Tuesday, August 28, 2007

How Not to Attract the Best Talent Using Job Boards

Lets suppose for an instant that you wish to hire a really good software engineer. How would you attract some really good qualified candidates for the position?

If you are like a lot of businesses, you would put an ad on Craigslist. So far you're doing well. When I'm looking for a fun and interesting new job, I start by looking in fun and interesting places.

The next part is where we run into trouble. Craigslist and other job boards want you (the potential employer) to provide a headline to identify the job. This headline is listed on a page with all of the other job opening headlines. A potential applicant is expected to see your headline, somehow identify with it, and click on it for more information.

If you're familiar with the typical HR department, you won't be shocked to see that many headlines look like this:
Software Engineer (Austin, TX)
Senior Software Engineer (Austin)
Developer II (Austin)
Quality Control Specialist (North Austin)
Wow, such compelling headlines! At least one of those headlines managed to narrow down which part of Austin they are in. That was thoughtful.

Otherwise these are all terrible headlines which don't communicate much. Mostly they tell us that the poster probably works for the HR department of a large, boring corporation. Big boring companies like to carefully categorize each job. They make tables of salary ranges and rate each employee in six categories. Somewhere along the way they start to believe that titles like "Software Developer III" are sexy. They're not. They're typical and therefore boring.

Opposite the vague end of the spectrum we find specific. These headlines look like this:
Programmer: Java, C++, SQL, XML, Cobal, Perl (Austin)
C++ / Labview / Scheme Developer (Austin, TX)
Expert Needed: C, C++, Java, x86 assembly, SQL, Ruby, Python (Austin)
Potential candidates may marvel at these sorts of headlines, but most probably can't take them too seriously. I'm not an expert business guy, but I'd guess that there are maybe two or three people in all of Austin that would fit each of these jobs. Do you really feel that lucky?

I know that businesses like to hire folks that already know everything, but maybe you're limiting your choices too much. Lets apply the Pareto Principal to the problem: I'll assume that at each step along the way we eliminate 80% of the candidates.

Lets start by assuming 125 folks apply for your position. The 80/20 rule says 25 make it to the phone screen. Five continue to the interview in person. And now you have one candidate who you'll offer a job.

In this thought experiment you needed to 125 applicants to make an offer to just one person. That might be OK. But what happens if say that only 20% of your offers will be accepted? Now you need 625 applicants just to hire one person. Yikes! Can you even hope that 625 people will apply for your job that demands expertise in 3 obscure technologies?

The other problem with the typical specific style headline is that they are just a list of your demands. How many infomercials have you seen that start by telling you the price? None, I bet. They all start out by telling you the amazing benefits of the doodad. And so should your job post. Instead of Cut through copper pipe and tomatoes! try something closer to Come destroy the record industry with your 133t SQL skillz. How may applications would that get?