Most people start their academic job search by using a search engine. If your job doesn’t rank well in the results, you’ll be behind your competitors right from the start. The process of increasing your page’s ranking in the search results (and consequently the amount of quality traffic your job ad gets) is called SEO or search engine optimization. In this article, we will highlight some of the most common SEO mistakes that negatively affect your recruitment. 

1. You don’t edit the meta description

A meta description is a short summary of your content that appears below the title in the search results list. Candidates decide whether to click or not based on the meta description so it’s crucial that the text is interesting and tempting to click on. If you don’t bother to customize your meta description, the search engine will just automatically take the first 155-160 characters of your job ad. Think about the opening sentence or two of the last few jobs you’ve published. Would they entice you to click the ad? Are you willing to take that risk and lose desirable candidates because you don’t edit the meta description?

2. You haven’t shared the content

Search engines use several parameters to evaluate your content from a relevance and reputational perspective. One aspect of reputation is popularity, meaning that the more people interact with your content, the higher it ranks. Now you understand why it’s a mistake to not share your content and increase the number of people who interact with it. Boost your SEO by sharing your content in paid or organic social media posts or on academic jobs boards.

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3. Your title is too long

Just like with books, a well written title is key to attracting readers. Your job advertisement needs a title that is eye-catching but also contains the words that you think people will search for. This isn’t the time to innovate. When it comes to academic job adverts especially, many people make the mistake of using titles that are too long. Search engines have a limit of 70 characters. If your title is too long it will be truncated and, as a result, potential candidates will miss out on key information that might encourage them to click.

4. You’re using too many keywords

Keywords were a hot topic in SEO a few years ago. But then people started to oversaturate their content with keywords so search engines changed their parameters. Now using too many keywords does not help your SEO. On the contrary, your content can actually be punished for it. Use your keywords sparingly and strategically. Remember, you are not writing your ad for a search engine, you are writing it for a human reader.

5. Your HTML is not Google-friendly

Most people think SEO applies only to your content and your page layout. Unless you work in programming or web development, you wouldn’t know that a big part of SEO is structuring your HTML in a Google-friendly way. HTML is the standard markup language used to create web pages and it tells your browser how to display a website’s words and images. In order to have a Google-friendly HTML you need to be sure you have all the important tags in place, like title tags, meta description tags, robot tags, header tags, alt tags in images, responsive site meta tags and more. 

Now that you know what SEO mistakes to avoid, download our SEO guide to go beyond the basics and learn more about how it really works. In the guide, you’ll find tips about how to structure your recruitment texts, use keywords, and work with links to improve your search result rankings.

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Publishing your job ad online means anyone can find it, right? Well, not exactly. Not all online content gets traffic and a great job ad won’t get any applications if no one finds it. The majority of web traffic comes from organic searches, making search engines the gatekeepers of which jobs get applications and which ones don’t.

For an online job ad to be effective, the site you advertise it on has to have good SEO. 

What is SEO?

SEO stands for search engine optimization and it refers to the process of increasing the amount of quality traffic your website gets from organic (i.e. not paid) search engine results. 

When you google “PhD positions in Europe,” you’re instantly shown a list of websites that the search engine thinks will best match your query. These results, also called rankings, are based on two things: relevance and popularity. The search engine looks at several different aspects of your website to determine how it should rank in the list of search results. These include things like website indexing, keyword optimization, page design, the content itself, and user experience. 

Let’s dig in a bit further.

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How do search engines determine if a site is relevant? 

To determine if a website or page is relevant to your search, the search engine first has to figure out what the website or page is about. There are several things the search engine looks at to do this. For example, it looks at the titles of the page and the URL to check what the keywords they contain. It looks at when the content was published. Search engines also look at what’s called the meta description, that’s the little snippet that comes up in the search results. Does the meta description contain relevant keywords for the search query? 

How do search engines determine if a site is popular?

