How to write compelling job postings that will attract top talent

Ernest Shackleton leaves Elephant Island on th...

Ernest Shackleton leaves Elephant Island on the James Caird with five other members of the expedition, setting out to reach South Georgia Island 800 miles away. Twenty two men remain on Elephant Island, hopefully waiting. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1913, Ernest Shackleton was assembling a team to attempt an expedition to trek across Antarctica. So he published the following ad to recruit his 56 man team:


He received 5,000 applications in response to this ad. The 56 men that he selected did end up facing hardships and danger and they have received honor and recognition in the 100 years since.

The same principles that worked for Shackleton in 1913 could help you to attract heroic talent to your team.

  1. Create a compelling ad
    Take a minute and browse through job postings in the category that you want to hire. Look at the various ads — this is your competition. You want your ad to stand out among all the ads on the job board. Don’t just post the job description! If you are looking for the best talent you need to put some effort into attracting that talent — you need a compelling ad.
  2. Highlight the challenges the applicants will face
    Shackleton didn’t sugarcoat it. He didn’t talk about the flexible hours or the ping-pong table in the office. He put it out there — we are looking for people who don’t mind danger, hard work, cold and a long time away from home. He was offering a hard job. Who wants a hard job? People who like to work hard! Wouldn’t you like some of those folks working at your company?
  3. Present the opportunities available for the successful candidate
    People don’t just want a hard job because they are masochists. (Well, if they do, they aren’t likely the candidate you are looking for.) Most people who are seeking a hard job are doing it because there will be a reward when they overcome the challenges. For some it’s a financial reward but for many the reward of “honor and recognition” is more than enough. Tell people what will happen if they overcome the challenges presented by this role. What will be different for the company? What will be different for the customers? Will they become a rock star celebrated , or just a hero to a few?
  4. Put your name behind it
    No doubt a part of the reason for the overwhelming response was that Shackleton wasn’t an unknown entity. He had already made two attempts at the South Pole and was somewhat of a hero. When you publish an ad for your position, put your company’s name on it. Tell folks somethings about your reputation, successes and future that will attract top talent.

Not all the applicants that Shackelton received were solid. He famously sorted the applicants into three large drawers labeled Mad, Hopeless and Possible. Attracting a rich candidate pool means that you have more options, and with greater options you are more likely to find the best candidate.

How do you attract top talent to your jobs? What do you put in your job postings to make them stand out?

Sidenote: Though the wording of this ad appears in many authoritative books on Shackelton and in the documentary created by PBS doubts remain about the veracity of the story. Real or not, the ad was named #1 in The 100 Greatest Advertisements 1852–1958 Who Wrote Them and What They Did. I don’t think the story has to be certainly true in order to validate the lessons to be learned…


  1. Barrett Lombardo says:

    Any real world examples of great job postings?

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