Recruiters, don’t sell the job, tell the story

Peter Whent
November 19, 2020

Survival against the odds


When the Discovery Channel does a look back at the great natural survival stories of the early twenty first century, they’ll tell two extraordinary accounts of endurance against all the odds.


They’ll tell the story of the Alaskan Wood Frog, which turns its body to ice to survive temperatures so cold, your words freeze in mid-air, and you have to defrost them with a hair dryer, just to hear your own voice.


The second story of survival is almost more extraordinary. This tale is of a document which has confounded scientists by surviving against all the odds. The job spec.


That's how it's always been done


The job spec is document published by recruiters to tell potential candidates all about the position they're trying to fill. Except most don't get close to achieving that. Most job specs I see in 2020, belong in an era when arriving at work smothered in cheap after shave and drinking four pints at lunch time was table stakes.


It’s a document which has been handed down through generations of recruiters, with clear instructions: “Don’t play with the format son, this is how we’ve always done it”.

And today it lives happily in a Grammarly template called “No Imagination”


Today’s job spec isn’t unlike the sprawling sea of identical cubicles on the 38th floor of an office building, filled with the grey faced workers it seeks to lure. They all blend into one forgettable mass.


The job spec and the boiler maintenance manual


Most job descriptions sound something like this. In fact, they sound exactly like this. This is a real-life example straight off the Internet, except that I’ve changed the names. No clues, but it’s one of the big global consulting firms. A company that thinks it’s so cool, it only needs two letters for its name. Read the job description. It’s about as cool as a chunky-knit tank top.

“You will be responsible for driving and shaping the BigCo offering around Force Platform and helping to drive the pipeline for FY21 and beyond both internally and externally. Working closely with Microsoft to ensure the BigCo offering delivers value to clients across D365, O365 and the Wider Azure Cloud. You will also contribute to client engagements and help shape the Force Platform solution with more technical members of the team.”

It drones on like that for several more tortured paragraphs, working on the mistaken assumption that anyone is still reading.


Do you speak human?


So, first things first. A job spec is a sales document, not a boiler maintenance manual. It’s going to be read by a human, and in an ideal world, you’d like one of those humans to come and work for you. Let’s try speaking human to them rather than some corporate dialect that wouldn’t be out of place in an IBM staff handbook circa 1958.


 I may be a bit out of date, but the last time I checked, the best way to persuade someone to pin their colours to your mast and stake their career on you, wasn’t to poke them in the chest with your index finger, telling them what they’ll be responsible for, and making a set of demands


How about what’s in it for them? In fact, why don’t we start by talking about them. Perhaps if we can engage them by talking about them, they might listen to us talking about us.


Let’s forget talking about us and the job, let’s try telling the story.


People are driven by a set of basic human needs. In the corporate world things like recognition, self-worth, and purpose are high on the list. So let’s make the story about that. 


I yield to no-one in my respect for good recruiters, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that most people’s basic human needs don’t include “shaping the BigCo offering” or “driving the pipeline for FY2021”


So, let’s have a go at building a story that sounds human and talks about them not us (heard that before!). Something like this:


“This vacancy for a new Sales Director, has been created by the departure of Andy Green who did the job for three years. He did such a good job we’ve promoted him. Before that for two years, it was our current CEO, Martin Smith’s job, and next it could be yours.


You see that’s part of our DNA. We want everyone to feel that there is route for them to grow and progress at Jackson Media. When we have a new role or vacancy, we always look internally first.


What’s also in our DNA is open communication. When you first set foot in our office, you quickly notice the absence of cubicles and offices. That’s exactly how Ron Jackson made it when he founded the company is 1981. We haven’t tinkered with that formula at all. Partly because Ron still calls in some Fridays and buys us fish and chips and has a chat. But it’s mainly because it works so well. Not that we’re afraid to tinker. We’re very inquisitive and willing to shake things up for the right reasons.


So apart from opportunity to progress and open, friendly communications, what else can you expect from us. Great question!


We’re trying to reinvent the way that people communicate with their clients, and sometimes that means people don’t agree with us. We’re OK with that. We don’t mind ruffling feathers and we like to work with people like us. So, when you meet us, you’ll notice that we’ll spend more time talking about your work ethic, your values, and whose feathers you’ve ruffled, than we will about your experience. We’d like you to be the same.”


Obviously, there’s more to come, and this may need a bit of polishing, but you get the point.


Time to change - an offer


I’m sure there are recruiters out there who’ll give me ten reasons why you can’t do it like this. God bless you and bon chance. But there’s also a brave soul who’s always telling his mates down the pub, that he wants his company to be different. To break the mould. Well, here’s your chance.


If you’re willing to do it, I’m willing to write it. Genuine offer for the first recruiter to email me on peter@peterwhent.com.


If it works, we’ll turn it into a Grammarly template called “Don't be better, be different”

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