The mists in the crystal ball clear and a vision of the future appears, with absolute certainty, our forecasters declare “The Job Description will cease to exist!”. Then, as if to mock that same prescient certainty, they don’t.
In 1943 Abraham Maslow published his paper “A Theory of Human Motivation” in the Psychological Review. He posited a series of human drivers that worked sequentially, the lowest order of which must be satisfied in order to achieve the next. For example when starving to death we’re unlikely to be concerned with how our peer group thinks of us, until we meet that more basic need.
Maslow used the terms “physiological”, “safety”, “belonging”, “esteem”, “self-actualization” to describe the pattern that human motivations generally move through. If we are using the format of a job advert as a means to motivating an action from a reader, could we borrow from the Maslow model to ensure that we are writing a well rounded and engaging advertisement? Without too much of a mental stretch it’s easy to see how these stages can be made applicable to pressing on the underlying motivations a person may have when wanting to apply or even moving from casual interest to intention and ultimately action. At the very least we could use a model to broaden the appeal of a job advert and hit more of the motivational bases that Maslow identified.
Maslow’s third tier was “belonging” or “love”. For a job advert how can we convey a sense of somewhere a candidate might want to belong? This is where a lot of job adverts fear to tread. We stop at the inanimate perks and don’t consider the social interactions that having a job will bring. Belonging in job adverts is best conveyed through the people the candidate will be working with. Humans are (mostly) social creatures and benefit from interaction. Who really wants to spend eight hours a day treading the same carpet as people you hate? At the other end of the spectrum who would want to work with an ex-colleague or former manager who was an inspirational leader? Who might want to join a team of renowned experts in their field? If we make a job advert generic and impersonal e.g. “You will work with our team of developers” we risk becoming generic. Talking about the team is an opportunity to sell successes to a candidate and gain engagement from selling the pedigree of a potential peer group. In the world of startup it’s normal to see adverts proclaiming founders who are ex-Google or ex-Facebook in this way an employer borrows some of the perceived quality bar of their previous employers.
Another consideration for the “Team” level of a job advert is how the team organise and work together. A job may be more attractive for a reader if it explicitly states that the team don’t like to hold lengthy meetings, or that they work closely with other parts of the business. There are some great examples here that would make brilliant recruiting messages like Spotify’s excellent Engineering Culture video. For those who are harbouring frustrations about their current employer’s bureaucracy or lack of insight and innovation, referring to how the prospective employing company gets work done can be revealing and enlightening. Moreover, talking candidly about these things can help convey authenticity and engender trust in the reader.
For his fourth level Maslow talked about “Esteem”. This is the need for appreciation and respect. People need to sense that they are valued and by others and feel that they are making a contribution to the world. When employees become unhappy and disengaged they slowly start to stagnate. If they feel under appreciated or second best to others this happens all the quicker. It may seem obvious to mention that people like to feel valued but in a job advertisement it is wholly appropriate to mention how the role they will play will be important to the rest of the team or company. It’s a certainty that some of the role you’re advertising will be similar to other roles at other companies – in these cases it’s important to differentiate at a personal level. It’s a rare candidate that wants to be a cog in machine but still I see companies loudly proclaiming they are hiring “one thousand software developers this year!” the intended message is clearly designed to be one of security, though it’s hard to escape from a different “come and be one of a crowd” vibe. Remember a good job advert spurs the correct audience into action and acts as a self selection point for those who are not right. A job advert should not be generic enough to attract all comers – if it does you just ensure that someone will have to wade through the mire of terrible candidates and machine gun applicants that apply to everything.
Knowing that the role you are performing is worthwhile and needed is a far better motivator than the lower level “carrot and stick” incentives of salary and mock “benefits” of legally mandated holiday entitlements. The better job adverts will mention those truly motivating factors – autonomous working, results driven environments without the reliance of rules and policies. This further adds authenticity and can be a real differentiator for a reader.
So what’s left? You have an advert for a new job that tells a candidate they’ll be adequately financially rewarded, they’ll be given a great set of benefits and the company is secure so their job will be too. You’ve told them about the great team they they get to work with and then you’ve gone on to tell them how they’ll fit into that team and why the work they will do is important and needed. If you said that was all a job could do it’s still pretty compelling, but Maslow has a further tier on the road to fulfilment. “Self- actualisation”. This is the final level of psychological development that can be achieved when all basic and mental needs are essentially fulfilled and the “actualisation” of the full personal potential takes place. Research shows that when people live lives that are different from their true nature and capabilities, they are less likely to be happy than those whose goals and lives match.
In job advertising terms how can we then offer this form of greater fulfilment to a prospective candidate? A majority of job descriptions fail in the balance of power they portray. Despite the current market for hires becoming tighter, in far too many posts on job boards there is a weird “you should be thankful that we deign to allow you to read this” holier than thou language choice that only the most spirit crushed drone would find engaging. However, this has become the accepted convention for weird mash-up of job description cum advert that employers post. Part internal HR document, part external facing “sexed-up” hyperbole.
Instead of using language straight out of the mouths of the mill owners of the Industrial Revolution why not let candidates know what they stand to gain from being an employee. What are the experiences they will have that will let them grow as individuals. Will they gain new skills or be trained in new areas? Will they get to mentor or be mentored by other employees leading to more rewarding interactions? Will they have the scope and the freedom to be truly creative? Are they empowered to innovate? This is the future facing final tier of any great job advert and if you can hint at a brighter future for those who come and work for you it might just be the tipping point for them to hit that big red apply button.