees, and candidates.
Your three conversations will provide you with an understanding of what’s most important about the job and the structure you develop should reflect those aspects. “For example, if I know that a sales team is very motivated by outcomes,” Katrina says, “I’m probably going to talk about the outcomes we can create in the first paragraph every time I write a sales role. It can be that simple — this is what they care about, so I’m going to do that first.”
This method can be a little daunting at first since it involves trusting your instincts about what candidates want to hear. And while it’s more time-consuming than copy-pasting, it will yield better results. And if you really don’t have the time, Katrina has a compromise.
“I actually suggest that companies that really struggle on time move to something that looks a little bit more like a Mad Lib,” she says, referring to the classic word game in which a player produces a list of nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs that are inserted into blank spaces in a prewritten story. “This is the bridge between structure and no-go template land. The Mad Lib gives you a really basic format with blanks so you can emphasize that you want someone focused on this versus that.”
If you do swap out your standard templates for more flexible Mad Libs, be careful not to slip back into generic territory. “You need more than one Mad Lib,” Katrina stresses. “If you’re going to take this approach, I actually think you need one Mad Lib per department at a minimum.”
3. Avoid clichés like go-getter and top talent because they don’t speak to the reason people change jobs
On the other end of the spectrum from the template is the overly creative job post.
“There’s a fine line between creative and creepy,” Katrina jokes.
While a little creativity can certainly make your job post stand out, Katrina says people sometimes mistake jargon for fun language.
“I have a whole list of words that I tell people they have to ban,” she says. “Because ultimately what happens is people think they’re being creative and they end up putting a ton of buzzwords in that mean nothing.”
Katrina’s list of banned words and phrases includes classics like rock star, ninja, and superstar, along with go-getter and top talent. The problem, she says, is not so much the words themselves but the disconnect between the emotional response they’re intended to trigger and the way that candidates often feel.
“Take a second and think about how you feel when you’re looking for a new job,” Katrina says. “No one changes jobs lightly. No one wakes up in the morning and goes, ‘Hmm, I’m going to quit my job today.’ You don’t do that. Something bad is happening in your life.”
Connecting with job seekers on an emotional, empathetic level can be incredibly compelling (more on that in a minute). This will ultimately make your post stand out far more than a wacky phrase ever could.
“Write words that mean something to someone who might not be in the best place in their life,” Katrina advises. “They want to be a go-getter. They want to be top talent. But they might not be feeling that right now. Why waste this moment to make an impression on them with something that doesn’t actually mean anything, that might actually make them feel worse?”
4. Mention important soft skills upfront to create an “I get you” connection with candidates
Instead of hunting for ninjas, Katrina recommends talking about soft skills in the first paragraph of your job posts. Since these skills are more closely tied to a candidate’s emotions and inner life, they can make the post feel more personal and relatable.
“One thing you should always have is something that describes the soft skills you’re looking for,” Katrina says. “I think most people go out with this very strict standard of what a job posting should be, and they think that it has to be very professional and polished, and I don’t think that’s what connects with candidates.”
One example Katrina gives is swapping out a line like, “We are a Fortune 500 award-winning hospital that’s hiring nurses in Mayland,” for something more empathetic like, “Nursing is hectic, but at the end of the day, it’s always worth it.”
To see how powerful these small changes are in action, check out this before-and-after job post from one of the recruiters Katrina coached: