By Richard Shotton, behavioural scientist.

Richard Shotton, one of the country’s top behavioural scientists, has partnered with recruitment platform Monster to give HR professionals insights into how understanding human behaviour can benefit recruitment and retention. In this latest article exclusively for, he explains the importance of being distinctive in recruitment advertising.

One of the hardest tasks for recruitment adverts is noticeability; there's an awful lot of clutter.

We are all hard-wired to notice the things that stand out, so when companies are trying to attract new staff one of the best tactics is to be distinctive. Companies can – and should – look closely at how they have traditionally written job adverts and aim to break these conventions.

This might sound straight-forward, but it's the opposite of how most companies act. The vast majority of recruitment adverts mimic what competitors do, which is exactly the wrong tactic. Hands up, who has ever used another recruitment advert as a template for their own?


Also known as ‘The Isolation Effect’, this pioneering study by Hedwig von Restorff in 1933 revealed that when people are shown a list of similar objects, it’s the one that is different that is most often remembered when all objects are taken away.

To prove that this theory still applies today, we conducted a similar study with 500 nationally representative participants.

We gave everyone a list of numbers: 15 of the numbers were written in black, while one was written in blue. When the list was taken away, respondents were 30 times more likely to remember the blue number than the others on the list.

The concept doesn’t just apply to objects and numbers either. We repeated the same experiment with brands. Respondents saw a list of logos: 11 car brands and one fast-food brand. Our panel were four times more likely to mention the fast-food brand than the average car brand. Being distinctive makes ads memorable.


The power of differentiation can be seen in all industries, not just in recruitment and HR.

If we look at the world of boxing, for example, a quarter of the best fighters are left-handed. This is far from coincidental when you consider that only 10 percent of the global population are left-handed. Boxers are used to fighting right-handers, so when they’re faced with a left-handed opponent, the differentiation leaves them on the back foot. By being different, the left-handed boxer has the upper hand, quite literally.


According to Derek Jenkins, General Manager for Monster, the UK’s leading online recruitment platform, being distinctive can be achieved using video. This useful resource is what sets apart a traditional, conventional job advert from something great. As he explains:

“Over 1 billion hours of video content are watched every day around the world; it’s quickly becoming one of the most consumed forms of content. Our internal data shows those using video are having a much higher success rate. Monster Studios, for example, allows businesses to stand out in a crowded market by quickly and easily creating compelling videos, rather than traditional text-heavy job descriptions.”

“Video is also more important now than ever as covid-19 has meant that many face-to-face interviews and meetings are no longer possible. Understandably, the pandemic will also have slowed down the rate of recruitment, but the importance of understanding human behaviours still holds true. The current pause is a good opportunity for us to all reassess how we work as an industry.”

There are some great examples of companies using video to differentiate themselves.

For example, when trying to recruit new top salesperson for its team, advertising agency OgilvynOne launched a campaign to find the ‘World’s Best Salesperson’. The agency invited candidates to submit a video of themselves selling them a brick. Simple, but effective. The campaign not only helped the company find a suitable candidate but was also on-brand and a great opportunity for PR for the agency.

Whether you’re a boxer, a brand or a business, the concept and the outcomes remain the same; by being distinctive within your recruitment advertising you can stand out from the crowd and strengthen your appeal to candidates.