Copywriting for recruiters: A practical toolkit
Think about the worst CV you’ve ever seen.
- Strange formatting? Check.
- Awful spelling? Check.
- Clunky grammar? Check.
- Flat, boring and irrelevant? Check.
And you know how, when you get a CV like that, you can usually tell within seconds that it’s not worth pursuing?
Jobseekers and hiring managers do exactly the same thing to recruiters.
They skim your not-so-carefully crafted mass mail and decide you’re not worth the effort. They stumble on your yet-another-identical job advert and decide the job’s not worth their time.
When it comes to improving recruitment delivery, all the talk’s about recruitment technology that transforms you into an effective, efficient recruitment machine. That’s true: recruitment tech is cool, and is exciting, and does have explosive power to transform the industry.
But software is only part of becoming a better recruiter.
The first – even main – way jobseekers and clients (whether external companies or internal hiring managers) interact with you is through your writing, whether that’s your careers page, job ads, social media, InMail or email.
So that’s what this article’s about. Copywriting’s often undervalued for recruiters but it’s an explosively powerful skill. If you want…
- More inbound job applications from better candidates
- More headhunt and InMail responses
- Better biz-dev email responses from clients
- A better relationship with hiring managers; less push-back
- More engagement on your social posts
- More referrals from your passive network
- A better reputation amongst hiring managers, clients and candidates
- More respect – fewer ‘problem’ clients, managers and candidates
… keep reading.
We’ll show you the three absolutely essential copywriting tips you need to master, to start the applications, replies and referrals rolling in.
1. Write conversationally
Or, put another way, write how you speak. Most boring, unengaging writing is boring and unengaging because it’s flat. It’s dry. Even the most interesting, vibrant people often transform into robots when they write, and the result is samey, dull, clunky writing.
Don’t do that. Focus on these three things instead.
- Language. Choose words you speak. Don’t write ‘this fast-paced innovative culinary organisation are looking to enhance their workforce with a forward-thinking and driven individual with a passion for modern cuisine’ when you’d say ‘a busy kitchen creating cool food are looking for a chef who loves modern cooking’. Say what you mean as simply as you can.
- Sentence structure. Rhythm and flow are crucial ingredients to good writing. Look at the image below – that’s why. The more you write, the more your ear develops to hear rhythm and flow naturally. But the quickest starting point is to mimic how you speak. Very few people naturally speak without rhythm. You pause. You meander. You start sentences with ‘But’ or ‘And’. Copy that in your writing.
- Direct address. Writing might feel like a solo activity but actually, you’re in an intimate, one-to-one conversation with your reader. So write like it. Use ‘Whiz me a message with your CV if you’re keen’ not ‘Interested applicants should send their CV to firstname.lastname@example.org”.
The easiest way to start pulling those three elements together is to read aloud. Seriously. You’ll hear where it’s clunky and stilted, so you can make changes before you publish.
2. Keep it short and simple
That applies to the whole piece but also to paragraphs, sentences and even the words in those sentences. Bad writing loses people before the end. Readers exhaust too much mental energy trying to understand what you mean, and they switch off. Not the reaction you were going for.
Good writing isn’t always short – but it’s never longer than it needs to be. It feels easy to read and understand; readers hit the end before they know it.
Here’re four things to think about:
- Short sentences. Not always (rhythm and flow, remember) but look at your run-on sentences. Often a full stop’ll do better than a comma.
So not, ‘You’ll have great planning and organisational skills, good time management, with the ability to manage and prioritise your own workload and to deal with urgent deadlines and changes to requirements.’ Instead, ‘You’ll have great planning and organisational skills, plus good time management. You’ll also easily manage and prioritise your own workload, to deal with urgent deadlines and changes.”
- Passive voice. Passive voice makes sentences longer and usually harder to understand. And it distances the reader, to dilute the immediacy of your words.
It’s the difference between ‘All employees are expected by the company to attend regular upskilling sessions’ (clunky, convoluted) and ‘the company expects all employees to attend regular upskilling sessions” (shorter, snappier).
- Be direct. Here’s an intro from a recent InMail one of our team got: ‘I trust you are well, and you do not mind me reaching out directly in this manner. I am contacting you in case you know someone from your network who could be interested in the following opening’.
You switched off, right? Because that’s all waffle. Being direct means getting straight to your point. Saying what you mean, without beating around the bush. Like… ‘Your profile looks like a great fit for a cool job I’m recruiting for. If not you, do you know anyone with similar skills who might be keen?’
- Think visually. However fabulous your writing, nobody’ll read it if it looks intimidating and dense. You want short paragraphs, broken up often with bullet points, images or headings. One-sentence paragraphs are fine, especially in email. The best sales and headhunt emails are short and direct.
