The worst job ads ever

It’s tough, writing job ads these days. On the one hand you have to attract your ideal candidate. On the other you must offend no-one, and expect a barrage of mockery and abuse from bloggers if you make any mistakes or try a little bit too hard to be entertaining. Even worse, if you allow the slightest whiff of discrimination to enter your piece, it’s not bloggers you need to be worried about, it’s lawyers.

Today is so different from the good old days of early 20th century recruitment advertisements, when all you needed was a stirring picture of Lord Kitchener, and half the nation’s young men signed themselves up for trench warfare. Those “Your country needs YOU!” posters were sinister classics in the history of job advertising.


1. World War I propaganda

Some were extremely dubious, even by the morality of the time – and plain evil to modern eyes. So my first example of one of the worst job ads ever has to be the 1915 poster: “Women of Britain… some of your menfolk are holding back on your account… prove your love of your country by persuading them to go”.

Like its companion poster – “What did you do in the Great War, daddy?” – these must go down as some of the most bullying, invidious and downright nasty recruitment campaigns ever.


2. Ernst and Young “Oh happy days”

Moving swiftly on, let’s rush forward 100 years to the present era, in which the domination of online recruitment advertising has homogenised the whole process. It’s for this reason that most examples of excruciating job ads come from the pre-internet era.

In fact, example two comes from 2001, just as online advertising was really getting its teeth into the old media. In that year, global accountancy giant Ernst and Young produced a recruitment video which had the entire staff of one of its offices trying to sing “Oh happy days”. It was a sort of corporate re-take on Coca Cola’s “I want to teach the world to sing” – only, much funnier and way more embarrassing. Especially, I should imagine, for all those poor young trainee auditors and accountants who had to join in.

Those days when vast budgets could be spent dreaming up, and then actually shooting and editing a video like this, have gone for good. Now we have the internet, who needs corporate teambuilding videos?

Well, it seems corporations still do. Or at least, they still seem to be addicted to that strange mix of cliché and hyperbole when it comes to expressing their corporate ID, presumably hoping this will make them more attractive to the best jobseekers.


3. Mountain movers at PepsiCo

Look, if you will, at example three: PepsiCo’s current careers website, which lists all sorts of excellent jobs. But before you get to them you have a slide show. Slide one asks, “Why work at PepsiCo?”

The answer (in case you were struggling) is clearly because you will be working with “300,000 game changers, mountain movers and history makers, scattered among 200 countries and united by a shared set of values and goals.”

Indeed. Next time you buy a can of Pepsi, just think of the guys who made it, shoving a couple of mountains around on their days off.


4. Dalkey Archive Press “the age of irony is dead”

But let’s move online now. That’s where it’s at now, right? Just recently the whole online recruitment world seems to have been scandalised by example number four:  a little job notice placed by US publisher Dalkey Archive Press for interns at its London office.

The offending ad was nothing if not blunt: it called for candidates who “did not have any other commitments (personal or professional) that would interfere with their work at the Press (family obligations, writing, involvement with other organizations, degrees to be finished, holidays to be taken, weddings to attend in Rio, etc.)…”

Then it listed the various misdemeanours which would result in instant dismissal, including: “coming in late or leaving early without prior permission, being unavailable at night or on the weekends, taking personal phone calls during work hours, gossiping and surfing the internet while at work”.

Dalkey’s effort has been branded “the world’s worst ever job description”. Yet, look at it again. It merely states – with a little wicked humour – what many less bold employers would like candidates to understand implicitly.

Almost everyone failed to notice that Dalkey had its tongue half in its cheek. The company’s MD claimed in his defence that the ad was satirical – but then he added, sadly, that he should have realised “the age of irony is dead”.

Oh, and how dead. Because, instead of liberating copywriters, whose lyrical abilities were always restricted by the crushing expense of newspaper classified ad lineage, the internet appears to have convinced recruiters that a few bullet points and some clumsily cut-and-paste extracts from an HR manual can now pass for a job ad.


5. The cliché job description

The real scourge now is not embarrassing, bullying or unfairly discriminating job ads – it is the deadly dull, jargon-ridden job description, cliché-packed person specification, and equal opportunity-promising weasel-wordings that every jobseeker knows only too well and somehow has to decode.

It is impossible to single out any one offender in this world, so this example is one of a million. I pin my fifth and final “worst ever job ad” medal on an entirely unsuspecting victim, whose efforts stand like the tomb to an unknown soldier, as one representing many.

This is it: “A leading global IT company is seeking Senior Business Objects Consultant to be based in xxxxxxx. Reporting into the UK BI Consulting Manager your duties will include working closely with clients to scope, develop and implement BI solutions to their desired budget and timings… etc, etc, etc.”

I will leave it to you to find out who placed this ad, and go back to applying for my own dream job: wolf-boy (or girl) with the Circus of Horrors. According to the ad, placed on DirectGov in early January, candidates must have “a minimum of 60,000 hairs growing on the face and linking up with the hairline” But I have a horrible feeling I am too late.

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