When it comes to determining popularity, the search engine looks at how visitors have interacted with the site over time. For example, are the number of people visiting the page increasing over time? Is the content shared frequently on social media? How many other sites link to this content? When one website links to another it’s called backlinking. You can think of backlinks like citations. A high number of backlinks indicates to a search engine that the information on that page is valuable. 

This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many other factors that affect a site’s relevance and popularity and therefore how it ranks. SEO takes time to master which is why a website with good SEO is incredibly valuable–especially when you’re posting a job vacancy.

Want to learn more about SEO and how you can leverage it to optimize your talent attraction? Download our SEO for academics guide below.

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University of Cologne is one of the oldest and largest universities in Germany with over 48,000 students. We spoke to Dr. Maria Schmitz-Hüser, Project Manager, Strategic Personnel Management at the University of Cologne to learn more about how the university uses data in its recruitment. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Why do you think it’s important to take a data-driven approach to talent attraction?

Data is especially important for positions that need to be filled within a short period of time or that are difficult to fill.  It’s also very important in the cases in which we are very under pressure to find someone, for example, not just in the academic staff but also apprentice (Auszubildende) positions. We have a lot of these positions, like 12 in a year, and they’re not always easy to fill. But we can use our data to look for a strategy and see where the right place to advertise them is. 

Are there certain metrics that you found to be most crucial in determining if a recruitment is successful?


Dr. Maria Schmitz-Hüser

Yes, time to hire is the key metric actually. Sometimes we have to distribute the same position one more time, and another time, and even another time. If a position is not running that well, then it’s a position where we have to change our strategy and start a campaign or something to be more visible. 

So you keep track of your past recruitments and the different providers you’ve used to see which perform well which helps you then when you end up in a situation like that. Can you give an example of how you have adapted your strategy  in response to data?

Not every provider gives us data. This is a problem because then we can only judge a position by the applications we get and the number of clicks the job gets.  Academics Positions, for example, you support us with frequent reporting and this helps us because  we can see which jobs get many clicks and which jobs don’t. When many people click on the job but only a few of those people then click on apply, we’ve noticed that this is an effect of giving the position too broad of a title. When the title is very general, everyone clicks on “read more” and then realizes that it’s not what they’re looking for. So based on your data, we have changed the way we name our positions.

If an organization is new to using data in their recruitment decisions, what advice would you give them? What do you think should be the first step to a more data-driven recruitment approach?

The first step is to see how many positions you have to fill and then to determine how quickly you need to fill these positions. How many runs do you think you will need to fill them? How many applications do you generally receive per position? Based on that, you can identify the positions that are running well that you can just let run. But if you have a position that you know will need more runs and it isn’t getting a lot of applications, these are the KPIs which help you see what you have to change. Then if you change something in the next run, these KPIs will show what the effect was.  

Another thing is the quality of the applications. In an applicant tracking system, you can also track how the candidates perform and rank them based on how they really fit the position. Then you can track, for each position, how many applicants really fit the position which tells you that you managed to attract exactly the group of people that you were looking for. 

When it comes to academic recruitment, storytelling is a fantastic way to engage potential candidates and start to build a relationship with them already before they apply to your institution. In order to be most effective, you have to start telling your institution’s story long before you’re looking to fill a particular vacancy. Here’s why:

Change your strategy

As we explained previously, not all potential candidates are actively looking for a new job. Up to 70% of all job seekers are passive, meaning they’re not actively seeking out new opportunities. They don’t visit job boards or check university career pages, the two most common academic recruitment channels. The more desirable a potential candidate is, the more likely they are to already be employed and not actively looking for a new job. If you want to get top candidates applying for your vacancies, you have to change your strategy and use new channels to reach out to them. 

Tell your story

Here’s where storytelling comes in. While traditional job ads won’t reach passive candidates, exciting stories will. Everyone likes to read inspiring stories about ground breaking-research, and researchers are no different. These kinds of stories capture their interest and are a great way to build awareness of your institution. What makes the story even better is if you share how your institution helped support the researcher and made it possible for them to thrive. This kind of information helps potential candidates see your institution as an attractive employer. 

