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Writing an Effective Job Advertisement

Filed under Office & HR.

Writing a job advertisement requires you to include the information you need to get responses from qualified prospective workers. However, you must be very careful not to run afoul of the anti-discrimination laws by using prohibited language in your ads.

You've made the decision to hire someone to work in your business, and after determining what you need done for the position and chosen a medium to publicize your job opening, it's time to draft the all-important job advertisement.

Regardless of the medium it will appear in, you want to include the right information in your ad to draw responses from the best candidates, while avoiding discriminatory language that may violate federal or state laws and is bad for your business image.


Information to Include in Job Ads

Use common sense and follow these guidelines to make sure that your ad passes muster. The same general rules apply regardless of the medium, whether you go with a newspaper, trade journal, or online posting:

  • Tell enough about the job so that those reading the ad can decide whether they are interested and qualified. This is necessary whether it is a four-line ad in the classified column or a full-page, four-color spread in a professional journal.
  • Give the job title along with a brief description of duties, especially if the job title is ambiguous.
Work Smart

If you have a job description, this is the time to use it. You can use main points from your job description in your ad and save yourself some time trying to figure out what to say.

  • List the minimum education, experience, and skill levels that are acceptable, if applicable. Point out any special criteria such as extensive travel or relocation that would immediately weed out applicants unwilling to take on those aspects of the job.
  • Use proper grammar and punctuation so your ad will be easy to understand.
  • Don't overuse abbreviations and acronyms that make it difficult to read or understand the ad. If you must use them, stick with the simple ones.
  • Be specific about the type of equipment, software programs, etc., that applicants should know how to use or operate.

Remember — writing it right saves you and applicants a lot of time and energy. They want to find the right job as much as you want to find the right employee, and a clear, specific job ad goes a long way toward that end.

Avoiding Discriminatory Language in Job Ads

It's of the utmost importance that you avoid using discriminatory language when creating a job advertisement first and foremost because federal and state anti-discrimination laws may apply to your job ads.

There are federal laws that apply to employers with 15 or more employees and that prohibit discrimination against any protected class of individuals. These laws dictate what you can and cannot say in a job advertisement. Some state laws apply to even smaller employers.

Another reason to avoid using discriminatory language in a job ad is that newspapers, trade journals, online sites, etc., have policies in place to reject ads that are discriminatory.

What constitutes discriminatory language? Generally, federal law prohibits you from making statements or implications about not wanting people from protected groups (i.e., members of a certain race, color, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, age (over 40), disability, or veteran status).

A very narrow exception applies to jobs where there is a bona fide occupational qualification for the position, meaning that religion, gender, or national origin factors are reasonably necessary to the normal operation of that particular business or enterprise.


Using gender as an example, in the absence of a gender bona fide occupational qualification, a statement of absolute preference for members of one sex, such as "Pretty Girls Wanted" is discriminatory.

Be aware that the law does not prohibit you from using titles that seem to specify one gender over another. However, don't use them if you can avoid it. Most can be changed to a gender-neutral form, anyway.

While the law cannot keep you from using gender-referent words and titles, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) will not permit the use of the phrase "Equal Opportunity Employer" if you do. You must, in that case, choose one or the other — either get rid of the gender-referent terms or do not include the phrase.

You also have to be particularly careful not to use language that will discriminate against potential applicants for your job because of their age. The EEOC gives policy guidance on how job advertisements may violate the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).

Although the prohibition against job advertisements that discriminate on the basis of age is pretty straightforward, the EEOC finds that a case-by-case assessment is needed as to whether the language of a particular advertisement, as well as the context in which it is used, would discourage persons in the protected age group from applying for the job.

For example, the mere presence of "trigger words" (words and phrases that refer to age such as "recent college graduate," "young executive," "athletically inclined," etc.) does not alone constitute a violation of the ADEA. In order to determine whether an advertisement is discriminatory, the ad must be read in its entirety, taking into consideration the results of the ad on the employer's hiring practices.

To illustrate these concepts, refer to the case studies we've provided from the EEOC regarding whether job advertisements are considered discriminatory.

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