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Attracting Better Landscape Applicants

By Terry Delany, Contracting Business Consultant


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To find highly qualified employees, recruitment listings need to be strategically designed to really get noticed, by the right people, in today's disruptive and competitive job-hunting environment.


Choose Your Weapon Carefully
Would you take a fishing rod into the woods to hunt a bear? Or would you load a slingshot with tootsie rolls to go deep-sea fishing? Of course not! Yet most landscapers use the wrong "bait" to attract the right "critter". To make matters worse, there are more "hunters" out there trying to catch those good employees than ever before, while the pool of qualified applicants continues to be bombarded with more and more "lures".

Let's face it, people don't have the attention span they used to have. To say they're continually distracted and unfocused would be a gigantic understatement. Research now tells us that the typical American's attention span is around 8 seconds. That's literally the attention span of a gold fish. Compare this number to that of Americans in the early 1900s - around 20 minutes. That's a huge difference.

Today there is a tsunami of e-this and e-that, social media, i-this and i-that clamoring for attention. So much so that the average American's attention span is shot. And there is more and more and more advertising and marketing and electronic gadgets eating into that 8 seconds. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, email, iPhones, texting...on and on and on. Combine this with the fact that this same person is exposed to, on average, 5000 or more marketing messages DAILY, and we're just getting started.

So for us this is the perfect storm of fractured attention span, topped off with an overload of stuff begging for even more of their attention. If your "help-wanted" ads are weak, untargeted or look and sound the same as the rest, it's doubtful they will get noticed. What this means is you have to be different, out of the ordinary and oftentimes over the top - just to be seen. Finding exceptional employees starts with applicants responding to your ads.


Big Net vs. Small Net Ads

There are 2 basic types of ads.

1-General "Big Net" Ads - These ads drive more, yet generally less qualified numbers of applicants. These cast a big net. They are usually better at generating a higher volume of applicants.

Example: "General laborers needed for landscaping company in Dallas-Fort Worth area". Broadly applicable to many people.

2-Targeted "Small Net" Ads - These ads drive fewer, yet generally more qualified applicants because you are shrinking down the qualifiers for applicants to respond to.

There are two sub-types of Targeted Small Net ads:
a) Specific - Smaller net...more specific, driving even fewer, yet more qualified applicants. Example: "Landscape company needs employees who can work weekdays Monday through Friday in Fayetteville, NC".
b) Micro - Smallest net and most specific. Usually an ad for 1 client.

Example: "Leading landscape maintenance company needs non-smoking employees Monday through Friday in southwest Atlanta, GA who have a minimum of 1 year of experience with zero-turn mowers".

These drive the fewest...yet likely most qualified applicants since you're uber-descriptive about the requirements. General and Targeted ads each have their own place in the grander scheme of things. Yet specifics and details are a better ally in grabbing attention than broad generalities. Specificity in and of itself gets more eyes.


Your Ads Must Get Noticed
The first part of differentiating your ads (so they get noticed) begins with your Headline - the first words of your ad. All you have is a few brief seconds to make the first impression or your readers will bounce to the next ad. Readers quickly make a choice on whether to continue reading your ad or skip to the next ad based on the first few words of your ad. Put items of interest or concern to the typical employee in your headline.

Remember, your headline (and the rest of the copy) need to speak to the hot-buttons and pains of the reader. What hot-button issues can you think of your typical employee may be facing when they're looking through the help wanted ads? Put THOSE pains and hot-buttons in your headlines to get more attention.

To stand out, your headlines need to look and read differently than others. How can you differentiate your headlines? Think about how the words are written. Think about the use of CAPITALIZATION, unusual punctuation... and Non-Typical wording. 99.999% of all companies use the same wording, phrase and structure, yours shouldn't. While Craigslist and other mediums can limit your ability to REALLY make a visual impact with your headlines you can still be very creative with the options you're given. Either way, your headlines need to jump out and yell "look at me!" They need to grab the reader by the eyeballs. They should scream!

To scream you've got 2 options...Peacock or Precision. Peacock headlines are outrageous and over the top. This method mixes a large dose of visual effects and relevant content to get attention. These headlines stand out in the crowd and boldly grab attention. They are DIFFERENT, but have a sufficient amount of relevant material to increase their "magnetism". They beg to be seen and read and proud of it. The world is hungry for and pays attention to things that are different and unique.

"Landscapers: ARE You Ready 4 A F-l-e-x-i-b-l-e Schedule?" "Outdoorsy, tree-loving folks needed to do MANLY things in nature"

The point with this model is to run creative ads that stand out from the rest AND have relevant content. But don't write ads with no relevant content for the reader; ads that are ONLY trying to shock people into reading. Be sure to provide relevant keywords and content in your headline.

