How to Write a Challenging Ad

How do you actually write challenging job ads? Here are some examples of job ads that challenge (and therefore attract) top performing candidates.

Preparing a Challenging Ad

If not already done, work out the job description for the new role. This will crystallise your thoughts so you can focus on the important aspects of the position.

Do not make the ad too restrictive. Some of the special skills required can be omitted. You can use these things to shorten your list during the selection process. This may not apply, of course, to a highly technical job where certain skills are vital.

The following writing rules will help to sharpen the focus and power of your ad:

  • Keep all sentences short. People usually scan ads quickly. Long sentences get skipped.
  • Avoid words of more than two syllables where possible (for the same reason).
  • Ask questions that make people stop and respond – at least to themselves.
  • Be “you” oriented and be personal and direct in your style.

Do not try to “sell” the job too much. Present it much more as a challenge they will have to overcome, rather than an “asset” they will receive.

Ineffective people are first and foremost looking for a “safe” job with a “safe” salary. You do not want these people.

The productive applicant is looking for a challenge! Sell this, rather than the job! If anything, your job ads should undersell the job, rather than oversell it.

Write strongly about how challenging it will be for the right person.

Do not be afraid to stress this point too hard.

But also write about the potential the job has for future promotion and/or technical development, expansion, etc.

An Example

Suppose you are writing job ads to fill the position of a Product Manager.

Suppose you are writing job ads to fill the position of a Product Manager.

Let’s say you are about to launch a new product range and you need someone to manage the introduction and on-going marketing of the new products.

Here’s what a “traditional” ad might look like:

We need a self-motivated team player to Product Manage our new range of widgets. You must have experience in managing similar products, but this job can easily be done by someone with either manufacturing experience or a sales background in this area.

Our company has one of the best benefits programs in the industry and we have just moved to a new location with modern facilities in a garden setting just outside the city limits, which is easily accessible and has plenty of parking.

The job will involve the announcement of the new product range and the monitoring of the marketing throughout the life of the products. Training of sales staff will be a part of the function, aided by our fully operational training department, so this is not difficult to accomplish.

This job will pay $80,000 per annum with an annual bonus of $20,000 for the right applicant. Please send your applications to…

Ok, let’s see how this stacks up. It is fairly typical of the ads that you see on the job boards and in newspapers. Where does it fall down?

  • It promises all sorts of benefits and perks.
  • It stresses how easy the job is.
  • It promotes the new, modern facilities.
  • It highlights the remuneration package.
  • The second paragraph is one long sentence.

References to “self-motivated” and “team-player” are irrelevant. These may be attributes that you need, but the poor performers out there will just ignore that part of the ad. Those words will slide off them as if their shoulders were made of Teflon.

Let’s see how we would rewrite this ad to focus it on the results-oriented aspects of the job. We will focus the job ad in terms that would attract a suitable top performer – with challenge!

You are an experienced Product Manager, looking for a bigger game. You are a long-term planner. You get a kick out of breaking down seemingly impossible barriers.

You will be solely responsible for the launch of an exciting new widget product range into a highly competitive market. You will then manage the lifetime marketing strategy.

Your goal will be to achieve a market share of at least 10%. That’s a tough call; not for the fainthearted! Over time, this role is intended to grow into a department of its own. The successful applicant may eventually be offered the management of this new area.

Are you excited by the challenge of launching a complex range of new products? If so, include a schedule of your recent results with your application. Send to…

Ok, so which ad would you respond to? Do you see the difference? The main aspects are that this second ad:

  • Speaks directly to the applicant – “you”.
  • Has short sentences and few long words.
  • Makes the job sound tough.
  • Throws down the gauntlet – “seemingly impossible barriers” and “tough call”.
  • Tells the applicant what the goal (end-result) of the job is.
  • Offers potential expansion of the role in the future.
  • Requests a submission of previous results with the application.

You will get far fewer replies to the second ad. But what you get will be of a generally higher calibre than those from the first ad.

Notice that the second ad does not mention remuneration.

If the job appeals to a top performer as a real challenge – something far meatier than their current (boring) job – remuneration is a non-issue. Job ads should appeal to the challenge, not the financial rewards.

There are many instances where people have taken a lesser paid job, just because the position itself was so attractive to them in terms of the challenge.