Meet anyone in the recruiting industry and the constant lament is how finding the right-fit candidate is very tough.

Could it be the fault of the job ads they are putting out? The style of how we work has changed. Employees have changed. What they look for in jobs now is very different from what they sought a few years ago. But have job ads changed?

At the SHRM India Tech conference, one of the largest gatherings of HR professionals, that concluded on Friday in Hyderabad, Shiv Shivakumar, Operating Partner at Advent International, in his opening session dissected recruitment ads through the ages.

‘Choose Your Destiny’

He showed how back in 1917, when the US Army was recruiting soldiers, it used a war poster showing a stern-faced, bushy eye-browed Uncle Sam pointing a bony finger at the viewer and saying “I want you for the US Army”. The look and tone is rather intimidating. But the poster which was printed 5 million times was effective at that time and many enlisted.

Contrast it to the Ukrainian army’s recruitment poster in 2024. It took a mindful, subtle approach, asking people to join, rather than commanding them. The emphasis in the ads is that people can choose and control their future in the army. “We will discuss with you,” says a line. The recruitment videos of the Da Vinci Wolves battalion (of the Ukrainian Ground Forces) show the work of sappers and say “We Will Train you”. One of the posters says, “Choose your adventure,” while yet another asks you to “Choose your unit”.

“In how many organisations can you choose your own seat?” queries Shivakumar humorously. Flexibility has become the birthright of employees today. And that should be the defining language in attracting talent, says Shivakumar.

The 4Ts of talent

His advice to recruiters when they are putting out job ads is to be mindful that the workforce of today is led by 4Ts — technology, temporariness of commitment, transactional nature and thrill. So there is no point painting a career growth in job ads. Rather it’s better to paint fun experiences at work.

Ask recruiters for their take on the job ads they put out and Dony Kuriakose, Director, Edge Executive Search, says, “Advertising messaging has to be honest, direct and empathetic.”

Kuriakose who has crafted many advertisements for job roles says the holy grail when creating a job ad is that “instead of casting a wide net, it should appeal to that one person who will be a perfect fit”.

This is why the tendency of tech companies to scout for talent using words like “looking for a ninja” and “Rockstars wanted” in their ads, raises the hackles of many. The ads have been called out for being inauthentic, patronising and not giving a clear description of the role. If you want an engineer or coder you need to say so.

Narrow the net

Take the way, Apple did its job ad — very simply and with a beautiful dash of humour. On a blank page, it showed the apple logo, badly chewed up and disfigured. Just a small line at the bottom said, “Hungry Designers wanted. Email info...” The ad created by Tonic communications, Dubai has been much feted.

While most job ads tend to be in print — and now of course are in social media platforms — there have been outstanding video commercials.

An all-time classic in India is the Naukri ad which shows a terribly unpleasant boss named Hari Sadu and a bunch of subjugated employees. The ad made by FCB Ulka was born out of the insight that most people move jobs because of bad bosses. The message that Naukri wanted to convey was that treat your employees well, otherwise Naukri is on the prowl.