Hiring? Five ways to attract the best candidates


Citizen Schools made a few changes to their job listing and saw amazing results! What can we learn from them? (Photo: Citizen Schools)

Organizations post hundreds of jobs on Idealist.org every day, and we often hear from job posters who want to make sure they get the best applicants. But why do some job listings attract a flood of high-quality applications while others seem to get overlooked?

The answer is twofold. The most successful job listings on Idealist are ones in which the job is 1. appealing to job seekers and 2. easy to find. In this two part series, we’ll give you some tips to make sure your job listing attracts more of the right candidates.

Today, let’s tackle the first challenge: appealing to job seekers. We’ll start with the story of a recruitment team, a marketing team, and a “less is more” philosophy. Let’s call it “Extreme Makeover: Job Listing Edition.”

Case study: Citizen Schools

Citizen Schools has been posting jobs on Idealist for years and this winter they posted an AmeriCorps fellowship position.  While the response rate was steady, they weren’t getting the kind of applications they wanted.

Here’s the original description of the 2012-2014 National Teaching Fellowship position at Citizen Schools:

For those of you keeping track at home, that’s three pages and 1,100 words.

The reason why I didn’t include the full text is because you won’t read it. And neither will potential candidates.

But one sunny morning in March, the Citizen Schools marketing team stepped in to help. Working with the recruitment team, they trimmed that very detailed listing down to a clear and concise one, focusing on the most important information and referring applicants to the website for more information. In half an hour, they crafted this delicious piece of recruitment splendor:

Short and sweet at one page and 330 words.

Yum. But did the change produce better results?

It did! Of the 59 applications received, 30.5% of the candidates have been hired or are currently being interviewed. Additionally, the Citizen Schools website received 1,500 more visits from Idealist.org than it had during the same three month period in 2011, indicating that people wanted to learn more about the organization and its opportunities.

In short: a concise yet compelling job listing increases both the quality and quantity of applications.

Five steps your organization can take

Each organization has its own needs and challenges when it comes to recruitment. However, based on the Citizen Schools example and our own experience talking with hiring managers and job seekers, here’s how to create a job listing that gets the results you want.

1. Briefly describe your organization.

A sentence or three should do it. You want your applicant to have an idea of your organization’s work, but you don’t need to go into too much detail. They can go to your organization’s page on Idealist for more information, or you can refer them to your organization’s website.

2. Make sure the description of the work is clear and concise.

Job seekers prefer to apply to jobs that they understand. When crafting a description of the work:

  • Include basic responsibilities, but not minutiae. A job seeker needs to know that part of the job will be “coaching community volunteers”; they don’t need to know that “Fellows support and coach Citizen Teachers – community volunteers who share their professional skills or personal interests with students through ten-week hands-on learning projects called apprenticeships.”
  • Use common, standard terms to describe the work, like “community volunteers,”  rather than your organization’s internal language, like “Citizen Teachers” and “apprenticeships.”
  • Consider bulleted lists, which are easier to read and less intimidating than blocks of text.

Not only will a clear description of the work attract more eyes, it will also help candidates tailor their resumes so that you’ll be better able to see how their experiences match what you’re looking for.

3. Be thoughtful about the qualifications you list.

When you list the qualifications of a job, you’re telling the applicant what’s important to you. Think about your deal-breakers versus what would just be extra helpful. If you won’t consider anyone without a Masters degree, say so. If you’d prefer your new teammate speak a certain language, but you’re willing to hire someone who doesn’t, include something like “Fluency in Cantonese a plus.” Candidates don’t want to spend time applying for jobs they’re not qualified for any more than you want to spend time sifting through their resumes.

4. Talk about the benefits of the job.

And no, we don’t just mean health care and vacation days (although it’s cool to include those in the listing as well!). What makes Citizen Schools’ new job description so popular is that they talk about what the candidate will get out of the experience. Besides the gratifying work (“inspire children,” “build the school of the future,” “connect education to kids’ dreams”), the listing also emphasizes how the fellow will benefit professionally (“learn how to make lessons,” “get real-world experience,” “unlock your potential”).

Sell your opportunity to job seekers. Why should they be excited about this? Will they work with interesting people or learn a lot about the charter school system or develop a new skill? Whether the position is on the front lines of your organization’s work or is back in the office making sure the lights stay on, every employee at the organization has an important part to play; make it clear to applicants what their part would be.

5. Be yourself.

Treat this as a PR piece. Your job listing might be as public and widely read as your organization’s newsletters, and it could be the first impression your applicant ever gets of your work and culture. So choose a tone that reflects your organization’s culture, whether youthful and trendy or thoughtful and welcoming.

Citizen Schools’ marketing department did a great job of promoting the mission, emphasizing the importance of the work, and making it sound overall like an organization full of passionate, driven people. Even if a job seeker chooses not to apply, it never hurts to leave a good impression.


At Idealist we’re out to help you connect with the people and resources you need to make great things happen. We hope this helps you find fantastic candidates to join you in your work.

But creating a strong listing is just the first step in attracting those folks; you also have to make sure they actually see the listing once you post it on Idealist! Stay tuned for the second half of this series, where we’ll offer tips on how to do that.


Special thanks to Sara Kelleher, Talent Recruitment Specialist at Citizen Schools, for all of her help with this post.

Have a story about how you’ve used Idealist to connect with stellar candidates? Leave a comment below and maybe we’ll blog about your story, too!

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