“We’re looking for lazy, good-for-nothing people who need lots of direction building a bunch of dull products nobody is buying.”


I’m dumbfounded.

I just Googled “(Python OR C# OR Ruby OR Java) jobs Silicon Valley” and found 684,000 listings! Many of them weren’t jobs, but 100% of those that were, were uninspiring.

It’s hard to believe anyone with any talent would respond to any of them unless they were desperate. When important jobs are advertised cafeteria-style like this, with the garnish being the only differentiator, even the semi-desperate make the decision to apply based on location, job title and the company’s brand name. When they accept these jobs the size of the compensation package then becomes the prime negotiating factor. This is always the case with commodity products in a buyer’s market.

Below the surface many of these jobs would fit the description of a good career move, but most started with generic boilerplate like:

We are looking for passionate, hard-working, and talented Software Engineers who have experience building innovative, mission critical, high volume applications.

Then they compounded the problem with a laundry list of must-haves like:

  • Must have 6-7 years of C, C++ or Objective C programming skills
  • Must have experience with Unix and/or Linux
  • Must have experience with scripting languages such as Python, Perl, Ruby, shell scripts, etc.
  • Excellent debugging skills: ability to quickly recognize patterns in failures
  • Strong written and verbal communication skills

At best this type of advertising is designed to weed out the weak. It certainly isn’t designed to attract the best. I suspect they’d get better candidates if they said something like, “We’re looking for lazy, good-for-nothing people who need lots of direction building a bunch of dull products nobody is buying.” But only ducks and geckos are open to this kind of messaging.

Most likely, the people who write these postings never took a marketing 101 course. I took such a course 45 years ago (when I was an engineering undergrad) and learned that consumer advertising needs to have the following qualities:

  • Explain the product by emphasizing the benefits, not the technical specifications. (This was for all of the engineers in the class.)
  • Know your target customer.
  • Put your advertising in places where your target customer will find it. A great ad not found is a waste of money.
  • Have a compelling title and copy that’s of interest to your target customer.
  • You only have 10 seconds to convince the buyer to read more. Use pictures, stories and high impact statements to create interest.
  • Highlight a critical customer need in that 10 seconds.
  • Make it easy to learn more.

With this old-fashioned advice in mind here are some ideas on how to convert your job postings into compelling career-focused advertisements:

  1. Differentiate your title. We used “Oscar Winning Controller” for an accounting position with a small entertainment company in LA. A partner at PwC found it and sent me two referrals. “This Sales Job in Dallas is Shagadelic” worked to attract 50 awesome JC students for an entry-sales job for the Yellow Pages when the first Austin Powers movie came out.
  2. Use the first line to emphasize the candidate’s intrinsic motivator. TheMcFrank and Williams recruitment ad agency used “You Give a Whole New Meaning to the Word Meticulous” to attract job cost analysts in the construction industry.
  3. Emphasize what the person will learn, do and become. Highlight the 2-3 most important performance objectives for the job and tie these to a major company initiative. This sample also shows how to convert skills and experiences into deliverables.
  4. Tell stories rather than list requirements. We sent this email to a group of HR leaders from the division CEO describing his need to hire an HR VP to build the company. It received accolades from the HR community. Did you notice the complete lack of any mention of skills or experience?
  5. Short circuit the apply button. We suggest that interested candidates prepare a short summary of a major accomplishment that relates directly to real job needs. This is followed up by a 15-minute exploratory chat. Thislegally validated approach is called the two-step.
  6. Listen to good lawyers. As part of The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired I asked one of the top labor attorneys in the country to validate the above ideas. Here’s why he agreed it’s not only legally sound advice, but the right advice for attracting stronger people.

Recruitment advertising should be designed to attract the best, not weed out the unqualified. I’m still dumbfounded why this simple idea is so hard to understand by those who continue to post these same boring job descriptions year after year after year.