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Build your pipeline 

Storytelling is a powerful way to build a candidate pipeline because it creates an emotional response in your audience and motivates them to take action towards your organization. That’s why storytelling should be integrated into every stage of your long-term talent attraction strategy. You can use a story to first get on a candidate’s radar and then another one to offer more insights and deepen their consideration of you as an employer. By doing this, you’re priming candidates so that when they do come across a job ad from your institution, they have a positive picture of your institution as an employer and are excited to click the apply button. Effective storytelling can also inspire candidates to visit your careers page and actively seek out a job at your institution.

Continually sharing interesting and relevant stories is a proactive approach to employer branding that will get candidates interested in your institution long before you publish the job that’s perfect for them. 

By making storytelling a part of your long-term academic talent attraction strategy, your institution can engage top candidates you wouldn’t otherwise reach. You’ll stand out from your competitors with this proactive approach to employer branding and start building your candidate pipeline. To learn more how to incorporate storytelling and content marketing into your talent attraction strategy, download our talent attraction guide. 

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“Tell me a fact and I’ll learn. Tell me the truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.” Indian Proverb

People have always been fascinated by stories. For millennia, storytellers have used them successfully to influence, teach and inspire us. One of the reasons stories are so powerful is that they turn information into emotions. That’s why we remember information better when it’s communicated through a story and why stories motivate us to take action. When you want to really engage a target group, storytelling is the most powerful tool in your toolbox.

When it comes to academic recruitment, storytelling is a way to reach out to desirable potential candidates who aren’t looking at your job ads. Sharing a story with them is a way to capture their interest and increase their awareness of your institution as an employer. 

Here’s why stories work:

Get on their radar

Not all candidates are active job seekers. Studies indicate that up to 70% of all job seekers are passive, meaning they’re not actively seeking out new opportunities. Traditional job advertising won’t reach them, but exciting stories will. A first-hand account from an employee at your institution is a way to get on the radar of candidates who don’t visit job boards. 


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Stories also allow you to reach a group we call future candidates. These are candidates that aren’t able to apply to your institution right now even if they saw an appealing vacancy, such as first year PhD students or new tenure-track faculty. Using stories to reach out to future candidates now will save you time and effort down the line. Plant a seed of interest by sharing stories about why your university is worth considering and reap the benefits later when these candidates are finally able to apply. 

Show, don’t tell

Do you want to receive more applications from women or international researchers? Sharing the story of a successful female or international researcher who has been supported by your institution is far more inspiring to potential candidates than a bullet point saying that your university values diversity. A story allows you to show candidates, rather than tell them how you foster diversity. It will also help them recognize and remember you when they come across your job postings. 

Help the candidates see themselves in the role

A job ad tells the candidates what they need to know about the role, but it doesn’t offer the same personal or emotional connection that a story would. A story gives a candidate a more nuanced view, beyond the bullet points, about what it’s like to work in a particular lab or what the culture of a certain department is like. If candidates can start to picture themselves working at your institution, they’re more likely to seriously consider your job ads. 

Now that you know why storytelling is a good tool for academic talent attraction, download our talent attraction guide to learn more about how to use storytelling in different phases of your recruitment journey.

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Storytelling is when you use a narrative to communicate your message and it’s a powerful way to breathe life into your talent attraction strategy. It creates an emotional response in your target audience and motivates them to take action towards your organization. 

When it comes to academic talent attraction, storytelling is a way to engage potential candidates and start building a relationship with them before they apply to your institution. But what makes a good story? A good story is:


From parables to podcasts, storytelling helps us understand the world in new ways. That’s because stories make abstract concepts more concrete through examples and context.  When you want to influence your audience to start thinking in a different way, use storytelling. 


Sharing stories is one of the ways that people connect with each other and form emotional bonds. Learning someone’s story makes you feel closer to them and creates a sense of intimacy. Using storytelling in your content marketing will help potential candidates form a deeper connection with your institution.   


