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Oct 5Tom Matthews

The greatest help wanted ad ever written.

Oct 5Tom Matthews
The Help Wanted World

Men Wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness. Constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success.

This help wanted ad was written by Ernest Shakleton for his 1914 South Pole Expedition.  It is one of the best stories that I’ve ever read.  Not because of his great success (the expedition failed) but because he did not lose one man on one of the most challenging expeditions there have ever been.  I understand that better now after reading the ad.  He described the person he wanted, not the skills he might need.

This ad was included in the book  The 100 Greatest Advertisements:  1852-1958 because it talked about attitude, not job duties.  There is nothing here that says the applicant needs to know how to sail, tie knots or run a dog sled.  It speaks to who should join the expedition.

In the same way, today’s best recruiters say the help wanted world is full of lousy ads that do not produce desired results.  I’m talking about this today because every single client I have is struggling to hire good staff.  They are all growing and are all befuddled by their inability to fill key positions.  My hypothesis is companies are not selling themselves in the hiring process – which starts with the ad.  They do not paint a picture that top performers are looking for.

We all know that Google is one of the great companies to work for.  Here is copy that is sprinkled in their help wanted ads:

At Google, you’re organizing the World’s Information.  It’s important work because information is power….

At Google, you take the Google Bus with people as smart as you.

At Google, you look out upon Googlers playing Segway Hackysack…

At Google, you eat exquisite free Google Food with other Googlers…

After reading this, I want to work at Google.  I want to do important things; I want to be one of the smart people; I want to play on a Segway.  My guess is Google does not have to work hard at selling themselves and yet that is exactly what they are doing.

On a smaller scale, here is an ad from a software company:

As much as deep technical skills are critical for us, the most successful working relationships we’ve had over the past few months have been with folks who are incredibly professional, disciplined, focused and leave their egos at the door.  Attitude comes first.

If my values don’t coincide with this ad, I probably won’t apply.  But if this is how I think, I’m going to jump at the opportunity.

I have read a lot about the recruiting process.  Here is what I have distilled from all this reading:

  1. Write honest job descriptions for honest job titles.
  2. Don’t ask for something you don’t need. Do they really have to have a college degree?
  3. Don’t try to entice candidates with promises of greater responsibilities than is true.
  4. Write your ad like you’re selling, not buying. Your goal is to bring in great candidates, not to weed out the bad performers.
  5. Paint a picture of your company values. Make it so clear that applicants with the same values will jump at the opportunity and applicants that don’t possess those values will not want to send in a resume.

Don’t say the applicant needs to be organized and have good communication skills.  That’s like saying they need to brush their teeth in the morning.

photo credit: Help Wanted: Banned via photopin (license)

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