Writing a job advertisement that will attract the candidates you want

This post is a summary of my notes from a recent Bodleian Libraries training session and does not constitute legal advice. 

Remember that your job advert may be the first impression many applicants have of your organisation, so make sure it’s a good one!

Your advert should

  • Be attractive – create impact by providing all the relevant information
  • Be informative – help potential candidates decide if they would be suitable applicants (put off those without the required skills, and eliminate jargon which may put off good candidates unfamiliar with your local terminology)
  • Be accurate – it’s important not be misleading or inaccurate.  There’s no point trying to make a job appear better than it is – you might hire an unsuitable person who won’t stay long
  • Be approachable – provide potential applicants with all the essential information and give the contact details of someone they can ask about any further queries
  • Elicit a response – inspire potential candidates to apply
  • Be personable – to help applicants feel more affinity with the role, use statements with “you will have” rather than “we need” e.g. “you should be passionate about…” instead of “the successful candidate will be passionate about…”
  • Be cost effective

Write the job description, the selection criteria and then the advertisement.

Pitfalls to avoid

  • Being discriminatory, for example by using language that is gender- or culturally-specific e.g. advertising a role as “Store Man”, referring to the post-holder as “she” or “he”
  • Being too technical – libraries are rife with technical language and jargon, and not all of it is universal.  Choose job titles with meaning e.g. library assistant.  I hear “reading room supervisor” used at lot at Oxford, but I don’t think this is a contemporary term for this job at other university libraries
  • Being misleading or inaccurate.  As mentioned above, giving misleading information about a post may attract unsuitable candidates. Beware of putting lipstick on a pig
  • Exaggerating qualifications required – if an MA in Information & Library Management isn’t necessary in order to be able to do the job, don’t ask for it
  • Stating the obvious, such as writing “we are looking for an admin assistant” in the body text of the advert – candidates know this from the title of the advert.  Be concise and don’t repeat yourself
  • The use of generalisations such as “the work will involve a wide range of duties”, “you will be providing a service to all readers within a particular library”, “you will be required to undertake general library assistant duties” – be more specific.  This feeds into the job description and appraisal process, so getting this right before advertising the job will also be helpful once the chosen candidate is in post
  • Advertising solely by word of mouth – this is unfair and potentially excludes a large number of suitable applicants.

Do you need to pay to advertise? 

Information from the Bodleian Libraries’ Personnel team states that 90% of applications within University are made from unpaid advertising sources.  Make a selective media choice and choose the most popular publication in the relevant field in which to advertise (though I notice that Bodleian Libraries don’t seem to be using LISJobNet any more, just jobs.ac.uk)

You can save money by creating a short advertisement (limit the word count to 50) and direct potential applicants to the full details on your website.

Work permits

Consider the implications of obtaining work permits for any applicant who does not already have the right to work in the UK – generally only an option for more senior posts where you can demonstrate that no suitable candidate with UK employment rights was available.  If this is the case, you’ll also need to advertise at Job Centre Plus for at least 4 weeks.

For Bodleian Libraries roles on grades 1-5, it is acceptable to include the phrase

“this post does not meet minimum requirements for work visa employment; we can therefore only accept applications from those who can prove their eligibility to work in the UK”

as the Libraries would not be able to apply for work permits for these posts.

Key information to include in your advertisement

  • Job title (make sure it will make sense to applicants outside your organisation)
  • Department and location of the role
  • Main purpose of or tasks involved in the role (choose the most relevant parts of the job description – make it interesting!)
  • Hours (make it clear if the job is full-time or part-time; and if it’s part-time, state the hours)
  • Grade (if applicable) and salary range (pro rata if part-time)
  • Length of contract e.g. permanent, 6 months, maternity cover for 12 months
  • Where to find more information and how to apply
  • Closing date

Further particulars

In the further particulars, it is good practice to put the job in context by providing more information about how the role fits into the library/department.  Provide the full job description and selection criteria.  Give clear guidance on how to apply e.g. covering letter and CV or application form.  Include the contact details of someone who can respond to informal enquiries about the role. If possible, state the interview date(s) so candidates can keep these free in case they are shortlisted.  You could also include the benefits of the role, such as pension, holidays and training prospects as these could be good selling points.


Filters are vital pieces of information within the advert which enable potential applicants to decide whether or not to apply.  Selection criteria identified as “essential” form the basis of filters for your advert, and may include qualifications, specific experience or membership of a professional body.  Do not include any intangible filters such as character traits or personal qualities as these are not measurable at interview and you run the risk of being accused of operating an unfair selection procedure.

Final tips

  • Use short sentences which are easy to read and understand
  • Use short paragraphs and bullet points
  • Don’t use ALL CAPS – it’s slower to read, less accessible and unfriendly
  • Use black text on a white background to increase readability

Having broadcast your job advertisement, sit back and wait for the applications to roll in 🙂

For more posts in this series, click the “Recruitment” tag below.



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