Firms who fail the final hurdle

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MOST of us read job advertisements, whether we plan to change employer or not. The best ones take the reader through four stages; they attract our attention, arouse our interest, create desire and stimulate us to take action. This process of attention, interest, desire and action is known by the mnemonic AIDA. Why then do so many recruiters fall at the final hurdle and make it so hard for potential candidates to apply?

The seductive prose of a job ad can make us keen, but if it is hard to respond at once, that initial enthusiasm soon fades. At this stage the vacancy is not "real", and so is unlikely to warrant a major investment in time and trouble. If an employer wants to hook us, it is vital that initial contact can be made quickly and simply.

A glance through last week's job ads sections is revealing. A search- and-selection firm seeking sales executives says: "Please send a curriculum vitae and covering letter stating your remuneration package..." This is typical of many. But unless you're an active job seeker, you're unlikely to have a ready-prepared CV. To prepare one from scratch typically takes three hours. A covering letter also takes time. How easy is it for someone working full-time to find the equivalent of a spare half-day? Many people are also reluctant to reveal their salary at this stage, particularly if replies are not to a named individual.

Other recruiters don't specify the type of application they want. A management consultancy seeking a pounds 40,000 business development executive gives no instructions of any kind, and no named person to contact. And a selection consultant told applicants for a pounds 60,000 (plus share options) post: "Please reply with full details to: (company name)" Do they want a CV or a detailed letter? And which senior managers will send confidential career details to just anyone? Some clearly think they will. Applicants for a pounds 90,000 managing director's post were asked for a detailed CV and covering letter, but for all a candidate knows, this could be opened by a postroom clerk.

Insensitivity extends to other areas where candidates expect discretion. In advertisements a few consultants tell candidates to include a daytime telephone number. Few employed people want to risk a call at work which might be intercepted or overheard.

Fortunately, another practice which used to deter response is diminishing. Most public sector employers used to ask for the names of referees with the initial application. It is now widely accepted that these take time to arrange, and people are often unwilling to reveal to friends and colleagues that they have applied for a post until they have a conditional offer. Even so, a London NHS Trust still asks candidates to "send details of two referees".

Surprisingly, consultants are among the worst offenders, and need to remember most potential candidates have little spare time. Any initial contact they are asked to make should take minutes, not hours. The easiest method is to ask people to telephone, fax, e-mail or write for an application form. This helps people assess their own fitness for the post.

Offering readers the opportunity to talk informally about a job, before they commit themselves to applying, also helps to cut unsuitable replies and encourage applications from the well qualified. So why don't more employers do it?

Finally, potential candidates may be off-put by the seemingly ridiculous. What should one expect from a job ad which ends: "To utilise your leadership skills and put your business acumen to the ultimate test, please contact our consultant... on 0800..."?