“Willing To Risk Death Daily:” What a Help Wanted Ad Says About a Company

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ponyexpIt’s the end of the year and thus, ’tis the season for the annual avalanche of help wanted ads — though the avalanche certainly isn’t what it used to be.

Oftentimes, a help wanted ad will be the first impression a prospect will have of a potential employer. Professional recruiters and expert networkers typically steer job searchers away from applying for positions at companies they’re unfamiliar with and/or at companies where they don’t have any inside contacts. But the fact is, given the continued weakness in the employment market, lots of job seekers believe they have little choice but to cast a wide net.

And that’s why a well-written, transparent, enthusiastic but honest help wanted ad can give the uninitiated candidate a positive first impression. Or reinforce the positive reputation the company has already earned in the mind of the candidate previously acquainted with the hiring entity.

On the other hand, a poorly written help wanted ad, e.g., one that is too vague (what are they hiding?), one where the responsibilities are too broad (unrealistic) or one that over uses phrases like “rock star” and “super star” run the risk of turning off qualified candidates.

I wonder how many corporate HR departments consult with their corporate communications team before publishing a help wanted ad.  It’s clear to me that not enough do.  After all, a help wanted ad is no less a public disclosure of a company’s organizational and investment priorities, or needs, than is a news release.   It gets posted on the company website, makes it way to online job sites like Indeed.com and gets shared from friend-to-friend and from one networking group to the next.  A help wanted ad is visible to investors, business partners and the media.

Two companies, HubSpot, and Vistaprint, really get it.

“We’re trying to build a culture specifically to attract and retain Gen Y’ers,” said Brian Halligan, CEO of marketing software company HubSpot in a recent New York Times interview.

It doesn’t get any more transparent than that.  Halligan’s comment may have turned off a few Gen X’ers and lots of Baby Boomers for sure, though his intent wasn’t to offend.  It was simply to be transparent and honest – better than leading people on.

Halligan is a rarity in the corporate world. Much of the time, organizations leave it up to candidates to wade through job descriptions and a company’s website to hunt for clues they hope will help them determine if they’d be a good fit or not.

Another great example of communications transparency is this job description from Vistaprint, an online supplier of printed promotional material and marketing services to small businesses:

Far from someone who has found a mid-level corporate hiding place, you will be someone ready to lead delivery and take an opportunity to step out of the ‘big company shadow’. … You should have a real or virtual portfolio of examples of work that are away from the norm of ‘managed a newsletter’, or ‘was responsible for the company intranet’.

Vistaprint’s message to candidates is loud and clear: if you looking for the back nine, you won’t find it here.

2014 is on top of us, and that means more help wanted ads will be posted in the next few weeks than any other time of the year.  Companies should borrow a page from HubSpot and Vistaprint’s recruiting handbook and communicate honestly about who they are and who they are trying to attract.  An employer and its reputation, as well as the job candidate, are sure to benefit in the end.

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