What makes a bad job ad? 7 common pitfalls that put candidates off

Recruitment has never been more crucial; or more challenging. But with a bad job ad, you’ll fall at the first hiring hurdle.

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Written and reviewed by:
Helena Young

Recruitment errors have always been a risk. Now, the stakes have never been hire. Businesses across the globe are struggling to source and retain qualified, skilled staff as turnover rates continue to skyrocket.

Rather than try a new tactic, however, many are committing the same tired faux pas that job seekers – particularly the future workforce of Gen Z – loathe. As a result, they’re set up for failure before an ad is live.

We spoke to Dan Hudson for his thoughts on the sorry condition of today’s job postings. Hudson founded the innovative recruitment startup, GiGL in 2019, which asks candidates to submit TikTok-style video applications in place of a CV.

Since then, GiGL has helped huge retailers and hospitality firms like GymShark and North Face to take on thousands of eager new starters, saving everyone time and money. Read on for Hudson’s tips on how – and how not – to recruit in 2024.

7 things to avoid on job adverts

1. Requiring years of experience for an ‘entry-level’ job

Picture it. After weeks of searching through various career websites, you find the perfect entry-level role at an advertising agency. All entrants need is a ‘can-do attitude’, ‘willingness to learn’.. and a minimum of five years management experience working in a global firm.

This is a common bugbear for young people when searching for jobs. Yes, three years’ experience is not long compared to the average 40-year career.

But for those with zero industry know-how to put on their CV, it’s a confusing requirement that is guaranteed to give you inexperienced applicants who are unsuitable for the role. What a waste of everyone’s time.

“CVs are a massive barrier for first-time job seekers,” says Hudson. “We have heard hundreds of students say: ‘What am I meant to put on my CV for this? I don’t have any experience.’

“Entry level jobs need motivated, driven people. They’re who you want to hire. On the GiGL app, you can look at people’s energy, their motivation and their communication skills in a video. All of which are not in a CV.”

2. Asking for a university degree

When writing a job advert it is illegal to directly discriminate against someone on the grounds of gender, race, age, religion or disability. Asking for a degree might not be direct discrimination, but it certainly isn’t an inclusive hiring method.

Not everyone has the opportunity to start or finish a degree, for reasons such as ill health or a lack of finances.

Some specialist sectors – like medicine – necessitate a degree from applicants. However, for job openings that don’t need a technical expert to fill them, it has become standard practice for many employers to ban university requirements.

“Just because you have a university degree, doesn’t mean you can do a job,” says Hudson. “An intern joined GiGL in his second year at university. I couldn’t tell you his degree, because we hired him for his work ethic, his communication, and his personality.”

Last year, the number of companies setting a 2:1 level degree as a minimum qualification in adverts dropped below 50% for the first time.

“There’s an increased concern around bias when it comes to this topic,” Hudson nods. “Lots of organisations have therefore moved away from anything with links to university or course requirements.”

3. Not including salary information

Many job listings still use ‘competitive’ or even ‘depending on experience’ in place of a bonafide figure. We all know this is bad practice, and yet we continue to see it being done.

Often, this is due to employer fears that displaying remuneration may put them at a competitive disadvantage. Businesses might even think they’re being smart by hiding salary, deciding it could cause resentment among existing staff.

Still, not including this information is increasingly a shoot-yourself-in-the-foot situation when 67% of job seekers cite salary as the top factor they look for in ads.

“Salary is in the top three questions that GiGL users ask about,” Hudson reveals. “Why would you not give the information? As an employee, you’re creating an inefficient process.”

As Hudson explains, knowing the expected salary upfront lets a candidate understand whether a job will be financially viable for them. It also streamlines conversations later in the hiring process.

“If you don’t include the salary, the natural assumption is that it’s not competitive. All the jobs on GiGL have their salaries advertised. We are about openness from both sides,” he states.

4. Not being transparent about benefits/perks

Job advertisements used to be composed of three simple topics – a description of work hours, role responsibilities, and location. But in today’s overly-saturated jobs market, organisations need to try harder to win over talent.

Workers are becoming more attuned to the benefits and perks packages that can help a company to stand out. Particularly, hybrid working policies or a four day work week, which have been gaining popularity amongst workforces.

Hudson tells Startups that the GiGL app has just launched a new section for its employer profiles to highlight the benefits offered, from subsidised work uniform, to holiday allowance.

