Sell your company better

by Joseph

Make your company boilerplate human by talking about your values, your team, and your impact, and you will stand out from the crowd and get better applicants.

Most company boilerplate is dull

Here’s the beginning of a (paraphrased) boilerplate from a leading space company’s job advert:

Acme Aerospace is a global leader in communications, space and related services. Last year it generated revenues of more than $40 billion, and it employs a workforce of over 10,000. Acme offers the most comprehensive range of space transportation services in the solar system.

Acme is also a worldwide leader providing GEO, LEO, and interplanetary launch capabilities, as well as one of the world's leading communications companies.

Are you excited? Do you feel inspired? I don’t. This opening paragraph, perhaps the first thing a candidate will read about the company, resembles the opening of a Wikipedia article, or something that might accompany the company’s stock price information. It’s dry and factual and uninspiring.

What’s the most important thing about your company?

If you were trying to convince a great candidate to join your team, and you could tell them just one thing about your company, what would it be? Would it be your revenues? How many people you employ? I doubt it.

You’d probably talk about why it’s a great place to work. You might say “we’re revolutionising our sector”, or “you will have incredible opportunities to develop”, or “we’re a team of lovely people doing incredible things”. These are the things that people care about when they’re picking between two companies, when they’re trying to imagine what working for you will be like, and when they’re struggling for motivation on a bad day. Put those things front and centre.

Write about human beings

As human beings we are hardwired to respond to stories about other human beings. Journalists bring the news to life with human-interest stories, charities ask us to pledge £3 a month by showing us a photo of a sad-looking orphan, politicians tell us how their policies will impact ‘hardworking families’. Make your boilerplate about human beings, the human beings in your company and the ones you’re working to benefit.

Compare the boilerplate above with this from Monzo, an online bank:

We’re building a bank for and with our users. A product that’s fair, transparent and a pleasure to use. We see ourselves as something more than a typical bank: we’re setting out to solve all the problems that exist around your financial life in a coherent, meaningful and delightful way.

You’ll be working on a product that is a part of day to day life for more than a million people already, and your work here will shape the way that people interact with their finances.

Monzo job advert 1

Which one do you connect with more? Which company sounds more interesting right off the bat, even before you know what job you’d be doing? Which sounds like it was written by a human being for other human beings?

Incredibly, Monzo has managed the impossible and is getting you excited about banking. Even before the financial crisis, bankers didn’t exactly have a brilliant reputation, and yet here is Monzo selling the world of banking as an exciting and meaningful career opportunity.

Millennials want to work for companies with great culture

Getting your boilerplate right is more important than ever, because millennials care about company culture and values. A study by Deloitte found that millennials want businesses to focus more on people and purpose 2, and another by Fidelity found that they are willing to take an average pay cut of about £6000 in order to do more purposeful work for a company with better culture 3.

These millennials now make up more than half the workforce 4, and there are signs that Gen Z care about values even more 5. If your work contributes to our understanding of science, the protection of the environment, or connecting people around the world, then these are the things to emphasise. This doesn’t mean you always have to make your work sound awe inspiring; as Monzo has demonstrated, it’s possible to make the mundane engaging by focusing on the tangible human impact it has.

Space is incredible, don’t downplay it

Space inspires people like almost nothing else. We have gazed in wonder at the stars since long before we mastered language or tools. Discoveries about our place in the solar system captivate even those with little interest in science. Books, films, documentaries, and games about space abound, while images of the heavens are among the most viewed and beloved in human history. Astronauts and space missions are used to endorse everything from deodorant to sparkling water.

Somehow though, when it comes to trying to hire people, we manage to take some of the most cutting edge and exciting work ever done by our species, and make it sound dull.

Take this (paraphrased) vision statement from a prominent British space company’s job advert:

Our vision is to become the global leader in solar panels for space. By working with leading academic & commercial collaborators, we're developing genuinely innovative solar panel solutions for the world’s leading satellite builders.

No doubt some people are giddy at the thought of developing genuinely innovative solar panel solutions, but it doesn’t exactly make the heart soar. This from an industry that was founded on a yearning to explore. Talk about the why, not just the what. Why are you developing innovative solar panels? What impact will they have on the world? What new possibilities will they enable?

President Kennedy’s historic Moon speech is an oratorical masterpiece and a demonstration of the impact of emphasising why over what:

The exploration of space will go ahead, whether we join in it or not, and it is one of the great adventures of all time…

We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained...

We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

The growth of our science and education will be enriched by new knowledge of our universe and environment, by new techniques of learning and mapping and observation, by new tools and computers for industry, medicine, the home as well as the school

President John F. Kennedy 6

He succeeded not only in convincing his country to spend more than 4% of its budget on space exploration, but also in inspiring many thousands of young people to study science. He did this first and foremost by extolling the benefits of space exploration for all humankind and by making the journey of discovery as exciting as its unknown destination.

Don’t just talk about the company, talk about the team

Once a company gets beyond a certain size, company culture starts to be far less important than the culture of the specific team you’re joining. Buildkite, a software company, puts their boilerplate right at the bottom of their adverts. At the top they have information like this about their team:

As a Ruby on Rails Engineer at Buildkite you’ll help shape a tool that thousands of developers use every day. You’ll report to Keith Pitt, our co-founder and CTO, and you’ll be working alongside an existing senior product designer and three product engineers. In this team, you’ll have the chance to influence all corners of Buildkite’s product and culture.

Buildkite job advert 7

If you’re hiring for a small team, include their photos and a line about each one. Give your candidates an idea of who they’re going to be solving problems with, who brings cakes to the office on a Friday, and who’ll have their back when they’re having a tough day.

Teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea

Sell your company better and you will get better candidates applying. Ones who care about their work, who want to make a difference, and who would otherwise have been tempted somewhere else.

I leave you with this quote, attributed to French author and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry:

If you want to build a ship, don’t herd people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (attributed) 8

References

  1. Monzo (2020). Senior Android Engineer at Monzo. Startup.jobs.
  2. Deloitte (2017). The Deloitte Millennial Survey 2017. Deloitte.
  3. Fidelity (2016). Better Quality Of Work Life Is Worth A $7,600 Pay Cut For Millennials. Fidelity.
  4. KPMG (2017). Meet the Millenials. KPMG.
  5. McKinsey (2018). ‘True Gen’: Generation Z and its implications for companies. McKinsey.
  6. Kennedy, J.F. (1962). Address at Rice University on the Nation's Space Effort. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.
  7. Buildkite (2020). Ruby on Rails Engineer. Buildkite.
  8. de Saint-Exupéry (2020). Teach Them to Yearn for the Vast and Endless Sea. Quote Investigator.