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A heart-wrenching story from a disaster victim can drive you to donate to relief efforts just like a story about a company’s questionable business practices can dissuade you from buying from them. Because stories create such an emotional connection with their readers, they are powerful motivational tools for marketers.


At the heart of any good TV show, podcast, movie, book, or song is a compelling story. Using storytelling in your content marketing helps entertain potential candidates and hold their attention while you deliver your key messages.


Good content marketing feels so real that the audience doesn’t notice (or doesn’t care) that it’s an ad. We find it more trustworthy, for example, when a customer tells us why they love a product than when the manufacturer tells us why their product is great. Storytelling adds a word-of-mouth feel to your marketing efforts that helps build trust with potential candidates. 

By using storytelling in your content marketing, your institution can stand out from your competitors and position itself as an attractive employer. To learn how to incorporate storytelling and content marketing into your talent attraction strategy, download our talent attraction guide

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The Serra Húnter Programme is a new academic staffing model created by the Government of Catalonia and the seven public universities of Catalonia to promote the hiring of highly qualified faculty members with academic records meeting high-level international standards. Twice a year, the programme releases a call for applications for full professor, associate professor/senior lecturer, tenure-eligible full professor and tenure-eligible lecturer positions. Candidates must first be accredited by AQU Catalunya before moving on to the formal application at the recruiting university. The programme’s ultimate goal is to consolidate Catalonia as the knowledge hub of Southern Europe.

Professor Josep Domingo-Ferrer

Academic Positions spoke to Professor Josep Domingo-Ferrer, the academic director of the Serra Húnter Programme to learn more about why this new staffing model has been successful for Catalonia. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

AP: How was the decision made to take this centralized approach to academic hiring? 

JD-F: The Serra Húnter programme was initially created in 2003 to encourage the public universities in Catalonia to offer faculty positions to candidates accredited by the Catalan University Quality Assurance Agency (AQU Catalunya), which was established in 2001. Then in 2013, we at the Catalan government felt that it was time for another step forward and so a new shape was established for the Serra Húnter programme that set some more constraints for the calls: First, the available positions should have broad academic and research profiles so that they can appeal to the greatest number of potential applicants. Second, the vacancies should be disseminated internationally using several portals. Third, the hiring committees should only have one member from the university offering the position with the remaining members appointed 50% by the university and 50% by the Serra Húnter programme. 

And as a result of this programme, we have achieved a much higher level of competitiveness. Now each position in the call receives 20 applications on average and half of them are international. This may not sound too high for some standards, but I can assure you that it is much higher than what we used to have. And from quantity, you get quality in the end. For us it is very important to get a high number of applicants.

AP: And why do you think this approach has been so successful?

JD-F: There is one part of the story that I haven’t told you yet, and that is that the government directly subsidises 50% of the salary of positions offered through the Serra Húnter programme. That is an incentive for universities to go through this procedure, which takes a bit longer due to the international advertising and accreditation, but the fact that we subsidise 50% makes it more attractive for universities and applicants. 

AP: Since the programme started in its current form, how many tenure eligible lecturers, associate professors, and full professors have been hired by the programme?

JD-F: The programme has offered in total 720 positions since 2013. One quarter of all new academic positions opened each year by the seven Catalan public universities have gone through this programme.

AP: What do you think other universities or other countries can learn from this staffing model?

JD-F: The Serra Hunter programme was created in the context of the Catalonian legal framework. We had this tradition of narrow research profiles and very restricted dissemination of vacant positions which we had to fix. If there is anything that can be generalised, it is perhaps the idea of advertising for a position with a broad research profile. And also trying to avoid, by all possible means, any conflict of interest between the hiring committee members and the applicants. This is something we really focus on and we do it for pragmatic reasons. Other countries or other universities may not have these problems, but we needed a sort of shock therapy. And this was a way to do it. 