“It’s the most popular video that candidates look at when examining an employer profile. We’ve had a 60% increase in conversion in the last week, because we’re putting this information in front of the candidates”, he reveals.

Still, it’s important to be honest and transparent about where you are in your perquisites journey. Equally as frustrating for applicants is when a company oversells its offering.

The pushback has already begun. The Startups 100 Index 2023 featured Flexa Careers, a fast-growth startup that verifies flexible working companies. Later this year, the government’s Flexible Working Bill will make it harder for companies to reject a request for flexwork.

5. Setting lengthy assessment tasks

Applying for a job is a stressful enough process as is. But sometimes, employers can make things worse, by asking candidates to jump through hoops just to get their foot in the manager’s door.

Count yourself lucky if you’ve never had to go through the monstrosity of these multi-stage application processes. Typically, they include several  steps –  filling out an online webform, uploading a CV, writing a cover letter, and completing a test – all without having once heard if the employer is even interested in employing you.

And, if you manage to make it through this opener obstacle course, Hudson reports seeing some companies send a final inbuilt video with bonus questions to answer.

“Multi-stage applications are a big no-no,” he grimaces. “They are very inefficient for employers and off-putting for candidates. If you have a slow, cumbersome, unengaging process, that’s how you’re being judged.”

GiGL life cycle

GiGL job application process from start to finish

6. Ghosting

Recruiters are busy people. Sometimes, they don’t have time to get back to an unsuccessful candidate after an interview. It’s easier to just avoid any communication from the entrant and hope that, eventually, they’ll get the message.

Except – what message is that? What ghosting really says is that you don’t respect the person enough to send two polite lines stating ‘thanks, but no thanks’.

Ignoring someone who has put time and effort into responding to a job listing is a surefire way to create a negative experience for the applicant. Without proper feedback it could easily be three or four weeks before the candidate hears a response; effectively trapping them in hiring limbo.

Longer-term, this could damage the firm’s reputation. Research shows that 79% of people wouldn’t re-submit to an organisation again if their previous job application was ignored. Poor feedback on review websites like Glassdoor tells future candidates to avoid applying to a role.

“Ghosting is the single highest candidate issue. Whether it’s good news or bad news, employees deserve to hear back,” Hudson stresses. “When someone applies for a job on GiGL, the employer has seven days to respond. After that, we remove the candidate from the process and suggest other companies which respond quicker.

Not ghosting doesn’t mean having to spend hours typing up hundreds of rejection letters. If you struggle to give prompt replies, simply set a longer timeline for responses in your job advert. This will give you breathing room and ensure the individual is kept in the loop.

7. 1,000 word job descriptions

Hudson puts it simply. In lots of today’s job descriptions, what the candidate wants to see is at the bottom, hidden beneath a lengthy account of the company’s origin story.

Most experts advise a job advert is no longer than 140 words. The key information should be either in bullet points, bolded, or otherwise clearly signposted.

“Don’t make a four page job description that starts with the company’s history, who you are and how long you have been around. That’s not what candidates want”, Hudson asserts.

“Instead, they want to know what they’re going to get out of it. How will they be rewarded, what are the career and training opportunities?”

Another problem that Hudson alludes to is the esoteric nature of a lot of modern job adverts. Many use unintelligible or outdated business jargon that requires a dictionary to translate – scaring away qualified job hunters simply because they’re unfamiliar with a certain acronym.

“Most job descriptions were written years ago,” says Hudson. “They are just copied and pasted, so they are quite generic and unengaging.

“That’s why we have dumped it all in the bin and replaced it with short and engaging, real videos. Through these, the applicant will meet the team, they’ll meet their hiring manager, and they’ll be shown what the job really looks like.”

Final thoughts

With talent shortages throwing a spanner in business growth plans, now is the time to review your application process and identify the areas that need updating.

Steer clear of recognisable red flags such as vague and lengthy job descriptions, failing to communicate or offer relevant information, and not considering diversity and inclusion.

Apps like GiGL are ahead of the curve. But streamlined application methods will likely become the norm soon as a growing number of candidates get turned off by poorly designed job ads.

As Hudson explains, take the time to create a compelling, inclusive job ad that accurately represents your organisation and the position you are hiring for. Doing so will ensure you find the right fit for your team – not just the performer who can put on the best show.

Read the below hiring guides for more actionable advice on sourcing fresh talent in a dry spell:

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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