Most organizations operate as though millions of high performers are sitting around with nothing better to do than jump at their job ads. They act as if all they have to do is describe their open positions and, voilà, the best of the best will line up outside their door. In fact, one of our studies surveyed more than 600 HR executives and discovered that hardly any of their companies had clearly defined the attitudes that distinguish the highest performers from everyone else. How can you recruit high performers if you don’t know what makes a high performer?
Consider, for example, the following representation of the average job post found plastered on nearly every job board:
We’re looking for motivated individuals to join our IT Support Staff. The ideal candidate must be a quick learner who possesses strong PC support skills, great work ethic, and a passion for IT. This role will:
• Provide general support to clients.
• Assist in the development of support plans for clients.
• Provide internal end user support including desktop, laptop and mobile devices; and related operating systems and software.
When you look at most job posts, there are a lot more words devoted to “this is what we require for you to work here” than there are words about “‘this is why you’re going to love working here.” And all those requirements sound just like the requirements at every other company. There’s nothing to set you apart, to grab the attention of the right high performers so they stop and say, “Wow, I’ve got to have this job.”
The key to writing a killer job post isn’t copying what anyone else has done. Because as the Hiring For Attitude research shows, most people who fail at your company do so because they have the wrong attitude. And attitudes are truly unique across organizations. Your job post has got to match your organization’s culture with a spotlight on what I call your “Brown Shorts” (who your organization is culturally and what separates your high and low performers). To make things easier, I distilled the probability of attracting high performers to apply for jobs at your organization into this simple P=A+U-S formula:
When your job post meets all the variables in the P=A+U-S formula, it skyrockets the probability of “Great Fit” high performers applying to your organization and it repels “Poor Fit” low performing candidates—before they apply.
So, what does a job post that passes the P=A+U-S test with flying colors sound like?
For one tech company, it sounded like this:
We’re an ostensibly ragtag team of hacker heroes who provide technical management and service to our clients. The secret of our waxing success is that, though we’re all dreamers or artists with wildly flexible lifestyles, we respond quickly when we’re needed, know how to collaborate smartly, are resourceful and clever, and above all else, can charm the pants off curmudgeonly cranks and make them smile when they’re having a bad day. Here’s what the job entails:
• You’ll receive calls on the bat phone whenever, and will answer with love.
• You’ll use the best tool for the job, and know when to ask for help.
• You are interested in improving your skill in some technical discipline on your own time. (What I’m saying here is, if you’re not a tech enthusiast naturally, this gig is not for you.)
• You are the most honest person in the universe; you will never take vendor kickbacks, read others’ e-mail, or use client or company resources inappropriately.
• Every week, you will grovel before the supreme tech overlord (me). Or we’ll just get some coffee and you can tell me how you’re doing.
It’s the same level job as the one advertised in the average-style job post above, but this sure doesn’t sound like the average job. If you’re a great fit high performer for this organization, you can already feel yourself working this dream job. And if you’re a poor fit low performer who has no patience for “curmudgeonly cranks,” you’ve already moved on to the next job post.
How Do Your Organization’s Job Posts Stack Up?
Writing a great job post can be intimidating, so let the P=A+U-S formula guide the way. Here are a few tips to help you get started.
Creating attraction requires 1) clearly stating what differentiates your culture from all other organizations and 2) what separates high and low performers within your organization.
Don’t be afraid to illustrate the hardest parts of the job (e.g. serving curmudgeonly cranks). The only people you’ll lose are “Poor Fit” low performers. And don’t be afraid to list the low performer traits that your organization shuns. High performers want to work for organizations with zero tolerance for low performers. One company approached this by building a bulleted list of “What We’re NOT Looking For” right into their job post. A few of those points included:
- You think a successful career means showing up, doing what the boss says and collecting a paycheck.
- You struggle with change and believe “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.
- You view work as a four-letter word.
- You’re a glory hog who needs constant praise and credit.
Points like this are sure to delight high performers and scare off low performers.
Most high performers are already working somewhere else, and they’re not entirely unhappy in the job. They need to feel some urgency to leave their current situation and to come work for you. Your job post should reflect the demotivators these high performers face in their current situation and the motivators that are missing from their current situation. I like to call these the Shoves and Tugs of a job.
Drill deep into what sets your organization apart from its biggest competitors (e.g. a big presence in the marketplace, great support tools, strong leadership, etc.). And learn the employee motivators (Tugs) and demotivators (Shoves) that go with this position and describe how your organization works to satisfy these needs.
Even a hint of inauthenticity (i.e. if your job pitch doesn’t actually match your reality) can raise potential high performer suspicions and significantly detract from any Attraction or Urgency they may feel. This lowers the probability that they’ll exert the energy to apply for the job with you.
Authenticity is simple—just show who you really are. Craft your job post in a human voice (not an HR voice). Does your job post sound like it was written by, or even reflects the feelings of, real employees? Or does it sound like corporate MBA gobbledygook that means nothing even though it went through about twenty committees, ten lawyers, and a week of offsite developmental meetings? If your answer is gobbledygook, it’s time to rewrite.
One final word: be prepared to see a drop in the number of applications you receive. When you write a job post that includes exclusionary language that says, “we’re not right for everybody” you will effectively exclude some people (the wrong people). But that’s OK. Your goal isn’t collecting the most applicants, it’s getting applications from high performers who are a great fit for your organization.