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Writing a job advert: 8 tips for start-ups

Whether you’re creating a new role or replacing a member of staff who is leaving your business, the wording and placement of an advert could be the critical first impression a potential employee or client gets of your business. An advert should always be part of a wider, well considered hiring strategy. As a bare minimum an advert should avoid indirect discrimination and being in any other way unlawful; but you should be more ambitious than that. An advert may have a critical impact on your business’ reputation and employer profile and so the wording needs to create the right public impression, position your brand correctly in the marketplace and reach the right target audience. Here are our top tips for start-ups when writing a job advert.

Carefully consider language used in your job advert

The Equality Act 2010 applies to candidates applying for jobs, so your advert should not discriminate on any of the nine protected characteristics:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex and sexual orientation

Carefully assess the terms you choose to use to ensure that they are inclusive and gender neutral, to attract the best talent from a wider pool of people. Terms such as ‘recent graduate’ or ‘many years of experience’ may seem innocuous but are likely to be discriminatory on the grounds of age. Rather than stating a length of time an applicant should have spent performing a role, try instead asking for specific evidence of prior experiences, skills and knowledge that you would like to see from the applicant. It is also wise to consider making reference to whether applicants require any reasonable adjustments to be made to the recruitment process, so that those with disabilities are catered for and the duty to make reasonable adjustments has not been missed.

If there are specific requirements for the role, state this clearly in your advert

Whilst the default position is that there cannot be discriminatory language in an advert, there are exceptions to this. A particular protected characteristic may be required for some roles, but you will need to show that there is an occupational requirement, and the potential discrimination is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

This may mean to meet a requirement for authenticity, safety or privacy, but the method used to achieve the aims still need to be necessary and not achievable by other, less discriminatory means. You can also ask for a protected characteristic or use it in your advert if you can prove you’re doing this to help a disadvantaged or under-represented group in your business and the individual you hire is still able to fulfil the role you are advertising. If you think there may be an occupational requirement or you are taking ‘positive action’ and would like further advice, our employment law solicitors can help.

It is likely that you will require for your employee to be entitled to work in the UK and so this should be stated in your advert. You will also need to request proof of entitlement to work in the UK, as you could be fined up to £20,000 if you do not. Applications for the EU Settlement Scheme closed on 30 June 2021 and since 1 July 2021, EEA and Swiss citizens cannot use their passports or national identity cards to prove they have a right to work in the UK, but Irish citizens have unrestricted access to work in the UK and can use any proof of identity as proof of their right to work in the UK. There is now a points-based immigration system in place, which means that you will need a sponsor licence to hire most employees and workers from outside the UK and anyone you recruit from outside the UK will need to meet certain requirements. You will need a sponsor licence for each person you hire. It may take longer to recruit from outside the UK than it has in the past and so your recruitment strategy and any stated start date of employment should allow for this. You can find out more information about sponsor licences on the government website.

As well as the right to work in the UK, you may also want to make clear in your advert that offers will be made subject to references and health check.

Be clear on the application process

It should be made as clear as possible to applicants how they should apply. Is there an application form, CV or covering letter? What are the contact details the applicant will need? Will there be several stages to the recruitment process, such as an assessment centre or a written test to examine skills and knowledge? This should all be carefully considered before the advert is drafted.

Be clear on what the role is you are recruiting for

This may sound obvious, but to attract the right candidate you should make it clear in your advert from the outset what the role is and what the responsibilities, deliverables and rewards are.

To make clear what the job requires it is advisable to include:

  1. A clear common job title for the role you are recruiting for, so that it appears in a candidates search terms
  2. A brief job description, although this should not be the sole content of your job advert and should be kept to a basic outline
  3. Location
  4. Company name
  5. Information about the application process and any application form or equality monitoring form
  6. A person specification
  7. The type and duration of the contract
  8. A few sentences about your business and the industry and market it operates in
  9. The salary and remuneration package, at least a salary band dependent on experience so that you are not committed too high and unable to negotiate a salary with your new hire, but not too low to put off some of the more experienced candidates
  10. If there is a closing date for applications, this should be as clear as possible.

Taking the time to clearly set out the role and what it entails in your advert should help save time and money in the longer term, by just attracting candidates who are well matched for the role, as they have filtered according to the contents of your advert, and a successful candidate who is able to carry out all the functions of the role fully.

Make your job advert stand out from the crowd and reflect your start-up

Candidates will often have many job adverts to wade through when searching for new employment, so it is critical that yours stands out from the competition and reflects your business. What makes your start-up unique? If this can be explained in a clear, succinct and informative advert, this will help to get the right applicants through the doors, who are likely to be a better fit for your team and share the same goals and ambitions for your business that you do. Putting good groundwork in on the advert so that it properly reflects your business will save you time and money looking through a high volume of unsuitable applicants but should attract a better quality of applicant for the role you are trying to recruit for.

Keep your job advert succinct

As stated above there is competition to attract the attention of candidates and so your advert needs to be unique but also succinct. If your advert is too lengthy and goes into too much depth about your start-up, it’s mission and values they are unlikely to read down as far as the job description and remuneration package. The opening should be short and to the point to keep the candidate’s interest and should contain the critical information, such as location, salary and brief job description at the top. If you are recruiting a standalone role and are unlikely to hire in the future, you can afford to be more specific with your requirements. If you are looking for a few people for a team, you may need more of a spread of skills and experience and might want to be less specific. But in both cases should keep the advert as succinct as possible whilst containing all the information a candidate will initially need to know they want to apply and to do so. 

Consider advert placement carefully

Adverts put in the wrong place will limit the number of suitable people who see it and so you should give this some real thought. Often advertising in more than one place avoids restricting the audience you are trying to reach.

You may want to consider internal recruitment as a starting point. If you have an individual already within your team who fits within the team and the culture of your business and is familiar with your systems and processes, this will save you time and money on recruitment and training and will have a positive motivating effect on an individual if they are given a promotion. Internal applications should be dealt with in the same way as external applications, it is a good idea to consider whether you have enough representation and internal applicants only would not be indirectly discriminatory.

Placing adverts in newspapers also needs to be carefully considered. Circulation, target audience, cost and sector will have an impact on how successful this method is. Online adverts also need careful consideration, as if you place a targeted job advert you may be discriminating against those groups of people who cannot see the targeted advert as they appeal more to a certain age demographic. It is a good idea to look at advertising over a variety of media after careful consideration over what media will work best for your business and the role you are trying to fill.

Test your job advert

Lastly, you should test every advert you place to see how it performs, so you know what is most successful for your business and the candidates you are trying to attract. If you have only received a handful of applications after a week, or the applicants do not match up with who you are hoping to recruit, then make some changes and test the results again, until the advert is performing as you would like. 


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