12 November 2008

Dullness Rules: AFR Job Ad Review 2008

This article originally appeared in Issue 58 of InSight Published 12 November 2008
 
I have to admit, I wasn't especially optimistic of reporting back to you that the quality of Australian Financial Review (AFR) ad writing had improved greatly in the past 12 months (see my 2007 review in InSight 56).
 
As I skim the AFR each Friday throughout the year, I am rarely struck by the high quality of any ad I read. Considering that the cost of AFR job advertising is the recruitment industry's equivalent of Sydney waterfront property, I expect much better.
 
The table below shows you how I assessed the 46 ads in the AFR on Friday 24 October 2008, in terms of the 4 categories I nominated (in bold). For comparison purposes last year's percentages are provided in italics.
 
Ad Source
Outstanding
Very Good
Average

to Good

Poor to Awful
Recruitment Agency
1 (4%)


2007:0%
8 (32%) 2007:19%
13 (52%) 2007:63%
3 (12%)2007:18%
Company
0
2007:0%
3 (15%)
2007:3%
11 (52%)
2007:44%
7 (33%)
2007:53%
Total
1 (2%)
2007:0
11 (24%)
2007:13%
24 (52%)
2007:57%
10 (22%)
2007:30%

Here's my bullet point summary of the whole exercise: 
  • The quantity of job ads had plummeted from 99 last year to 46 this year (no wonder Fairfax are axing 100's of their employees).
  • One ad was assessed as ‘outstanding' (0 last year). Take a bow Tom Key at Lloyd Morgan (assuming you wrote your own ad!).
  • The percentage of recruitment agency ads to total ads (ie agency ads plus corporate/government ads) dropped slightly from 63% last year to 54% this year.
  • ‘Poor to awful' ads dropped in total from last year's 30% to 22% this year. At least some progress is being made or maybe I am getting softer, However, one third of all corporate/government ads were still in this category.
  • The number of ads containing clichés, tautologies and vagueness (to quote my article from InSight 49) was (thankfully) lower.
  • The major crimes committed this year by the various ad writers were as follows: 
§  lack of metrics or data 
§  long sentences 
§  generalisations 
§  dullness (the worst crime of all)
 
Here's a few extracts to bring a smile (or cringe) to your day. As usual, to protect the guilty, I've resisted the temptation to identify the company or recruitment agency who wrote the ad so instead, I've listed the ad title and what page the ad appeared on:
 

Biggest waste of an opening paragraph

 
‘If you're a Self Insurance professional looking for greater challenges and accountabilities, you'll find them with the most successful Self Insurance brand in the market. You'll play a critical leadership in ensuring we deliver on our business drivers and continue to grow steadily in the market'
Manager, Self Insurance Services (page 6)



Most uninspiring opening sentence (3-way tie)

 
‘As the Commercial manager you will be responsible for the development, negotiation and commercial performance of the required commercial and financial agreements'
 
Commercial Manager (page 2)
 
‘We are seeking an analyst to develop quantitative/econometric models as input to Platinum's investment process'
 
Quantitative Analyst (page 16)
 
‘Two challenging opportunities exist for experienced individuals in the Capital Works Branch at Monash University's Facilities and Services Division'
 
Manager, Capital Works Branch And Deputy Manager, Capital Works Branch (page 71) 


The job requires me to do what, exactly?

 
‘This role provides administrative support to management and staff within the Economic Regulation Authority and shares responsibility for coverage of a range of activities undertaken within the administrative support functions'
 
Administrative Assistant (page 10) 


Longest sentence - 54 words (the two sentences that preceded this one had 47 and 46 words respectively!)

 
A demonstrated high level ability to communicate and advise on complex taxation matters to both specialists and non-specialists, proven presentation skills and ability to manage difficult issues is required, together with highly developed written skills enabling the production of technical documents that are clear accurate and concise, including documents which are understandable to non-specialists'
 
Principal Taxation Advisor (page 12) 


Most ‘exciting' of all the jobs promising an ‘exciting opportunity'

 
‘This exciting opportunity will provide candidates with the opportunity to contribute to the success of transforming procurement operations, enhance business performance and drive procurement service and compliance levels'
 
Be the Engine Driving Procurement Forward (page 13) 


Say what?

 
‘As start up Managing Director it will be your role to operationalise the vision of the board'
 
Managing Director (page 8)
 
‘We offer an incredible lifestyle'
 
Principal Taxation Advisor (page 12)
 
‘Commercially savvy, questioning with project evaluation skills, you are practical with exceptional communication ability and manage relationship internally and across the business community'
 
GM - Commercial Strategy development (page 15)
 
The successful applicant will be an internationalist...'
 
Deputy Secretary Industry and Trade (page 18)
 
The role will involve an element of travel...'
Premises Property Manager (page 69) 


The one ad I assessed as outstanding was General Manager of Marketing for CPA Australia, listed by Tom Key of Lloyd Morgan in Melbourne. Tom's ad had all the things I look for in a highly effective ad, namely: 

 
ü       client branded
 
ü       good use of metrics in describing the organisation
 
ü       context for the opportunity was created
 
ü       the broad challenge of the role was clear
 
ü       the major responsibilities were outlined
 
ü       the core competencies were few and clearly articulated
 
ü       positive language was used throughout
 
ü       the flow of the ad was excellent
 
Being in the UK at the time I was writing this article, I looked at the UK executive job ad equivalent (Appointments section of The Sunday Times), for a comparison. The quality of ads was generally much higher for three simple reasons:
  • Much more interesting and better descriptions of the hiring organisation, mainly due to excellent use of metrics and data.
  • Excellent use of layout, font, colour and bullet points to enhance the ‘eye-catchingness' of the ad.
  • Salary and benefits were specified much more frequently. 

I can only hope that with Christmas approaching, recruiters spend more time writing higher quality ads. It pays off - big time.

2 comments:

  1. Hi Ross,
    I do recall reading your initial AFR Job Ad Review which was both amusing yet also scarily accurate. The concern is why, with so much money being spent on these ads - are they not concerned with the actual content of the ad – you wonder if whoever signs off has even read the ad!
    It is easier to appreciate that with online job ads you get a vast and varied mix of ads from embarrassingly bad, to readable, to some really well written and engaging job ads.
    Six Figures is an Executive Job Site for high salary earners. Mid this year we conducted some research around attracting high salary earners. What really stood out from the results was how high salary earners are really wanting "in-depth" information about the companies they are considering joining. This market segment even put the calibre of the leadership team at a prospective employer above salary.http://www.sixfigures.com.au/downloads/SixFigures_HighSalaryEarners_Report08.pdf
    Yet only a small percentage of job ads ever include this key information around leadership, career progression and salary package, which is what job seekers need to be provided with before they will consider applying.
    No doubt we will gradually see an increase in the quality of job ads over time - however you do sometimes wonder with all the time and money these companies spend on PR and Marketing their company brand – how they let such dismissal job ads with their brand out into the marketplace.
    Regards,
    Kelly Magowan
    Six Figures

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  2. Thanks for your comments, Kelly. You say that 'no doubt we will gradually see an increase in the quality job ads over time', I wish I could confidently agree! It seems that the more job ads that are posted the lower the quality.

    The conclusion of your research aligns with my thoughts - why do do few ads have the information that high quality candidates want to read? The impact of a poor job ad is that the candidate is likely to assume the actual job is not high quality and hence they don't apply.

    Let's hope that in a market of lower job volumes that recruiters have more time to write better job ads!

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