Sit vac or (pass the) sick bag?


Last week, columnist Charles Helliwell let rip at recruitment advertising for its bland dishonesty.

As a recruiter, I can't really disagree. If you took at face value much of what appears in the recruitment sections of the press, you'd think that the world of work in UK plc was a soul-satisfying, utopian paradise.

Let's look at a few choice snippets chosen at random from my recent reading:

"With a strong operational leaning…this is an outstanding opportunity to make an important contribution to a successful business"

"This is a highly visible role…an excellent opportunity to join a highly successful business, with strong growth potential, in a leading role."

"As a result of recent exciting developments a high profile opportunity has arisen for a talented individual…"

I could have gone on, but you will soon get bored of repeated use of the words "pivotal role." It must have been the favourite description of writers that week.

The point is that this was from just one recruitment section in one journal on one day. And as it happens, all these advertisements were for accountants. Obviously the world of the bean-counter is rather more racy than the stereotypes would have us believe.

But seriously, does anyone take these claims at face value? Or do we view them as we might an overly-creative property description produced by an excitable estate agent?

Actually, there are some uncomfortable parallels between the way the two groups go about presenting information. So let's attempt a "translation" of recruitment advertising jargon and hazard some not necessarily serious guesses at what these ads really mean:

"…operational leaning" = "you are indeed expected to lean heavily on the team if you want to get results"

"…a highly visible role…" = "guess who will be in the firing line if it all goes pear shaped"

"…recent exciting developments…" = "we fired the last incumbent?" or = "things were so bad the regulators got called in"

But the serious point is that most jobs that become vacant (although not all) have a history to them. That history is often good, bad, and indifferent (if not necessarily ugly) in equal measure.

If that is the case, maybe a little more candour would serve both candidates and employer rather better.

This certainly seemed to work for one estate agency a while ago which put out property descriptions that were almost painfully blunt. The concept was so radical that the story reached the national media. I don't know what happened to the business, although I would like to think that it is still around and thriving.

Recruiters do not need to go quite that far. They certainly should be enthused and excited about the vacancies they are working on and it always baffles me why some - both in HR and the recruitment industry - do not appear to be so.

But balance and transparency are always preferable to extravagance. That remains true even if, in a busy market, the temptation is to try and make a role appear as attractive and appetising as possible.

But if recruiters put a little more thought, candour and honesty in their advertising whilst retaining real enthusiasm for their campaigns, I suspect that candidates might in turn become less cynical about their reading matter.

It follows, then, that the expectations of candidates who make it to interview stage might even be a little more aligned with what they can realistically expect from the role and potential employer.

And that, as we all know, can be only good news for future retention rates.


About The Author

Steve Huxham
Steve Huxham

Steve Huxham is a senior recruitment professional with nearly nineteen years experience, first becoming a Director of a leading accountancy and City recruitment practice at the age of 29.

Older Comments

There are many employers who are untruthful when advertising a vacancy, it's important to know what's written in the job description and contract when they're drawn up. There are a number of unscrupulous employers around who'll not deliver on what's described.