Deciding which postdoc position to apply for is an important decision that will affect the candidate’s future career trajectory. So how do applicants choose where to apply? While every candidate has slightly different priorities, there are some common elements that candidates give more weight to than others. Here are the five essential things candidates are looking for reading your postdoc ad:

The supervisor

When it comes to choosing a postdoc position, candidates put a lot of focus on finding a suitable supervisor. The personality match between supervisor and postdoc is essential, but it’s hard for candidates to know from a job ad alone if you will be the right supervisor for them. However, you can take steps to let candidates know more about who you are as a scientist and supervisor in the ad. Include a brief biography including information like any teaching or mentoring awards you’ve won.

The lab

Along with the supervisor, the lab also factors heavily into a candidate’s decision to apply for a postdoc position. While many supervisors wait until the interview to address this, you can get a head start by giving a brief description of your lab in the advert. How long has it been around? What equipment do you have? Who are some of you key collaborators? How many members/nationalities are represented in your lab? What is the general lab personality?

Scientific freedom

A postdoc position is how young scientists learn to become a PI. A position that gives them autonomy helps them make the transition from trainee to professor. Candidates are therefore highly interested in knowing how much control they will have over their research and how much input they will have in determining the line of inquiry. You should communicate this in the project description section of the advert, as well as the profile section.

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How is the position funded and for how long? This is crucial information for potential candidates. Be clear about what the position pays, the duration of the position, and if there’s a possibility to extend the postdoc. You should also mention if there are other funding opportunities available at the university or grant application support services. This kind of detailed funding information can help your postdoc offer stand out and attract more potential applicants.  

Professional development opportunities

Postdocs will need to improve their scientific, technical, and professional skills in order to transition to a PI position. Candidates look for positions where they will have the best opportunity to develop these skills. If your university offers professional development training such as public speaking workshops, career path preparation, or networking events, it’s a good idea to mention this in your advert.

These are the five key things that candidates look for when reading a postdoc ad to determine if they’re a good match for your position. While your position won’t be the right fit for every potential candidate, addressing these five points in your ad will help generate interest among the best-suited candidates. To make sure the right candidates know your postdoc position is exactly what they’re looking for, you have to tell them.  

Now you know how to write a postdoc advert that includes everything candidates are looking for, download our postdoc advert toolkit for more tips and recommendations for a successful recruitment.

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Hiring your first postdoc is an important step for your growth as a new PI. A talented postdoc can help you drive your research agenda forward and generate publications. But postdoc applicants are often advised to look for positions in established labs with strong placement records rather than take a chance on a new PI. It’s probably advice you heard yourself not too long ago. However, as you also probably know, there are several advantages to being a postdoc in a newly-established lab that are highly appealing to certain candidates. One major thing you can do to up your chances of attracting stellar postdoc candidates is to play up these advantages in your advertising.  

Think like a startup

A job ad is crucial in shaping a potential candidate’s first impression of you, especially when you don’t yet have the name recognition that more senior faculty have. Here’s where you can borrow a technique from industry to help sell candidates on the opportunity to do a postdoc in your newly-established research group. If you read job ads from startups, they don’t shy away from the fact that candidates will be part of a very small team, expected to wear multiple hats, and work on projects of varying sizes. They include requirements like, “an independent work ethic and a willingness to roll up your sleeves and get dirty” or a “no-task-is-too-small attitude.” At the same time, startup job ads also stress the fact that candidates will “be given significant responsibility and autonomy” or “benefit from short internal decision making.” These very requirements and opportunities often make startups very appealing to job seekers. You can use the same technique to sniff out postdocs who understand what you’re looking for and will be excited by the opportunity to be supervised by a new PI

So what does this look like in practice?

Most postdoc ads follow a pretty standard template, describing the project, necessary qualifications, selection process, employment terms (sometimes called something like “our offer”), and required application materials. The project description, qualifications, and employment terms sections are the ones you can use to really sell yourself and the opportunity to be one of the founding members of your lab. 

