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How to Write Help Wanted Ads That Attract Talent (and Nobody Else!)

Most help-wanted ads leave the best candidates yawning – and attract the people you don’t want. Learn how you can do better (And ads are just one manifestation of a universal underlying management principle.)

by Dov Gordon

A client was looking for a new personal assistant and asked if he should include “strong telephone skills” in the help-wanted advertisement.

“No.” I said.

“Why not? The phone is a very important part of the job,” he said.

“Because you don’t want someone with strong telephone skills,” I said. “What you want is someone who will make your clients and prospects feel valued and cared for whether they call on the phone or walk into the office.

“Ask for what you want. If you ask for strong telephone skills, anyone and everyone will feel qualified and will respond. If you ask for someone ‘who will make our clients and prospects feel valued and cared for, both over the phone and in person,’ you will cut your responses by about two-thirds. Only those excited by the idea of doing such work will apply. And they’re the only ones you want to interview, aren’t they?”

Too often, instead of asking for what we really want, we ask for what everyone else asks for

He got it. He did it. And he found a fantastic personal assistant.

Too often, instead of asking for what we really want, we ask for what everyone else asks for. That’s why we see all those ads stipulating “at least 5 years project management experience,” or “at least 3 years experience programming in Java.”

Who amongst us does not already know that the number of years doing something does not at all equate with proficiency in getting things done? So why do we persist in asking for what we don’t want?

When looking for a project manager, we should be looking for someone “with a proven ability to align people who have different interests to achieve bigger picture results.” We should be looking for someone “skilled in formulating clear objectives and measures of progress so that all project team members understand and can execute their roles.”

When looking for programmers we should be looking for people who “can write code that the end user perceives as the software equivalent of elegant poetry”; not some arbitrary number of years of programming experience.

Talented people who can get things done want to work with other talented people who can get things done. They have no patience for hackneyed protocol and mindless ways of doing things. When you advertise that you are looking for someone with five years experience, you are not letting them see how working for you is a great opportunity to exercise and grow their skills.

Instead, focus on outcomes to be produced and they get excited because they KNOW they can do that for you.

Conversely, average people just want to feel comfortable. They are comfortable showing you their resume with five year’s experience so they will apply for your job.

However, if you are looking for someone who can create specific outcomes, they are likely to feel intimidated. They’ll skip you and send their CVs to your competitors who write average help-wanted ads.

Copyright 2008 © by Dov Gordon. All rights reserved.

DOV GORDON helps senior executives make better, wiser decisions and quickly get things done. He is sought after for his perspective and advice on formulating and implementing strategy, developing an innovation culture and cultivating superior team work. His latest white paper on strategy, Spitting In the Wind, has received wide acclaim. Dov and his articles and white papers can be reached via his websites www.GordonGroupEC.com and www.Superior-Strategy.com or via email to dovgordon@gmail.com




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