Crappy Job Ads on craigslist

Opinions on how we should and shouldn’t compose our resumes are a dime a dozen in the blogosphere. Well, in fact they’re free, though some may be worth a little more. The topic is an old one, and though the Internet and modern practices (like using craigslist or monster) may have brought new rules into play, it’s still about making yourself look smart, experienced, and sane.

The flip side of resume writing is the art of advertising open positions when seeking to hire people. I can’t keep track of whether we’re in a “buyer” or “seller” market in the software development world, but it’s clearly true that individual companies in individual markets frequently find themselves fairly desperate to hire developers. My own experience is that it takes quite a while to find candidates, and even longer to hit upon a good one.

Thus it seems to me that writing good copy for craigslist “help wanted” adds would be something employers do as a matter of course. Sadly, that’s not the case. They’re generally:

  • ugly;
  • rife with spelling and grammar errors;
  • composed of weird or stilted language;
  • jammed with buzzwords and product/technology names.

I know that some of the problems stem from the route the ads take from the hiring manager through the HR group (and possibly through the recruiters), but that’s hardly an excuse. The end result is that I read the ads, you read the ads, and we form opinions about the personality and culture of the organization. I caught myself the other day rolling through craigslist ads, one after the other, shaking my head after almost every single one. Ad after ad leaves me with impressions of people in cheap suits, dingy offices, and wildly disorganized (or just crazy) product development environments. You know what I’m talking about: little businesses where the guy in charge tells you that lots of the work was done by “the smartest guy I know, he’s a wiz”. Dreary failure is the vague mental picture I form.

What’s going on? Is it really the case that most businesses trolling craigslist are seedy or dysfunctional? I know that the ads are dirt cheap (free here), but the page view rate is so high that even businesses with money to blow on recruiters would be foolish not to use the service when they’re in need. (The place I work now has used craigslist with no success; I never looked at our ads.)

Indulge my laughable fantasy that somebody in a position to be influenced by my advice might read these words: take care with your craigslist ads. Think about them carefully, about the tone, the language, and the image they create. Correct the misspellings and grammar errors. Clean up the random capitalization of Important Words, and NOTHING SHOULD BE ALL-CAPS. Get somebody who actually knows what the buzzwords mean to review the way you’ve piled them on top of each other, and think about whether the things you insist are essential skills are really essential. (Did your top developers on your key products have all those skills back a year or two ago?)

Steve Yegge wrote about “weasel words” in resumes. In my opinion there’s a parallel species of words that crop up in job ads. I’m talking about stuff like “dynamic work environment”. What does that mean? “Should be an excellent team player.” Again, what does that mean? Who do they expect to screen out with that? I don’t want to hear about your corporate “energy”; it’s vaguely creepy and I’ll get the real story (or close to it) in an interview anyway. Just be clear and friendly, and describe the work.

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