On the other hand, Precision ads hit them squarely between the eyes with accuracy. These ads use a heavy dose of relevant keywords and specificity. These are usually Small Net ads. The point is for the reader to see the ad and say "that's me" or "that one sounds perfect for my schedule". These ads are designed to speak directly to the reader. Precision ads are a little quieter, usually a little more subtle but still very deadly in generating a higher response rate.

"Tree and shrub experts needed to maintain high-end residences in Biloxi, MS, M-Th, 8-6PM"

Peacock and Precision are not mutually exclusive. They can and should be combined to maximize the effect.


The 2 Most Important Words in Your Headline
If you look at most of the employees needed ads you'll notice that there is no specific "call out", a hook or anything that is calling out or speaking directly to the reader.

Most headlines simply start with something along the lines of Landscapers Needed... or We Need Landscapers Part Time...or something along those lines.

The problem with those headlines is the ad is speaking from the business point of view. There's nothing there to pique the reader's interest from the reader's perspective. Remember, all that matters is what you can offer the reader to get them interested and then respond. It must connect with the reader. The best way to get your reader's attention is to have a Call Out, a question that you ask the reader - to immediately engage them.

The best Call Out we've found that produces higher response rates are these 2 simple words: Are You

Are you a horticulturist looking for a new challenge? Are you a landscaper looking for flexible hours? Are you an arborist climber looking to grow your expertise?

Instead of framing the ad from what YOU want, it needs to be framed what the reader wants. Are You immediately places the emphasis on the reader, making the ad more likely to engage, connect and get a response.


Go Ahead And Show 'em The MONEY!
Something we've found that has yielded better ad response is showing your full pay range; your minimums up to your maximums, not just one typical pay rate, right there in the ad. It's good practice to go ahead and lay the pay subject on the table and address it immediately. Even though pay is not necessarily a TOP priority for most, it will come up in the conversation. So go ahead and address it and get it out of the way right up front. We ran multiple tests and found that ads that show a full range of pay scored more replies. Again, specificity and details drives more replies.

As long as applicants know that your pay is in their "range", that's usually enough to ease concerns and move the relationship along. There's always going to be the odd percentage that's ONLY after the top pay. Thankfully those are usually the ones you don't want.


Your Ads Must Convert
Your headlines should use Peacock and Precision to stand out and get noticed. Now the rest of the copy - the body - must be engaging enough to keep them reading.

With the fruit-fly attention span we're dealing with, shorter is typically better. Yet it's a balancing act. You want to give readers enough information to set the hook firmly in their mouth...but not bore them. The purpose of your body is to pique the reader's interest just enough, so they RESPOND. You're NOT trying to sell them or tell them your life's story - you just want them to take action and respond to your ad, that's it.

Once they click on the headline or continue to read your ad, your body needs to hold their attention and continue to speak to their wants and needs. Short, punchy, relevant copy works best here. Give them good, quick details about the opportunity you are extending to those few applicants that are best suited for the job.


Make It a No-Brainer to Respond
Your headline grabs attention, your body should Engage AND it should have a definite, clear, easy to follow CTA - call to action. With so many employers begging for employees (and applicants reduced attention span), you don't want to be the company that makes applicants jump through too many hoops to apply. Make your 800# prominent, give them an easy hyperlink "click-HERE-to-apply" button. Make your online application thorough, but not too long.

Make sure you explain how to apply AND make it easy. You'll lose applicants if you make it complicated or make them take too many steps to apply. While most companies simply put the number or email address and expect readers to call - you need to tell them what to do.


Another SCARY Fact
The National Adult Literacy Survey shows that the average adult in the U.S. reads at the 7th grade level, with nearly 50 percent below the 6th grade level and over 80 percent below the 10th grade level. With this knowledge in hand, your body should make your CTA uber-simple, clear and easy. You can't afford to assume they are going to follow vague directions.

Do you make it EASY or HARD for them to reply? Read your ads with the eyes of a 3rd, 4th or 5th grade reading level. Are you crystal clear about what you want an applicant to do? Is it elementary school easy?

Pick up your phone and Call xxx-xxx-xxxx RIGHT NOW or click HERE to get your online application completed.

It is your job to give the applicant easy-to-follow directions so that they don't hesitate to apply to your company.


Final Thoughts
Your best chance at attracting and hiring good people is cutting through the noise and ensuring that your ads stand out from your competition. And don't forget that your "competition" isn't just other landscapers, it's anybody looking to hire people for physically-demanding jobs. You are competing against manufacturers, municipalities, construction companies and many other industries.

Use bold headlines, interesting copy and unconventional grammar to stand out. Make the ads about the applicant, not about your company. Make it easy for them to take action and respond. Combine all these techniques and watch the number and quality of your applicants soar.



As seen in LC/DBM magazine, January 2018.






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October 23, 2018, 10:54 pm PDT

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