Three questions about job adverts

by | 29.04.2024

An interview with Madeleine Kern about job adverts

Madeleine Kern has made it her mission to make small and medium-sized companies visible as attractive employers. Her motto is “Countering the shortage of skilled labour with brains!”. She attaches great importance to knowledge, realisation and fun. In workshops and training sessions, she quickly and effectively teaches the basics of recruitment strategy and practical procedures.

Her aim is for both applicants and employers to approach the application process efficiently and with pleasure. Because every employer is an employer of choice for the right person. Madeleine Kern is therefore exactly the right person to answer the following three questions:

How do I avoid whitewashing in a job advert?

Madeleine Kern: A job advert is advertising in the broadest sense and advertising lies. That is the widespread opinion. But if everyone believes that people lie in job adverts, why should you go to the trouble of not lying? And how can applicants even tell whether the job advert is serious, a little embellished or simply a lie?

My first and most important recommendation is: Stay honest! After all, any fraud, whitewashing and exaggerations or understatements will eventually come to light and then frustration and, in the worst case, a quick dismissal will follow. This costs all sides a lot of time and money and is very easy to avoid.

In my experience, people particularly like to gloss over the benefits, although these are not the decisive factor in the application. That is why I would like to start with the most important point: The job description.

People don’t apply for benefits, but for a more demanding or new job – quite simply for a new job. This is why it should be written as authentically and target group-orientated as possible. I therefore recommend carrying out a job and requirements analysis with the hiring department in advance. In the very best case scenario, there will even be time to write the job advert together with the specialist department. After all, the people who are already doing the job are best placed to describe it and even know what the target group considers important. The task of the HR department is to keep an eye on the readability of the advert so that it is not written in complete technical jargon.

This is where the job advert differs from advertising: if we are selling a product, we want to reach as many customers as possible with an advert and convince them to buy. But if we are filling a position in the company, we want to do so with a suitable and appropriate person. And yes, usually just one. Whitewashing the job description is absolutely counterproductive, as it also attracts unsuitable people and therefore creates more work in the recruitment process.

A good example of a change of perspective is travelling: this is usually written into the job advertisement in very small print as a supposedly annoying requirement. However, the right person sees travelling and working in different places as something positive. What one person sees as a burden is a challenge for another and a benefit for the next. There is therefore no need to embellish. Honesty is much more important.

Another example are the benefits already mentioned, where people particularly like to fib or exaggerate. Let’s take the home office. “It has to be included,” I often hear. “But it’s not actually practised here.” For me, this leads directly to an unhappy start and a dismissal during the probationary period, unless it becomes clear during the interview that they were lying. That’s why I recommend being honest at this point too! Instead, write “We have a great office culture because …”. There are definitely people who enjoy going to the office and prefer to do so, and it is precisely these people who are better suited to the corresponding way of working.

An honest job advert is therefore a win-win situation for all sides and with this perspective, whitewashing is suddenly no longer necessary.

How can I avoid our job advert looking like all the others?

Madeleine Kern: Counter questions: What do all the other adverts look like? Do you even want to stand out from the industry standard? Even with job advertisements, it can make sense to adhere to a certain standard in order to match the habits and search behaviour of the reader.

In my experience, companies want to stand out positively from the competition. And since many job adverts try to describe a 40-hour week with bullet points and short, substantive bullet points, it’s quite easy to do better.

Basically, bullet points are useful for visually delineating tasks. I also recommend full sentences and a direct approach to establish a linguistic connection with the reader.

The job advert is already much better than average if the tasks are sorted in a certain way. The most important and most frequent tasks should be listed first to make the priorities of the job clear. There are also professions for which it makes more sense to put the tasks in a project sequence, as these are always repeated. There are even job adverts where I recommend outlining the typical daily routine.

However, the most important thing is to describe the activities as they are carried out in the company. What makes the work unique? What special features are there?

Here’s a concrete example from accounting: The job is clear. Accountants know what is involved. But how can you stand out from the competition? By being specific:

  • Which programme is used in the company for bookkeeping?
  • How many invoices have to be written, checked and authorised per week/month?
  • What principle is used for checking (four-eyes principle, six-eyes, artificial intelligence, tax consultant)?
  • What interfaces are there with other departments or external service providers?
  • Which areas of law does the person have to cover or is there another department for this?
  • How big is the team?
  • What additional projects are there (e.g. software conversions or process changes)?