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Here are some examples of the types of phrases you can include in your job ad that will get potential postdocs interested in applying. Feel free to riff on them and make them your own–or just copy/paste them.

These are short sentences, but they can go a long way in shaping the way potential postdocs view your job ad. You’re not going to appeal to everyone, but at this crucial stage of your career, you want to choose your hires carefully. Your first postdoc should be excited about working for you and helping put your lab on the map. By being explicit in your job ad about the opportunities you can offer them, you can increase the number of relevant applications you get. 

Wait, there’s more 

Looking for a bit more advice about how to write your first postdoc ad? Download our postdoc advertising toolkit. It guides you through the job ad section by section so you don’t forget anything important. Plus it includes some tips for promoting your vacancy on social media so you increase your ad’s visibility. 

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Advertising your postdoc position online is as simple as writing your job ad and publishing it online, right? Wrong. Having your ad online is no good if candidates can’t find it or don’t click on it. To make sure that promising postdoc candidates find your ad, you need to optimize the text for digital recruitment. Here are our top tips to get started. 

Make it searchable

Whether potential candidates are using Google, your university’s career page, or an external job board, they search for postdoc opportunities with keywords like, “papyrology postdoc” or “postdoc in language acquisition Germany”. So when you sit down to write your ad, try to think like your candidate and use the terms that they will search for throughout your advert. Search tools look at several parts of a web page to determine what it’s about and repeating keywords in the ad text is an easy way to signal who the ad will be relevant for.

Be specific with your title

Try to also think about what keywords candidates might be searching for when you choose the title for your ad. Titles like “postdoc position” or “postdoc position in the Department of Engineering” are too broad to rank highly in search results and don’t signal to potential candidates that this position is relevant to their interests. Stellar candidates won’t click on your ad if you make them guess what field the position is in. Instead, try a title like “postdoc position in electrical engineering at University X” or, even better, “postdoc position in the optimization of ultrathin solar cells.” 

Your ad’s “slug” (the part of the URL that identifies the specific page) usually matches the page title (in this case, the ad title) which makes it even more important to use keywords in your title. The slug is one of the clues Google uses to determine what the page is about. If your title/slug is too broad, potential candidates won’t be able to easily find your postdoc ad. 

Start strong

You’ve probably been told it’s important to start your ad off with a catchy opening sentence to get potential candidates’ attention and convince them to keep reading. This is true, but a strong opening line also serves another purpose in digital advertising. Google, external job boards, and social media platforms automatically excerpt the opening line as the “meta description” or page summary. This means your first sentence has to not only convince potential postdoc applicants to keep reading your ad, it also has to convince them to click on it. When you start writing your ad, try to think of a 150 to 160 character opener that will look good in a Google snippet, search results list, or a social media preview. 

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Use section headings

When writing for digital, it’s important to break up your ad text into paragraphs with section headings. Many people read job ads on their phones and walls of text are off putting and difficult to read.  Using section headings makes it easier for postdoc candidates to skim your ad and find the information they’re most interested in, like the requirements, or application deadlines. Using bullet points in your ad is another way to make it easier to read on a mobile device.  

One postdoc per ad

Try to avoid advertising multiple postdocs in the same job post unless they’re for the same project. Combining multiple postdoc opportunities into the same advert might seem like a savvy way to save money when advertising outside your university’s career page, but it’s not very search-friendly. Your ad will be irrelevant for half the people that find it and you’re making potential applicants do unnecessary extra work searching through the page to find the vacancy that’s relevant to their research interests. 

This advice goes double for combining both a postdoc and PhD vacancy in the same advert. These are two different keywords with distinct audiences. Don’t make it hard for potential applicants to find the postdoc opportunity they’re searching for. 

Want more?

Now that you know how to write a postdoc ad that’s web friendly, why not take it a step further? Download our postdoc ad toolkit to learn how to write a compelling job ad, create awareness of your vacancy, and measure the success of your recruitment efforts.

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