Feed the Birds: The Right Candidate for Your Job Ad

When was the last time you saw a seagull picking at a bird feeder? Or a hawk scavenging among leftover bread crumbs? Or pigeons sipping nectar? It doesn’t take a degree in biology to know that different birds like different foods. If you want to see little blue jays on your back patio, then you need to put out the right seed. Likewise, if you want hummingbirds to buzz by your window, then you’ll need some sugar water.

Now, think of this concept in terms of job applicants. If you want to attract the right type of candidate, you’ve got to put out the right “food.”

Every candidate who looks through a job board or a company career page is looking for special ingredients from each post they come across. Whether it’s certain job duties, the ad placement, or a specific tone and style, there are numerous ways potential applicants decide if a position is attractive to them or not.

Have you ever tossed a pebble into a pond to fool the ducks into thinking it was bread? The ducks might swim a few feet to investigate, but as soon as they realize there’s no substance, they move along.

It’s the same with candidates, especially high-quality candidates. You may pay for a job ad at the top of the list or use a flashy title and language, but if your description doesn’t have real substance, the best candidates (the ones you actually want) will move along.

So, how do you make an attractive, substantive, and effective job ad? We’ve got a few ideas from our very own JD Conway, Senior Talent Acquisition Partner at BambooHR (that fancy title means he does this kind of thing in his sleep).

Take It from the Top

“When a position needs filling, hiring managers are often too stressed about getting approval for the hire to slow down and think about what kind of candidate they really want and need. As an HR professional, you can help the hiring manager by having a candid conversation about what the job description should say. Get beyond the phrase someone who’s going to kill it, and discuss what that someone actually looks like. How much experience do they have? What are they going to have to do?”

Get down to brass tacks with your hiring managers using these questions:

By creating a job description that is an accurate reflection of the position, you cut out a massive amount of time you might otherwise spend screening candidates who don’t fit. The description does the screening for you. Would you rather attract 100 applicants, with only 25 potential fits for the job? Or would you rather attract only 25 applicants, but all 25 are high-quality matches for the job?

In the hiring process, time is incredibly valuable. If you save yourself time, you save yourself money; and you have the agility to get to the best candidates before they’ve flown away.

Stop Hunting for Purple Squirrels

As you’re building this targeted description, ask yourself if this job even exists. Are there real candidates out there who possess this combination of skills and experience? Or are you on the hunt for the elusive purple squirrel?

“I hate to break it to you, but purple squirrels are hard, if not impossible, to come by; and you’ll be waiting a long time to fill that position if that’s what you’re looking for. Your company could instead invest in a candidate that has good qualifications but might not meet every single criterion. The time you would have spent waiting for a purple squirrel you can instead spend getting a new hire up to speed.”

It’s your opportunity as the HR professional in your organization to steer your hiring managers away from purple squirrel pursuits and toward real, high-quality candidates.

Position the Job Ad

Okay, now we have a solid job description, and we know which birds we want to feed. Now what? It’s time to position.

“Whatever you do, don’t just ‘post and pray.’ Far too many hiring managers and HR professionals throw money at every job board they can find, hoping that more spending and exposure will attract more candidates.”

While it’s true that you might receive more traffic and more applications, there is no guarantee that these candidates will be anything close to what you want. Think of the people who toss bird seed left and right in the middle of a park. They’re going to attract quite a flock, but they have no control over which birds come to eat.

Instead, you need to position your job ad specifically where you know (or at least strongly believe) your ideal candidates will be searching. Ask yourself these questions when strategizing where to post the job:

“Don’t be afraid to ask for demographic information from job boards; they should be able to provide you with case studies, figures, and other data to help you determine if theirs is a board that might attract the people you want to reach. If it’s not, don’t waste your time and money.”

Narrow Your Funnel

By positioning an accurate job description on a relevant job board, you will narrow your funnel and save yourself a lot of time in the screening process. As candidates scroll through job posts, they will decide to apply or not by answering the questions “Can I do this?” and “Do I want to do this?”. You only want candidates who answer both of these questions with an emphatic “Yes.” While this might mean fewer resumes floating in for your consideration, they will be candidates who are right on target for the job.

Try some of these tips the next time you need to help fill a position for your organization. The value of a good hire is high and above the cost of creating a thoughtful, strategic job ad. Invest the time now, so you won’t have to later. Then watch the birds come flying in.

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