Dying a slow and dull death: AFR job ad review 2011

Each year, for the past five years, I have reviewed all the job ads appearing in the Australian Financial Review (AFR), on the last Friday in October. I do this with the purpose of categorising each ad into one of four quality ratings (see below) and tracking what progress has been made (if any) in overall ad writing quality.  
There is no panel or independent arbitrator here, just my very personal opinion about the quality of each ad.   

The results for 2011 are as follows:   

Ad Source  
Very Good  
to Good  
Poor to Awful  
Recruitment Agency  
Direct employer  
5   (21%)
16 (67%) 
3 (12%) 




Here’s the comparison data from the four previous years:   

Very Good  
to Good  
Poor to Awful  
Total (number)  
2010: 0%

2009: 0%

2008: 2%

2007: 0%
2010: 31%

2009: 32%

2008: 24%

2007: 13%
2010: 43%

2009: 58%

2008: 52%

2007: 57%
2010: 19%

2009: 10%

2008: 22%

2007: 30%
2010: 37

2009: 38

2008: 46

2007: 99


Here’s my summary of the above tables:   

  • The total quantity   of job ads has continued its decline   with a 35% fall in the total number of ads compared to 2010 (24 v 37). No wonder Fairfax Media shares continue their death spiral.
  • The split of ads between agency (10) and direct-employer (14) continues the decline in market share in AFR ad space by agencies   (63% in 2007, 54% in 2008 and now 42% in 2011).
  • The percentage of ads I classified as ‘poor to awful’ declined  back to its 2009 levels after climbing to 19% last year  .
  • After five consecutive years of this assessment exercise and reviewing a total of 244 ads, there has still only been this one ad that I have rated as outstanding (written by Melbourne recruiter, Tom Key in 2008).

The major problem areas within the poor or average ads continue to be the same old problems of;  

  • A job is described rather than an opportunity is sold
  • lack of metrics or data to provide meaningful context
  • no location stated in the ad
  • little or no attempt to describe the organisational culture
  • lack of salaries and benefits
With such a rapidly declining number of ads, I have far less material to feature in my annual ‘awards’. Here’s what caught my eye this year:   

Biggest waste of space    

This ASIO ad took up 75% of page 7 and wasted two thirds of that space with a meaningless graphic.  

Intelligence Professionals (page 7)    


Most ‘interesting’ use of words    

‘Applicants should have good experience in debt markets/financing….’       

Analysts and Associates (page 6)    

(as distinct from slightly good, bad, or really bad experience)  


Stating the obvious    

‘These roles are ideally suited to people seeking a career in intelligence and national security’  

ASIO Intelligence Professionals (page 7)       

(Intelligence Professionals seeking a career within professional sport or in the mining sector shouldn’t apply)  


Employer brand damage award    

‘Only successful candidates will be contacted’    

Investment Analyst (Global Equities) (page 2)     

(Seriously? In this day and age?)  


Oddest opening paragraph    

‘Orchestrate the commercial success of a major international firm and experience influence and opportunities on the grandest stage. We cannot fly, travel by high-speed train, high-performance car or fast ferry without the critical products thus organisation provides’     

Chief Executive Officer (page 3)       

The closest I got to awarding ‘outstanding’ to any of the ads was the Gerard Daniels ad on behalf of their client, the West Australian Football Commission for a new CEO.   

I liked …   

·                                        the use of relevant data

·                                        the use of colour and branding; well laid out

·                                        the clear listing of the required competencies   

The aspect of the ad that held it back was the bullet point stating ‘Creating a new direction for the WA Football Community’ followed by part of the copy that read ‘This position requires an inspirational leader who can create a new paradigm ….’. Having made these two statements, there was then no attempt at explaining what this new direction or paradigm was.   

As I said last year, and it equally applies this year, recruitment advertising isn’t rocket science. It’s an easy skill to learn yet most people who write recruitment ads still appear to be content to pump out content that is, shall we say, workmanlike, rather than inspired.   

When I see recruitment ad writers utilising info-graphics like this Belgium change and innovation consultancy does, it’s clear that the end of traditional print media job advertising is not far off.   

After five years of shaking the ‘ad writing tree’ I think I’ve said all I need to say on this topic. I doubt I’ll do the same exercise again next year.   

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