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Help-Wanted-Unicorn

Hiring managers often feel like they’re trying to find a mythical creature

On September 24, we published a blog post that we were looking for a new employee. We didn’t advertise on any job listing sites (even though there are some really good ones out there). We tweeted about it a few times, but most of our publicity was that single post. We received more than 70 applications for the job by email. We were truly impressed by the applicant pool– multiple well known international speakers and Microsoft Certified Masters applied for the job.

When I talk to hiring managers, I hear that it’s hard to find good SQL Server pros for a job these days. How did we attract such cool people?

The secret to getting employees that don’t suck: Write a job advertisement that doesn’t suck.

1. Explain what YOU will do for the employee

Most job ads are written as a list of demands of the employee. You MUST have experience with X. You really ought to know about Y and Z. Good luck if you can’t recite eight decimals of PI.

We explained what the job would be like for the employee. We clearly listed a couple of requirements that employees must have. But we also devoted lots of time to describing what we will do for the employee. This means you must describe not only standard benefits, like time off, but also explain:

  • Training you’ll offer employees
  • Other opportunities they’ll have to learn
  • Whether or not flexible time/ working from home is available
  • If you pay for certification attempts or job growth
  • Times the employee doesn’t have to be on-call, and support processes that keep them from being randomized

Don’t make the common mistake of assuming people will think the job is awesome. Smart, talented, experienced people won’t just assume that at all– they’ll look for all the hidden signs that the job isn’t awesome. Show them what you’ll do for them!

2. Ask what you really want to know– and don’t ask for a resume

Are you hiring someone to write resumes as part of their job? If so ask for a resume. If not, why bother? Resumes tell you very little about an applicant. If you must have one as part of your HR requirements, you can get it later in the process.

In your job ad, ask for what you really want instead of a resume. Brent, Jeremiah and I worked together to figure out what basic things we could ask that would indicate whether the candidate would thrive in this job over time. We whittled down the list as much as possible to keep it simple. We asked for two things:

  • Recent speaking experience
  • A description of how the applicant has contributed to a technial community.

And that’s it. That’s all we wanted.

Asking for something out of the ordinary helps you understand your applicants. You can see how they think in answer your questions, rather than receiving a resume prepared for general consumption (and possibly crafted by a resume writing pro). You also save time by evaluating applicants against your specific criteria early, rather than having to hash that out later in phone interviews.

3. Have a personality. Ideally, your own personality.

We wrote our ad in the style of a “Missed Connection.” We like to play around with writing, and we like to have fun. We took the time to write our ad in a style that represents us honestly. If you’re not dry, boring, and corporate, don’t fill your ad entirely with bullet points and corporate-speak.

Understand that smart talented applicants see your ad as a description of who you are. If you like to have fun at work and want to attract fun people, show it!

How’d we know this stuff?

We’re naturally creative and charming (and modest). We followed our own experience, and it worked. But we also like data. Specifically, we like the data and conclusions drawn from the folks over at Stack Exchange on How to Write a Great Developer Job Listing

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  1. I agree that including what’s in it for the employee beyond standard benefits would separate a job listing for me. Everything you list in that paragraph is in my list of questions for any opportunity I look into, and if they don’t have answers for all of them, I walk away. They don’t have to be the answers I’m looking for in every case, but they need to have considered them and/or be willing to negotiate them.

  2. I used the book “Hiring for Attitude” (http://www.amazon.com/Hiring-Attitude-Revolutionary-Recruiting-Tremendous-ebook/dp/B005NASJRS) to help write the job posting for my replacement at UPI. Two things the book emphasizes are your #1 and #3 points: write like it’s a recruiting pitch, and do it in a way that reflects your company (or team) culture.

  3. Pingback: How to Write a Killer SQL Server Job Description | Brent Ozar … | How to Write a Resume for a Job

  4. Excellent stuff, now you just need to get HR folks reading these posts! For DBA-specific jobs this was a good article as well…too often I saw postings that were just grab-bags of DBA buzzwords and make it hard to divine anything unique about the position: http://www.brentozar.com/archive/2013/06/sample-sql-server-dba-job-descriptions/

  5. One thing that job postings need to do is ‘tell the truth’. I understand that you are trying to sell your company and the position, but don’t lie about the job and the culture. For example, if you expect me to work 50 hours a week, tell me up front. If I’m OK with it, fine. If not, fine. If I find out later that it is the expectation and I’m not OK with it, I’ll leave and you’ll be stuck with trying to hire again.

    • Oh, absolutely! And that goes for the company culture bit, too. Don’t write a job posting that says everything is pizza parties and innovative technologies if the culture is totally different.

      The biggest mistake I find people make in their job listings is giving no insight into the culture at all. They just give a big bulleted list of requirements, which makes it seem like the culture is terrible. If the company is no fun at all, then I guess that’s accurate– but most of the time it’s got at least a few things going for the culture they could highlight.

  6. A great post that I plan to direct some folks to.

    I have recently read similar posts by a number of HR professionals on LinkedIn. As @Nic points out not all of them ‘get it’ yet but I found it promising that others were at least discussing and implementing the concept in real life. And the fact that it works is well represented by the response you got given the very limited distribution.

  7. Another good tip, in my opinion, is be honest, don’t oversell. For example, if you’re only willing to pay market price for someone with 5 years’ experience, don’t state that you’re “looking for top talent and willing to pay what it takes to get it.”

  8. Pingback: (SFTW) SQL Server Links 08/11/13 • John Sansom

  9. I notice in the posting that you prefer Apple gear. Could you write an article about why and how. I always assumed you were a Windows shop since you work so much w/ SQL server. Thanks

  10. Good advice, but do you really think the content mattered? Come on, who would’nt want to work for Brent Ozar?

  11. Great post. One of the things I’ve always hated about job description is: “Must have experience with “. I see this as either, A) They want to only hire an internal candidate or B) The company sucks and they didn’t use their brain. It’s surprising how many postings are like this, though.

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