On Van Halen and Writing Effective Job Ads

When the rock band Van Halen would perform it was a major undertaking. And it could be dangerous. High voltage and pyrotechnics can be a deadly combination. No one was supposed to die at their concerts. To the best of my knowledge no one ever did, or at least if someone did die it was not because of the group’s negligence.

The contract which venues had to sign with the band was thick and detailed. There were clear instructions about how everything was to be setup. If memory serves, this even included the distance between electric outlets. Nothing was taken for granted.

In the middle of the contract was an interesting clause. It stated that the venue was to supply a bowl, I think it was a “large” bowl, of M&Ms. Multicolored M&Ms. But, so stipulated the contract, no brown M&Ms. Why?

When the project manager – I doubt that was the actual title of the person responsible for assuring that the terms of the contract had been honored – would arrive at the venue, he (or she) would make a rudimentary inspection of the setup and then would look for the M&Ms. If it was there, and there were no brown candies, he (or she) would be confident that the venue had done their job. Of course, a slightly more than cursory inspection would be conducted, but the odds were that everything was alright.

What, you ask, does any of this have to do with writing an effective ad for a job? (By the way, “effective” means an ad that can be used to eliminate candidates so as not to waste the employer’s time.)

All job ads should include a test. Ask a question and see if you get an answer. Van Halen’s contract must have been a few inches thick. A job ad is usually no more than an inch square! If a candidate forgets to answer one question – which is all you need – in a small ad, how are they going to deal with a Van Halen-sized project that requires the answering of a multitude of questions?

So, by all means, ask about salary expectations. Or require a cover letter to see if the person can write. Or ask for a work sample. Give them a simple task. You may be surprised by how many candidates will either ignore the question/request or will not be able to properly respond. It’s a good way to eliminate candidates who, frankly, are not worth a phone call.


Bruce Hurwitz is an executive recruiter and career counselor. He has helped scores (thousands if you include attendees at his presentations) of people, including veterans, not only change jobs but, on occasion, change careers. Having successfully transitioned from academia to non-profits to the recruiting industry, he has been there and done that!

Bruce is a recognized authority on job search and career issues, having been quoted in over 700 articles, appearing in some 500 publications, across the United States and in more than 30 foreign countries. His posts on LinkedIn have been read over 350,000 times and have garnered national and international media attention, including television appearances on Fox Business Network and Headline News (CNN).

An advocate for the protection of job seekers, visit the homepage of his website, www.hsstaffing.com, to read about questionable offerings of so-called job search assistance companies and to learn about his upcoming speaking engagements.