Recruitment can be a huge task, and when you’re looking for new candidates you want to be as pro-active as possible. Effective job ads are key to attracting the right candidates, and in a highly competitive market a good ad can make your job spec stand out from the crowd.
It’s fine to use your ad to present the role and your company in the best light, but it’s important that you make sure you don’t oversell on the offer. Misleading or ambiguous adverts could result in the wrong candidate responding to your advert, as well as a knock on the door from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).
The ASA is responsible for administering the Advertising Codes, which prohibit ads from being misleading by hiding material information or presenting it in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner.
It’s important that ads stick to the rules, by doing so you not only avoid running into problems with the ASA you also bolster your reputation amongst would-be employees. Getting your ads right doesn’t have to be a trial – the Committee of Advertising Practice, the body responsible for writing the Advertising Codes, has a wealth of advice and resources to help you get your ads right first time.
So what are common complaints about recruitment ads? And how can you ensure your ads stick to the rules?
What are the common complaints?
We received 120 complaints about 112 employment ads in 2012. Out of the 30,000 or so complaints we receive a year that’s a relatively small number – so the good news is we’re not inundated with complaints in this area.
That said, the complaints we do receive are revealing, and they’re usually along the same lines:
- The job title was misleading – it appeared to be a marketing role but it turned out to be door-to-door sales
- The ad implied the job was permanent but it turned out to be a self-employed position
- The advertised salary was misleading as it turned out to be 100% commission based
What do the Advertising Codes say?
So how can you make sure you don’t fall foul of the rules? Firstly, it’s important to familiarise yourself with them.
On top of the general Advertising Code rules that prohibit ads from being misleading, harmful or offensive, there’s a specific section on employment and business opportunities which require that:
- Employment ads relate to genuine vacancies and potential employees are not asked to pay for information
- Work is clearly and accurately described. The advertiser must ensure that the public is not misled about the type of work involved, or anything else that would influence their judgment
- Quoted earnings are precise. If income is earned from a basic salary and commission, commission only or in some other way, that must be made clear
- Advertisers must distinguish clearly between offers of employment and business opportunities
- Employment agencies and employment businesses must make clear in their ads their full name and contact details and, in relation to each position they advertise, whether it is for temporary or permanent work.
The rules in practice – puffery, vacancy descriptions and online ads
ASA rulings provide a useful guide as to how the rules are applied.
Some things in recruitment or business opportunity ads obviously need to be accurate; for example, the vacancy must exist and pay should be quoted correctly. But some claims, such as those the employer might make about his or her company, are less straight-forward.
‘Puffery’ is generally subjective exaggeration used by advertisers to promote what they’re trying to sell, in your case, a job prospect. In the past, the ASA has accepted that a degree of leeway might be acceptable when employers use ‘aspirational’ claims to describe their workplace, mission statement, ethics, etc. Subjective claims or those that are not capable of objective substantiation are likely to be acceptable, for example: “We are a company with integrity” or “We’re a great company to work for”.
Claims that are capable of being backed up by evidence and likely to affect an applicant’s understanding of the employer might, however, be unacceptable. The ASA previously banned the objective claim, “we have a well-earned reputation for leading-edge thinking and creativity” after the advertiser failed to provide evidence that they had a ‘well-earned reputation’. A claim such as, “we’re a leading-edge thinking and creative employer” would most likely be fine.
When it comes to describing a job role it’s best to be as clear and up-front as possible. If the job role is flexible, part- time, or temporary, then make that clear. Earlier this year the ASA ruled against an advertiser for a job ad on reed.co.uk because it suggested that the role was a full-time position with a permanent salary, when in fact the post involved door-to-door sales on a self-employed basis.
Nowadays most recruiters prepare their ads for online. It may come as a surprise to some companies that claims on your own website and in social media fall within our remit – in 2012 complaints about online ads represented 25% of ASA work. The key thing to remember is that the same rules that apply in traditional media also apply online. For example, the ASA banned a claim on the Totaljobs website, which stated “94,618 jobs from 4,743 companies across the UK”, because the number of jobs didn’t relate to the number of unique vacancies available and was therefore misleading.
We’re here to help
The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) offers free, expert and confidential advice on how to get your ads right – www.cap.org.uk contains a wealth of resources including up-to-date guidance and help notes on the rules as well as e-newsletters on the latest regulatory developments that could impact on your sector. CAP also runs bespoke training seminars and can also give presentations to your compliance staff, marketing teams or ad agencies.
By sticking to the rules, seeking advice and engaging positively with the ASA, you can avoid being in the firing line.