Writing it right in job ads

U of S research has shed some light on the important role words play in job ads.

"Standard job ads contain language about what the company wants, "explained Joe Schmidt, assistant professor in the Edwards School of Business. "That includes details about skills, qualifications, being motivated, a self-starter and dynamic, etc."

Schmidt said this type of recruitment ad focuses on the "demands-abilities fit," the ability to do the job and what employers need from employees. Traditional recruitment ads, he continued, often ignore another important fit between an organization and employee, the "needs-supplies fit," or how an organization meets an employee's needs.

Schmidt wanted to study how the applicant pools would differ if a needs-supplies fit focus was used in ads to shine a spotlight on what a potential employee may be looking for in a job. "These ads focus on how an organization meets the needs of an employee, things like skill diversity, task variety and significance, autonomy, and opportunity for promotion."

So Schmidt and his colleagues worked with an engineering firm in Calgary to manipulate the wording of 56 online ads, for a variety of jobs, to reflect either the demands of the job or the needs of the applicant. While the emphasis of the fit was manipulated, the ads still accurately portrayed the jobs.

"We made half the ads emphasize what an organization needs from employees, like skills and qualifications, and the other half focused on what an applicant needs in terms of resources and fulfillment; these ones focused on the type of things that help people obtain job satisfaction," said Schmidt, a specialist in organizational psychology. He added the ads drew 992 applications.

Schmidt measured the number of views each type of ad received against the resulting number of applications. Not surprisingly, the ads focused on the needs of the employee received more applications, almost 14 per cent more. "But companies don't simply want more applicants, they want more qualified applicants."

Schmidt then rated applicants— using the company's own screening methods—based on qualifications, education and experience, and with the permission of the firm, he also surveyed 91 applicants on topics like career goals and professional needs. What he discovered was that needs-supplies fit ads attracted the highest quality of applicants.

"These individuals perceive themselves as more marketable, in higher demand, and so can be pickier about jobs they apply for, and they appear to be more attracted to positions that fulfill their needs," he said. "Highly marketable job seekers are more focused on finding positions that fulfill their needs than less-marketable job seekers."

The results, Schmidt continued, "are intuitive, but a lot of companies just don't do this. I think it sends a clear message that ads need to emphasize needs-supplies fit. Web recruiting is pretty much a standard now and online ads make it so much easier to do this compared to old ways of advertising jobs in the paper. There are no restrictions on space or word count."

Schmidt's research has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Business and Psychology.
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