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From the blog: How to write work ads - 6 tips on how to attract the right people

Jimi Wikman

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As a consultant I see many work ads. Some are good, but a lot of them are almost to the point where I wonder if the people writing them know what they are asking for. It takes a while to write a work ad, so not only are you wasting your own time, but that of those who are looking for work as well. So here are my five best tips on how to write good work ads to get the right people for the job.


  1. Describe the problem you need solved
  2. Don't add buzz words
  3. Have a person that knows the craft write the ad
  4. Be honest about your work process
  5. Don't ask for unicorns
  6. Set tiers internally and price accordingly


1. Describe the problem you need solved

Most ads are just a big list of qualifications required, but very few actually describe what you need. Asking for certifications and extensive experience in a very specific field is a sure way to narrow the field of applicants. It does not however ensure that you can get the help you need. A certified scrum master or project manager can still be completely useless, while an uncertified person can be a miracle worker. Describing the problem also ensures that you can follow up and see if the person you hired actually could solve the problem you specified.

To some people this is very difficult, because it implies a problem and not everyone can admit that there is a problem to be solved. The thing is though that all work ads are requests for help due to a problem. It may be that you are understaffed, or that there is a competence missing. It can also be that you need help to organize or create work processes. No matter the need, just state what it is that you need help with and you will have a much better chance of getting the right person for the job.

2. Don't add buzz words

As a consultant I can easily read between the lines and when I see an ad stuffed with buzz words I know that this is a bad position. There are certain combinations like "Agile Mindset" with "dig in where needed" that I know means you have a chaotic workplace. Other combinations like "comfortable talking to steering groups" and "team player" means that you will be thrown under the bus frequently.

Anyone claiming that they work in an Agile way in a large scale company don't really know what Agile is and throwing in DevOps, SAFe, full stack x or made up words like "Scrum Manager" does not make it better. In act I often skip ads that are keyword stuffed with nonsense or where I can clearly see an underlying hint of a bad work environment.

Make sure you know what you are talking about and be up front with the situation you are in. Most of us experienced consultants have worked in very bad condition, and we make it work. I just want to know what I am stepping into rather than wasting my time and yours.

3. Have a person that knows the craft write the ad

I have seen ads that so clearly are written by people who have no idea what that role really will do. I understand that it is often managers or HR people that write the ads, but I suggest you let the people who know the trade write it instead. Not only will the ad suffer less from #1 and #2 above, but you can also define the actual work much better.

Having the person I will replace or work alongside write the ad will ensure I get the right information. This is because that person want the very best for the job so the ad will be aimed towards that. I will get the tools, disciplines, work processes and characteristics described properly and without nonsense.

4. Be honest about your work process

Everyone has crappy work processes. It is a fact and there is no need to pretend otherwise. Just be up front about just how bad your process is and most applicants will be fine with that. If the requirement process does not work or you have constant change in your iterations because no one can actually commit to anything, that is actually fine. Most of us work that way every day of the week, and we make it work.

If I know what I am getting myself into, then there is less chance that I will feel like you lied to me and I will stay longer. If you claim you work according to Scrum and it turns out you just have an ad hoc process with stand-ups, then I will probably not be very happy. This is often very difficult for managers and HR, which is why you should use tip #3.

Simply telling that you are trying to work in a more Agile way, but that you are struggling a bit due to the fact that your organization is still project based with a long tradition in ITSM is enough. Or that you are in a transformation phase so things are a bit shaky while you figure things out will do wonders.

5. Don't ask for unicorns

This is the biggest source of amusement for me and many other experienced consultants. Mixing roles as if you were doctor Frankenstein and then asking for 20+ years of experience for minimum wage. I have actually seen ads that ask for longer experience than the technique or tool has been around, which means they failed with tip #3.

When you define roles, then stick to one discipline and don't mix things. The more things you mix in, the less focus you will get in that area. If you combine opposing types, like "Scrum Manager" or "Developing Scrum Master", then you will not get both at 100%. One will be dominating at 80% or more.

working areas.pngAn easy way to avoid this is to use the color coding on this page. Mark the requirements you have put in with a color and then see how many colors you get. If you have two colors, then you are splitting the work into two disciplines. Three or more, then you are asking for a unicorn. Secondly you should look at the roles and see how they match up.

A Scrum Manager for example have both Scrum Master and Manager in the same category, but they are opposing in work direction and empathy. Managers work upwards with focus on finance, while scrum masters work downwards with focus on people. Developing scrum masters have conflict in focus. Scrum Masters are extrovertly focused where content switching is natural, while developers are introvertly focused and content switching will hurt their work capacity.

Work is often hard enough as it is and people burn themselves out far too often when working in just one discipline. Combining them increase that risk a lot and if you care about the people you hire you should avoid putting them in that situation.

6. Set tiers internally and price accordingly

Finally, don't ask for unicorns or highly experienced people and offer peanuts. I rarely care about the financial side of things because I value other things and I love helping people, but if you ask for someone with special abilities or long experience, then understand that you get what you pay for. Asking for a lower price makes sense, but don't ask for a senior or someone with expert capabilities and offer them half or a third of what they normally cost.  You will just end up getting a junior with basic skills rather than an experienced unicorn...

I suggest you set tiers internally for all roles you have, or need. Grade then according to experience, competence, workload and then match them towards the value they provide. Make it into a five tier grade where tier 1 is the highest and tier 5 the lowest and every time you make a new ad, define what tier you are looking for. Not all ads are aimed towards tier 1 applicants, in fact I would say most are not. So just make sure you know what you are looking for and then price it accordingly.


Final thoughts

Writing ads are difficult, but the cost of getting the wrong person for the job can be far worse. You also scare away a lot of good applicants if your ad is considered bloated, dishonest or if you send out danger signs because of an unfortunate combination of keywords. Even if the ad is for a temporary position you want to make sure you get the right person, so put some effort into the ad. If it is for a permanent position, then it is very important that you put your soul into it.

I know a lot of people think that you will just put something together for the ad, and then we do the real recruitment during the interviews. The downside to that is that you may already have lost the unicorns or that perfect candidate with the ad.

So make it good.

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