How to Reword a Job Posting to Avoid a Hiring Mistake

Why focusing on what you need in a candidate rather than what your company can offer them could mean hiring the wrong person for the job.

Before you rush to fill that vacant desk, consider this: 66% of U.S. companies have been affected by a bad hire and, for 27%, the decision cost the company $50,000 or more, according to a 2013 survey by Career Builder.

Hiring mistakes can be damaging. In addition to lost revenue, they can negatively impact productivity, client relations and employee morale, but a new study published in the Journal of Business and Psychology found that minor changes to the wording of job ad can increase the size and quality of an applicant pool, giving hiring managers a better chance of getting it right.

The Power Of Needs-Supplied Postings

"The typical job ad focuses on what the employer wants from the applicant," says David Jones, associate professor of business at the University of Vermont and one of the study’s authors. "Ads that focus on what employers can offer job seekers––such as autonomy and career advancement––result in better employee-company matches."

For the study, Jones and his co-authors wrote real job ads for a Canadian engineering firm. Some focused on "needs-supplies," what the organization offers applicants, while others focused on "demands-abilities," the skills the organization would require of candidates. Needs-supplies ads received almost three times as many highly rated applicants than demands-abilities ads.

"It’s a no-brainer that the time it takes to add a few extra sentences has a really huge implication on the size of applicant pool and the number of candidates that are the very strongest job applicants," says Jones.

To write needs-supplies ads, hiring managers should consider what candidates want: universal desires include autonomy and respect, says Jones. Candidates also look for an opportunity to grow and learn, and have an impact on the organization.

The best ads are a combination of the two kinds of statements––what the company can offer and what it needs. This will screen out those who aren’t qualified, while at the same time considering the process from the applicant’s perspective.

Jones offers five examples of needs–supplies statements:

  • You will have the opportunity to work on a variety of tasks and develop your skills in many areas.
  • The job will also provide you with autonomy as you will be required to complete tasks with minimal supervision.
  • This position is on an important project, so the successful applicant will have the opportunity to make a valuable contribution to the organization and see the project through to its completion.
  • Employees are given many opportunities for advancement within the organization.
  • You will have many opportunities to collaborate with talented people.

Demands–abilities statements might include:

  • The successful applicant will have excellent written and verbal communication skills.
  • Job incumbents will be required to show initiative in prioritizing tasks and carrying them through to completion.
  • We are seeking people who want to contribute to the collective effort of their group and are committed to helping the project team achieve their goals.
  • We seeks people who are interested in constantly expanding their skill set and developing their potential.
  • The successful applicant will enthusiastically support and cooperate with others to develop effective solutions.

A mix of the two kinds of statements is ideal, but the most important part of the job ad is that it’s accurate and truthful, says Jones.

"When job applicants form expectations about things that will happen when they work for a company and then those things are unfulfilled, they will react negatively," he says. "They often withdraw and are likely to quit. In that case, nobody wins."

By Stephanie Vozza