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Help Writing ‘Help Wanted'

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Randy Birch gets frustrated every time his firm places a classified ad seeking employees.

It’s not that he doesn’t get responses, says the Salt Lake City small-firm lawyer. It’s just that the job seekers rarely possess even the bare minimum skills stated in the ad and don’t seem capable of following directions. “Seems like no matter what you put in, you get people who don’t read it,” says Birch.

His ads generally ask for applicants with knowledge of certain software programs and some familiarity with the law office environment. The ads run in local newspapers. Applicants are requested to send resumés with cover letters to a blind post office box.

“Sometimes we get a letter or a resumé, but not both. We get people who don’t know the software at all. We get people who used to be shoe salesmen in a department store telling us they know all they need to know to be a legal assistant,” Birch sighs.

Lee Rosen of Raleigh, N.C., used to have the same problem. When his firm placed ads in local papers and legal publications, it tended to get a lot of random resumés, most from applicants ill-suited to the jobs for which they applied.

So Rosen started looking at Web-based job search sites, finally turning to Though he admits he was wary at first because of the scope of the site, he quickly learned that he could customize his ad using the tools provided by Monster. He found he could limit response to a certain geographic area, to people whose resumés referenced certain skills, to salary range sought and many other factors.

He was delighted by the response. “The quality of our applicants has gone way up,” he says.

Rosen believes that the key to the excellent response his ads get from qualified applicants is the wealth of information he offers about his firm and the position he seeks to fill. He gives a lengthy description of the firm and its culture, the position and the duties it involves, and the salary range. Rosen also provides a hyperlink in the ad to the firm’s Web site.

“A blind ad just makes no sense. We want people to know who we are and what we do, so they can somewhat self-select for whether they fit our environment,” says Rosen. Nicholas Cobbs, a Washington, D.C., solo, agrees that looking for applicants in the right place is key to finding good potential candidates without having to sift through too many clunkers. Targeting your market is key, Cobbs says. Knowing where to look for applicants with the traits you seek is as important as the ad you write to solicit resumés. Cobbs says he frequently advertises for support staff at the local law schools.

“I’ve found that I’m glad to trade the experience of a full-timer for the legal expertise and enthusiasm that law students bring,” he says.

When Enough Is Enough

Cobbs also says that while he agrees that giving applicants information is important, he tries to keep his ads somewhat terse. Too much information, he says, could lead an applicant to wonder why the firm needs to sell itself so hard.

Rosen says that where Birch’s firm may have gone wrong with its ads is in not supplying enough information so applicants can figure out whether the position is a good fit for their skills and whether the pay is in line with their expectations. No matter where you place an ad for help, he says, helping applicants self-select is key to eliminating people who are just fishing to see what’s out there. That way, those without the right skills or whose salary requirements are out of line won’t waste time–his or theirs–by applying.

“Be very straightforward about what you’re looking for, the environment, the culture, the skill set,” Rosen says. “If we know, we tell. We always give a salary range of what we’re willing to pay.”

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