Candidate sourcing | Lessons from Top Gun about creating great job adverts

Lessons from Top Gun about creating great job adverts

It’s 36 years since the release of the original Top Gun movie. A piece of cinematic magic produced some epic blockbuster moments and some classic lines that have stood the test of time.

That’s all great…but what can Top Gun teach us about writing great advert copy?

It’s all about displacement. This is why we love books, TV and especially movies, as they take us away from our day to day stresses and suspend us in a different world. Typically, this sees us imagining we are the main character (the Hero e.g. Maverick) and constantly asking ourselves the question “what would I do if I was in their position?”

Taking this further, many movies (including Top Gun, Star Wars, Shawshank Redemption etc) all have a second character who is the guide to the hero. Think Ob1 Kenobi (Star Wars), Red (Morgan Freeman’s character in Shawshank Redemption) and Viper (Tom Skerritt’s character in Top Gun).

This is the lesson. Are you ready?

The best advert copy places the jobseeker as the Hero of the story and the Employer as the guide. It engages them and gets them to think “what would it be like to do this job/work for this company?”.

Unfortunately, most advert copy places the employer as the Hero. Talking excessively about how they are a great employer and what they need in their next employee. Worst still the language they use is stale and corporate so the potential to engage the candidate is lost.

To give you an example. Here are the section headings when the employer is the Hero:

  • Background

  • Role Purpose

  • Key Accountabilities

  • Qualifications

  • Knowledge & Experience

  • Something else

  • You still reading this

  • You lost me at “Key Accountabilities…zzzz”

Here are the same section headings of an advert that places the candidate as the Hero:

  • The opportunity / our mission

  • The impact you will have

  • What you will need to excel in this role

  • What you can expect from us

  • What’s next*

*This is the “call to action” an important paragraph that few adverts include.

The recruitment landscape is tough. Easily the toughest I can remember in 23 years. It is far from “a target rich environment” out there. So you would think that advertisers would be putting more effort into crafting better adverts, right?

Well if they are, I don’t see it. In my last post, I highlighted some research from our ATS showing how our customers (almost 400 of them) are recruiting at twice the speed in 2022 than they were in the previous 2 years, and this is important as you have to move fast when you find good talent, but are recruiters moving too fast now, especially when it comes to advert copy?

“You don’t have time to think up there. If you think, you’re dead.” — Maverick

A few quick “facts” that I have seen:

  • All the research highlights that shorter adverts are almost essential to capture candidates attention and long adverts don’t work. 200-300 words is the sweet spot. Most employer adverts are double this.

  • Most job adverts carry the same boring overused terms that don’t engage jobseekers and make them want to read on. Take for example the term “passion” no term has ever been more overused in job advert copy. As I type this, I’ve just done a search on TotalJobs there are 81,000 employer adverts, there will likely be similar when you click. A whopping 33,000 contain the term Passion (or a synonym close to this e.g. passionate), that’s over 40% of adverts!

  • Some employers make an effort to explain what makes them a good employer. But few actually, back this up by providing some evidence. You say offer great career development, did your employees agree when you ran you asked about this in your employee survey? What do your reviews on Glassdoor say? To prove this point, taking the same search of 81,000 adverts on TotalJobs, only 395 mention Glassdoor that’s 0.48%!

The solution to this is creating a new job advert template that is designed to produce engaging copy that helps the reader (jobseeker) to start to feel what it would be like to work in this role. It means tackling the “but this is how we have always done it” approach.

Here are hireful we love helping recruiters. This is why we have put together a simple advert copy guide which you can download using the link below. It comes with a link to a webinar recording where we go into the real detail behind this.

Let hireful be your wingman, we run over 100 webinars and workshops every year for free training HR professionals and in-house recruiters how to recruit better.

“Remember, when it's over out there, we're all on the same team.” – Viper (Tom Skerritt)

Take me to the advert copy guide!


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