What is the most important part of an online job listing?

The answer is more straightforward than you would expect. It’s the job title.

Does that seem obvious?

You would be surprised by how many job listings we receive that simply say ‘Lecturer’ at the top – or perhaps ‘Assistant Lecturer/Lecturer/ Senior Lecturer,’ or sometimes just ‘Technician’ or ‘Research fellow’. That is not enough to catch the right attention.

The title at the top of a job listing is key, because internet search engines, and particularly Google jobs, are designed to look for categories of information in specific locations on a job listing. Jobseekers scanning through email alerts are also less likely to respond to a generic listing, such as where the title indicates a position in the university hierarchy rather than a role in a specific discipline.

University selection committees can be ponderously slow in their quest for excellence and fairness, so it’s hardly surprising if occasional details are overlooked. If everyone on the committee is a chemist, it is obvious to them that they are filling a position in the chemistry department. Unfortunately, the internet, where most people begin their job searches, does not work that way. Search engines, and job seekers, want to see the most important information first, at the top of the page. This means detailed titles for listings, and important information about the role should come first. Boilerplate details about the university and its employment terms can come much lower down. An engaged job seeker will find them eventually. Even at the bottom of the listing, or on your website.

Now, back to that job title.

In our example, ‘Chemistry Lecturer/Senior Lecturer  – Department of Metallurgy – Faculty of Material Sciences’ will work well (search engines and candidates are more concerned about information than full sentences). ‘Cell Biology Assistant/Associate/Professor to teach [specialist course] in the Department of Environmental Sciences’ will also be effective. Research positions should be even more specific but please do not waste space with project acronyms in the title. ‘Research Fellow ABC project’ will not help candidates. ‘Research fellow in Quantum Optics to work in gravitational wave detection’ will bring applications from the right candidates, as will ‘Teaching Fellow in Medieval History’.

Online job advertisements are not the same thing as job descriptions.

You do need a document that outlines the performance expectations, reporting lines, and employment terms of a position, but your online job listing should distil these details, not copy them completely. Your job listing can also include some background on the department, lab, or team the successful applicant will join and future career expectations within the university. These extra details would be out of place in a formal job description but a job listing is also a sales tool. To attract the very best academic jobseekers you must give them compelling reasons to complete a lengthy academic application. This all starts with a detailed, descriptive title that includes the keywords your ideal applicant is most likely to type into a search bar.

On our own jobs boards, we check most of the listings by hand, so listings with inadequate titles are usually fixed before publication. Sadly, academics do not always appreciate suggestions and we sometimes receive disheartened messages from HR staff who have been unable to persuade a senior academic that a sketchy job listing merits improvement. Please don’t be that person. Your HR colleagues are experts in their own field.

The title of an online job listing is rarely too long, and the first few lines of the listing ideally include a lot more relevant details about the role. Of course, other parts of your listing are important too, such as critical salary details and the language you use.

You can read about gendered language here and more about writing job advertisements here, but the key to a successful listing is beginning with a detailed, descriptive title.

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