And you want plenty of whitespace. Bullet points are great, for example, but include line breaks between each bullet point. And keep them short.
‘As technical digital lead, your responsibilities include:
* Taking ownership for the full PPC strategy and implementing a wide range of paid campaigns, while offering your capable knowledge on paid queries and resolving dilemmas quickly and efficiently.
* Etc, Etc, Etc.
Would be better as:
‘As technical digital lead, your responsibilities include:
* PPC (owning strategy, implementing campaigns, answering queries)
* Etc, Etc, Etc.’
The real key to writing simple, short messages is knowing exactly what you want to say before you start. Clear ideas mean clear writing.
3. Make it interesting
Adding endless adjectives – ‘innovative’ this, ‘exciting’ that, ‘fantastic’ the other – doesn’t make your writing interesting. At least, not when those adjectives are so overused that they’re totally meaningless.
To really make your writing pop, try these three:
- Pick vibrant words. Not complex words and long strings of adjectives that read like you’re a walking thesaurus. But punchy words. Adjectives that aren’t cliché.
Like, instead of ‘this highly-successful business…’ try ‘this business is flourishing…’. Or instead of ‘Excellent communication skills are vital’ try ‘Awesome communication skills are a deal-clincher’.
- Show don’t tell. Phrases like ‘an exciting opportunity to join an innovative organisation’ are lazy. They use adjectives to replace any actual information about why the opportunity’s exciting, or the organisation innovative. Dig deeper, until you really convey value proposition.
For example, ‘Entry-level roles with such autonomy are rare, so you’ll have loads of opportunity to make your mark, fast’. You need to know the opportunity, your clients (or hiring managers) and candidates inside-out so you can understand what really differentiates them. Once you know that, writing it down becomes easy.
- Let your personality shine. When you write (at work, anyway), you represent the business. But you’re also you, Joe or Janet Bloggs, recruiter for Innovative Recruitment Ltd. That’s what your clients/hiring managers and candidates have bought into.
So don’t strip that human, personal element from your writing. At least, not completely. You’re still writing for your company so you should always write within the confines of brand voice – talk to marketing, if you’re not sure – but there’s always space to add personality within that. Just like you would in real-life, meeting a candidate for a coffee. Write how you speak.
- Don’t be formulaic. Recruiters spend so much time writing, it’s natural to fall into formulas. ‘An adjective opportunity to join an adjective organisation, we’re looking for an adjective and adjective job title to join our adjective team.
Or ‘I’m writing to introduce recruitment company. We specialise in recruiting contract and permanent staff for the industry industry and I’m currently working with some fantastic exclusive candidates who I feel would be a great fit for company.’
Formulas are great because they make writing faster but they also steal impact and power from your words. For writing that stands out, think about non-formulaic ways to express what you mean. Break the mould, and you’ll grab people’s attention. Like, instead of ‘provide relevant samples’ you could say, ‘Show us your best stuff’.
*** That’s not to say you shouldn’t use templates when you’re recruiting at volume for similar roles. But that means it’s even more crucial to get the template right upfront.
And even tiny changes beyond boilerplate – like a sentence about the unique team/office/branch – make a difference. For you, this role may be totally insignificant. One role of one hundred identical roles over the country. For candidates, it’s always more momentous; it’s a new opportunity. A fresh start. Maybe a long-term career. Respect every role, even entry-level volume roles, and maybe that’ll help attract people who also respect the role, who’ll perform better and stay longer.
There’s not one simple formula to ‘being interesting’. But it’s also not as difficult as you’d think, given how much dull writing’s out there. It’s about tapping into the same personality that shines through when you speak.
Nobody falls asleep when you’re talking to them, after all. So there’s no need for them to when you write.
You don’t have to be exceptional to be better than average.
Depending how confident a writer you are, this stuff might feel overwhelming.
But the truth is, you don’t have to do much to be better than average.
Most job adverts are boring, dense and practically indistinguishable from one another. Most clients get tens of identical biz-dev emails each week, while the best candidates get tens of forgettable InMails.
And imagine how much faster hiring managers would review CVs if you included a short, snappy blurb that sold-in each candidate properly. (You don’t have to imagine. Start tracking all this stuff through your ATS, so you can see what’s working and improve fast).
Incorporate even some of these pointers and you’ll make a huge difference to your writing. And in turn, you’ll get more job applications from better-fit candidates, more cold email replies from clients, faster action from hiring managers (and less push-back), more respect throughout the recruitment process, more loyalty (even exclusivity), and more referrals.
Worth working on, right?
If you want more toolkits like this, let us know. Like, would you be interested in writing tips for different mediums (like job ads, social media, InMails, etc)?
Tribepad help in-house and agency recruiters level-up their recruitment delivery. More than 18-million people across the globe use our award-winning recruitment software. Find out more, right here.