Here’s some free advice for employers advertising on Craigslist and other employment websites. (I’ve spent a lot of time over the past year in the “jobs” and “gigs” sections of Craigslist.org and other employment web sites — mostly seeking consulting work or employment, but sometimes seeking to hire.) You will receive many resumes and cover letters from unqualified applicants. You can use several strategies to try to reduce the number of unqualified responses, but unfortunately many people and companies use automated scripts to respond to every Craigslist ad that contains specific keywords, or every ad posted in a particular category.
(1) Some strategies to reduce unwanted applications while also encouraging qualified applicants:
(a) Insist that applicants use a very specific subject line (different from the ad title) for their reply emails. This helps you screen out replies from people who haven’t really read the ad, including automated replies.
(b) You can also require that applicants respond to very specific questions about their qualifications (“Do you have 3 years experience with Ruby on Rails?”) in their response. But don’t ask essay questions (“Please identify your three greatest strengths as an employee, and your three greatest weaknesses.”)
(c) Be very specific about the geographic requirements of the job. Many jobs could be done “remotely” by tele-commuters; if you require that all work be done in your office, say so (“local applicants only”). If you’ll consider out-of-area applicants for jobs that must be done in your office, be clear whether relocation assistance might be available. (c) Be clear about the experience and skill requirements for the job. Separate your list of “absolute requirements” from the list of “preferred” or “desired” qualifications. (Example: I’m extremely experienced managing Google AdWords campaigns, but I haven’t jumped through the hoops nor paid the fees to become a Certified “Google AdWords Professional.” I don’t respond to ads that say “Google Adwords Certification required,” even though I could certainly do the work, because the ad sets an absolute requirement. I do respond to ads that say “Google AdWords certification preferred.”)
(d) Be clear about compensation, if you’ve made a reasonable decision about it. If you’re offering $12 per hour, say so. This reduces time wasted on calls and interviews with candidates who won’t accept that rate.
(e) Be specific about the job: What specific responsibilities will the employee be assigned? Who will the employee report to? What kind of hierarchy will the employee need to fit into? How will the employee’s performance be evaluated?
(f) If you’re seeking an “intern,” include that word in the ad title, and clearly state if it’s paid or unpaid, and whether you’ll consider only students. (Some folks use the term “intern” when they just mean they want skilled work for low- or no-wage.)
(2) “Don’ts” for Employment Ads: These are often “red flags” that will lead qualified applicants to ignore your ad.
(a) Don’t ask the applicant to “work for free.” This includes ads that request the candidate to “examine our web site and suggest three specific improvements,” or “identify which core technologies you would use to implement our retail e-commerce web site, and explain why,” or “submit a proposed marketing plan.” Many unethical firms use ads like these to seek “free advice,” so qualified applicants won’t invest the time and effort to respond to these ads.
(b) Don’t require applicants to use a proprietary “job application” script or a job-search web site. Some “job sites” post their own (fake or copied) job listings on Craigslist in order to draw people to sign up on their “job search” websites. Many qualified candidates (especially those who have current jobs) won’t be willing to invest the time required to complete your online “process.”
(c) Don’t post vague job descriptions or requirements. For example, “We need a website,” or “we need someone to help promote our business” (especially if you don’t mention the industry you’re in). Such ads demonstrate little planning or commitment. And many vague ads are posted by spammers seeking the widest possible response pool.
(d) But don’t identify detailed job requirements based on decisions you’re not competent to make. Even if you have made some “tentative decisions,” be clear what’s still open for discussion. For example, don’t say “We need an expert in implementing e-commerce web sites using Yahoo Merchant Services,” if you’d consider other technologies and hosting solutions.
(e) Don’t combine many dissimilar skills into a single job description. For example, I often see ads that seek a single person to do “Website Development” (including programming), “Graphic Design,” and “Marketing.” While there is overlap in these roles, you’ll never find a single person who is expert in all. By imposing such varied responsibilities and skills into a single job, you exclude good candidates, while also attracting “padded resumes” and fraudulent resumes.
(f) Don’t include requirements or skills which are completely impossible. For example, “at least 10 years experience with Google AdWords” (Google didn’t accept paid advertising until 2000, although other PPC search firms did exist before then) or “5 years experience with Joomla” (Joomla was released in 2005, but similar content-management systems existed for many years before then).
(g) Don’t demand references in the initial application. Again, many spammers use fake Craigslist ads to gather contact info; competitors use fake ads to identify prospects. Serious applicants who respect their past employers and clients won’t widely circulate their email addresses and cell-phone numbers (certainly not to an anonymous email address).