Job Advertisements

Job advertisements are mechanisms used by organizations to communicate employment need. Globally, job advertisements are commonly used by all types of organizations and represent the most prominent form of early contact job seekers have with employers. On any given day, newspapers, magazines, and Web sites feature ads extolling the virtues of employment in millions of jobs. Across different channels of communication, job advertisements can take many forms, from colorful full-page ads in a business magazine to the more traditional classified entries found in newspapers.

The impact of job advertisements depends on the framing and quality of their content, and their impact is often debated in the research literature and among practitioners. Specifically, employers typically find that job ads yield relatively fewer quality applicants than other recruitment sources, but the value of such ads extends beyond the context of employment communication. Because of this extended value, a discussion of job advertisements would be incomplete without consideration of the impact of such ads on a broader audience. The paragraphs below provide insight into how and why job seekers, as well as a broader group of organizational stakeholders, react to job advertisements.

Purpose of Job Advertisements

Job advertisements present a powerful marketing device for organizations. Through such advertisements, organizations can communicate multiple messages to a variety of audiences. A variety of conceptual frameworks have been used to describe job advertisements as communication mechanisms. For example, the act of placing job advertisements can be seen as an organization providing outsiders with a signal of its strength and growth. On the other hand, the placement of such ads can be seen from an impression management perspective as an attempt to communicate the values, or espoused values, that make an organization a unique business partner and employer. In this sense, organizations may place such ads with an idea of how they should be perceived by internal (e.g., employees) and external (e.g., job seekers) stakeholders. Job advertisements can also be seen as rational acts of an organization constantly balancing labor supply and demand. To this end, organizations not only place ads in papers, but also place ads in targeted professional outlets based on demand for specific knowledge and skills. Regardless of placement or intent, the primary purpose of a job advertisement is to attract job seekers to employment opportunities and motivate them to take active steps in pursuit of an available job.

The framework used to create most job advertisements either implicitly or explicitly includes four informational dimensions: organizational identity, human resource need, information needed to fill the need, and information that allows an applicant to contact the organization. Employers first must describe their organizational identity, or the values on which their business practices are based and that make them unique from other firms. Organizations can choose to describe themselves in a variety of ways but often employ more symbolic language to add a richness to job advertisements. Job seekers reviewing such advertisements can gain insight into the defining features of an organization. Research suggests that from this language, readers extract a perception of an organization’s personality. To the extent that a job seeker’s personality fits with that of an organization, employment pursuit should follow.

The three other dimensions of employment ads pertain to facilitating tangible next steps in the pursuit of employment. First, the organization with a vacancy must clearly identify its human resource need (e.g., truck driver, financial analyst) and then clearly specify what is required of applicants to fill the position. Traditional job advertisements focus on tangible requirements for a job, such as years of experience or educational requirements. As organizations move toward more strategic management of their human resources, the infusion of language around required or preferred competencies associated with a job has become more popular. Such language can help promote applicant self-selection by providing an added level of insight into the type of applicant an employer seeks. Finally, job advertisements would not be complete without information that enables would-be applicants to take next steps in their employment pursuit.

As previously mentioned, the effectiveness of job advertisements as a recruitment source has been a subject of debate when measured by traditional ROI (return on investment) metrics, but not when evaluated as a broader organizational communication vehicle. Rather, employment advertisements should be seen as strategic communication vehicles targeted not only at the job-seeking public but also at competitors, employees of an organization, and the general public. Because of this, the framing of advertisements and specific content that organizations choose to include in such ads can be seen as having multiple messages. For example, a strategy of advertising that is commonly employed in job advertisements is to manipulate the perceived amount of employment opportunities available within an organization. Research in this area has shown that job seekers perceive jobs that are presented as being more scarce as having more positive attributes, such as higher salaries or better hours. At an industry level, firms that suggest they have job openings that are “going fast” signal organizational health as well as status as an employer of choice. Because job advertisements can send such signals, organizations often run employment advertisements even though they have little hiring intent.

The subtleties of employment advertisements as communication vehicles to multiple audiences involve their physical attributes, as well. Job advertisements of healthier, more mature organizations typically contain more detailed and descriptive language reflecting an organization’s position of power and tradition. In addition to the detailed language employed in a job advertisement, the prominence of an employment ad on a page has also been found to have an impact on how job seekers process information. In fact, research findings have supported the notion of a set size effect, which suggests that more information in job advertisements will increase readership of ads. More information in an ad, coupled with its relative size compared with others on a page, has a positive impact on its readership. Further, job advertisements that contain pictures are processed differently than purely text-based job advertisements. This phenomenon has recently become a subject of more intense inquiry as job advertisements have been deployed on the Internet, changing the nature of aesthetic flexibility afforded organizations as they promote employment opportunities.

Summary and Future Issues

Job advertisements represent a significant source for recruiting job applicants as well as an important channel through which organizations can communicate to broader audiences. The impact of job advertisements on potential applicants can be attributed to those features that help employers frame and communicate organizational and employment information. Despite the widespread use of job advertisements, research and practical evidence suggests that such ads, in and of themselves, are not a particularly instrumental source of job applicant generation. However, because they represent such a highly visible communication channel, they should be evaluated within the context of their impact on multiple target audiences. Therefore, the future of research and applied interest in job advertisements may shift from attention to the transactional properties of job advertisements that move job seekers to become applicants toward a more strategic perspective on their function and importance.

References:

  1. Cober, R. T., Brown, D. J., Blumental, A. J., Doverspike, D., & Levy, P. E. (2000). The quest for the qualified job surfer: It’s time the public sector catches the wave. Public Personnel Management, 29(4), 479-495.
  2. Highhouse, S., Beadle, D., Gallo, A., & Miller, L. (1998). Get ’em while they last! Effects of scarcity information in job advertisements. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 28, 779-795.
  3. Lievens, F., & Highhouse, S. (2003). The relation of instrumental and symbolic attributes to a company’s attractiveness as an employer. Personnel Psychology, 56(1), 75-102.
  4. Thorsteinson, T. J., & Highhouse, S. (2003). Effects of goal framing in job advertisements and organizational attractiveness. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 55(11), 2393-2412.
  5. Williamson, I., Lepak, D. P., & King, J. (2003). The effect of company recruitment Web site orientation on individuals’ perceptions of organizational attractiveness. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 63, 242-263.

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