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The best recruitment advert ever?

If you thought that the digital era was going to herald a new dawn in creative recruitment advertising, then you only have to look at recruitment adverts: the same old clichés are lurking in most.  Staring at some awful copy recently got me thinking about Shackleton. 

They spoke a lot about Shackleton in the mountain school where I grew up. Alongside Slingsby, Mallory, Scott, Hilary and Nansen he had the honour of a room named after him in the main building.  He was held in huge regard by the modern-day explorers and adventurers that inhabited that wonderful space.  It would suffice to say he’s been in my mind ever since, and one of the first books I used to give to the members of my team was “Shackleton’s Way”.  

Sir Ernest Shackleton has been called “the greatest leader ever” for saving the lives of the 27 men stranded with him on an Antarctic ice flow for two years.  Not only did he do that, he also found time to write probably the most successful recruitment advert ever with over 5000 applicants.

I’m not going to talk about the veracity of the advert. Whatever it contained or wherever it was posted, it’s response of 5000 applicants is well documented. As a recruiter and (above all) a Shackleton fan I’d like to believe it existed.  A relative of someone on Shackleton’s expedition claimed their grandfather, Colonel Orde-Lees, responded to it.  A filing cabinet to cope with the demand was created in his office labelled “mad”, “hopeless” and “possible” (I’ve frequently used the same system).   

As someone who wrote adverts for the cash-strapped “unglamorous” food industry for over a decade, I found the messages he used very useful: sometimes the hardship can be the attraction. A little honesty can go a long way and if your business has good leaders (regardless of the circumstances), you will probably get the people you need.  

I was skint when I set up my first interim company so I could only afford a quarter page in the trade journal. In 2004 my first ever advert for my first interim business said simply:

My database of elite interims is tiny. Help me keep it that way. 

It got an overwhelming response. I don’t think I’ve ever bettered it.  

If you are looking to put an advert out then you may wish to take a leaf out of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s book. Here it is. 


Scott Hutchinson is the Principal for Food & Drink at Interim Partners.

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