And all of a sudden, it’s not just any job in accounting, but a very specific set of tasks that you can either like or dislike. But at least readers have the opportunity to form an opinion and decide whether or not to apply.

As job adverts tend to use empty phrases and buzzwords that nobody wants to read, it is worth simply leaving them out.

A focus on really relevant requirements enhances the job advert. Accounting must now be used as an example again: It is absolutely unnecessary to write in the requirements that detail-orientation and an affinity for numbers are desired. This is made clear in the job description and is a prerequisite for people who have the relevant training. Of course it is important to test this competence in the interview, but it is unnecessary ballast in the job advert.

Would you like to make your job advert even more unique? Then I recommend a separate section for culture and working methods. This is where you can really score points and show what makes your company tick and what makes working for you so special. In addition, there is no right or wrong, it’s all about you: How do you spend your lunch break or what type of collaboration do you have (office, digital, hybrid)? Do you like working in a team or do you prefer to work independently? What is your learning culture like? What is the culture of error? What is the celebration culture like? Write down examples and show the best sides of your company.

This way, the advert cannot look like all the others.

Is the use of gendered language in job adverts ruining my reach?

Madeleine Kern: Obviously, gendering has a completely different meaning in German than in English, for example. Linguistic gendering in job adverts in German-speaking countries is one of the most discussed topics in my workshops. Some companies already have guidelines, which are then logically applied in the job advert, while others are dealing with it for the first time. In addition to the typical questions of necessity, legibility, inclusion or exclusion of target audiences, the job advert also raises another question: Does gendering reduce the reach of the job advert?

Firstly, a brief outline of the basics of the reach of a job advert. The job advert on the company website can be found via a search engine such as Google or Bing if it corresponds to a “normal” website. The job title is a so-called H1 heading and is the most important indication for the search engine as to whether the “searched for” item can be found on the page. The words in the job title, the keywords, should have a high search volume – i.e. be searched for by people.

This is where gender comes into play: What do people type into a search line? The male or female form of a job title or even a form with an asterisk or colon?

The example of accountancy has to be used again: Buchhalter, Buchhalterin, Buchhalter:in, Buchhalter*in.

This is usually followed by a (m/f/d), which would only make sense for the first two variants. Then the job title shows that at least the advert does not discriminate on the basis of gender. After all.

If the asterisk is used, both genders and everyone in between and outside are meant in principle. However, the difficulty here is that the search engine interprets the asterisk as a separate character. However, only a few people enter job titles in a search line in this way. Similarly, the gender-neutral term “accounting” is searched for less frequently than “accountant”. This means that the job advert will be less likely to be found. In some cases, search engines can already handle the common gender options and a job advert with the title “Buchalter*in” is also displayed when “Buchalter” is entered in the search. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t rely on this at the moment.

My recommendation is therefore to refrain from using gender in the job title and to use (m/f/d) or (all genders) as an addition.

You can check whether a job title is searched for more frequently in the male, female, German or English version by comparing Google Trends¹.

Within the job advert, however, things look quite different. Here we can work with colons, asterisks or whatever suits your company. The impact on reach is significantly lower and is mainly about the company’s stance on gender equality. It is often no longer about the job title, but rather about words such as customer or employee, which have nothing to do with search behaviour.

A small addendum to this, which has nothing to do with reach but is important for job adverts: In principle, discrimination is not permitted when filling vacancies. The AGG (General Equal Treatment Act) is the legal basis for this. And this is not served by a simple (m/f/d) in the title. The entire application process, from the advertisement to recruitment, must be non-discriminatory. This refers not only to gender, but also to all grounds of discrimination listed in the AGG (ethnic origin, gender, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual identity). If you are unsure, then simply consider: Does this characteristic have anything to do with the job or impact on it? If not, then simply do not include it in the selection process and, of course, do not include it in the job advert.



[1] Just give it a try: Google Trends

Madeleine Kern - Success through better job adverts

You can find more information on Madeleine Kern’s website or on her LinkedIn profile. Feel free to get in touch if you have any demands.

Madeleine Kern has published an article about the candidate journey on the t2informatik Blog.

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Michael Schenkel
Michael Schenkel

Head of Marketing, t2informatik GmbH

Michael Schenkel has a heart for marketing – so it is fitting that he is responsible for marketing at t2informatik. He enjoys blogging, likes changes of perspective and tries to provide useful information here on the blog at a time when there is a lot of talk about people’s declining attention spans. For example, the new series “Three questions …”.