Are Your Job Ads Lost In Translation?

I hate mispronouncing words. When I was young and switching schools almost every year, I was really careful to try and not stand out too much in what felt like a never-ending cycle as the “new kid.” I didn’t want to talk too loudly or dress in ways that made me look different. I especially didn’t want to mess up while reading aloud.

It sounds silly, I’m sure, but reading and spelling aloud were the first times in my life I ever remember feeling stage fright. The sweat. The pulse rising. The knot in my stomach growing as I anticipated my turn. I think, most of all, I was anticipating any event that might make me look or feel stupid – a feeling I had grown really sensitive to at a young age. I wanted to stand out for the right reasons. I couldn’t always be the most popular or even well-known in all of these schools, but damn it, I was going to be smart.

Eventually, I joined the spelling bee in 8th grade. We were living in Syracuse, New York at the time. First, they did a school-wide spelling test. Then, they selected the top 15 spellers in the school. Surprisingly to me, I was one of them. I couldn’t believe it. So, I studied the hard words and recited the word they gave me for the practice round in front of the mirror. I don’t remember what that word was, but I do remember my first word.

I was shaking. Sweating. All of the feelings I had experienced while reading aloud were coming at once. I stood at the microphone trembling. “Jepity,” he said. Remember, we’re in New York, so that’s what I heard, at least.

“Uh, can you say it again?” I asked, trying to picture all the weird vowels.

“Jepity,” he said again. I leaned into the mic and made the noise you do to entertain a baby, which, through a microphone, sounded a little (okay, a lot) like a giant fart. Then, I butchered the spelling of jeopardy.

The Jeopardy of Job Ads Lost In Translation

I was mortified, both by the fart noise I just made into the mic and my misspelling. See, we were in upstate New York and if you’ve ever heard a great New York accent… let’s just say something got lost in translation. Throw me in a room with the Beverly Hillbillies and I can tell you exactly what they’re saying. New Yorkers? Not so much.

Still no excuse for my sound effect.

You’re probably wondering why I would confess this really embarrassing secret. That is, unless you read this blog often enough to know how I love a good metaphor. I love this one in particular because I think it captures what’s happening on both sides of the talent equation when it comes to job ads. There’s this voice with an accent – the employer – who’s trying to say it their way. They’ll offer context, if you ask for it – origin information – but big picture, you’re still trying to translate how they say it into what it means for you. On the other side of the equation are candidates who are trying to interpret, all while there’s a ton of pressure on us to “figure it out” and find a fulfilling career.

Most people don’t go out and apply to jobs for fun, after all.

A job ad or description, whatever you want to call it, leaves an impression on people – good, bad, or otherwise. It’s more than 500+ words on a piece of paper. It’s supposed to inspire, attract, create a reaction, and more importantly, an application. Yet, so many people leave it up to interpretation.They pretend it’s good enough to templatize, recycle, and regurgitate other people’s best practices as their own, all the while believing they “stand out” or are “best in class.”

But how can you be best in class if you’re just doing the bare minimum? That idea has been bothering me for a while and was a big part in why I started Three Ears in the first place. When I look at these “best in class” checklists, they’re not best in class at all. They’re the bare minimum things we have to do to be humane in hiring.

But here’s the reality and something I’ve been pondering for awhile:

It’s not reasonable to rewrite 400 job descriptions.

If you have a junior copywriter take on 400 job descriptions at $40 an hour, you’re looking at $16,000. Multiply that over a few years and you’re looking at the costs it would take to hire someone who just wrote job descriptions all day, every day. It’s insane.

So how do you fix job descriptions, then? That’s the question I’m trying to answer with my latest prototype – the Job Description Project Manager. The whole idea is simple: job ads have to be better to attract people in this market and you shouldn’t be paying some person who has never written a job ad in their life to copy edit. Most of us need more than a copy edit to be the best.

We will help companies audit, template, and train their teams to create better job descriptions. The outputs are custom for you and tailored to address key messages while adapting those messages to different intended audiences. The bottom line is better quality hires in less time at a lower cost.

That’s a win, win, win – without putting your next great hire in jepity.

If you want to talk job ads or anything else, don’t hesitate. I’m always happy to listen and offer advice, even if you have a New Yawk accent.

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Kat Kibben View All →

Kat Kibben [they/them] is a keynote speaker, writing expert, and LGBTQIA+ advocate who teaches hiring teams how to write inclusive job postings that will get the right person to apply faster.

Before founding Three Ears Media, Katrina was a CMO, Technical Copywriter, and Managing Editor for leading companies like Monster,, and Randstad Worldwide. With 15+ years of recruitment marketing and training experience, Katrina knows how to turn talented recruiting teams into talented writers who write for people, not about work.

Today, Katrina is frequently featured as an HR and recruiting expert in publications like The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Forbes. They’ve been named to numerous lists, including LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Job Search & Careers. When not speaking, writing, or training, you’ll find Katrina traveling the country in their van or spending some much needed downtime with the dogs that inspired the name Three Ears Media.

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