Plenty of for-profit and nonprofit companies alike post poorly designed job ads every day, partly because they aren’t aware of the ads’ potential impact as part of an overall recruitment strategy. These commonly seen postings often follow outdated formats and top-down approaches that display indifference toward their target audience, managing to be painfully uninteresting at best, and at worst, not worth the frustration they cause for discerning applicants. As a result, such companies are likely to bring in smaller pools of equally indifferent candidates.
But your organization isn’t common, and it’s anything but indifferent. You run a lean, high-performing nonprofit, and you need unicorns: highly skilled, adaptable, and passionate people who are worth their weight in gold, but will work for a modest salary because they value job satisfaction most. To attract unicorns, as the legend goes, you must be pure of heart, and your nonprofit job ads will need to reflect that. Here’s how to write a proper job ad that will charm the rarest steeds in the market.
Arguably the biggest mistake companies make in writing a job ad is framing it as a stark laundry list of their own requirements and preferences—and often, that list is far too long, vague, or complex. The hiring process is a two-way street: you are hoping to begin a relationship that’s the best possible fit for both parties. Naturally, that involves being direct about your organization’s needs, but not to the point of ignoring your applicants’. Your job posting should be as much about winning over job candidates as it is about establishing the criteria for winning the job.
Fortunately, you don’t need to go on an epic quest for any costly magical elixirs to draw great candidates out of the forest. Here are some straightforward tips for getting those unicorns to approach.
Your tone can and should be professional, but it should still speak to like one-of-a-kind minds who truly want to make a meaningful difference in the world. In general terms, describe how candidates will be empowered to do this with your organization. Highlight the qualities of the team they’ll work with, the best aspects of your work environment, the challenges they’ll have the chance to tackle, and the rewarding opportunities they’ll gain. Don’t forget to mention opportunities for growth!
All-text job ads—even those with properly formatted bullet points—can feel like a brick wall to some applicants, especially if they rely too heavily on industry buzzwords or bland phrasing. Consider mixing up your media and including video presentation links that give candidates a better glimpse of what your company is really all about. Although they may not tell you so, today’s job seekers need to assess your organization’s “vibes” as much as they do its pay and benefits packages, and videos are a great visual way to showcase its unique character.
Particularly in the nonprofit world, where being socially ethical is a core goal of many organizations, it’s essential to include more about your policies for equity and inclusion than the usual boilerplate “equal opportunity” statements found elsewhere. Feature your philosophies prominently in your ad rather than tacking them on at the end as an afterthought. Use gender-neutral pronouns and job titles, and solicit feedback from your current employees to help eliminate language that might be interpreted as expressing bias.
Be sure to list a job title that accurately describes the position you need to fill; embellishing it will discourage qualified talent and waste the time of overqualified applicants who are expecting higher pay and status than you’re offering. Include all key competencies needed to do the job (with any nice-to-haves clearly labeled as such). In the interest of reciprocity, however, you should also be up front about pay, benefits, and perks, tangible and otherwise—especially those that are likely to be most attractive to candidates.
There’s nothing worse than a job ad that doesn’t specify how to apply for the role, asks for too many time-intensive application materials, or doesn’t list the name and title of the hiring manager to whom the cover letter should be addressed. (This becomes especially frustrating for applicants if the hiring manager is also not listed on your organization’s “team” web page). Make it as simple as possible for prospective candidates to apply: include a link to a user-friendly application form and provide essential contact information, including for applicant questions.
Although this is a common practice, it can be inconsiderate to both referees and applicants. Applicants, who may be applying for several positions at once, are bound by good etiquette to limit access to their referees as much as possible, since those people are doing them a favor. Ideally, applicants will only want their referee to be contacted if they are certain they want the job—which is all but impossible to know at the initial application level. Asking for references up front disempowers applicants to protect invaluable human resources from getting “spammed.”
Keep in mind, too, that although society often assumes as much, an applicant’s previous employer or supervisor may not necessarily be a competent or ethical referee. This puts many job seekers at an unjust (and stressful) disadvantage. Some well-qualified and highly motivated candidates may have other “reference gaps” through no fault of their own. Allow applicants to choose their own referees, and ask for references only when you’ve narrowed finalists down to a short list. Better yet, consider skipping this step and conducting in-depth interviews instead.
When you write a thoughtful, considerate, and inviting job ad, you’ll attract intelligent, courteous, and motivated candidates for the job. Precisely because so many other companies get important things wrong in this regard, the people you hire will be all the more excited to join yours. If your ad is a true reflection of your nonprofit’s culture, they’ll sing your praises on employer review sites and social media, boosting your future recruiting power. The best part? They’ll also repay your efforts with loyalty and productivity of, well, mythical proportions.
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