Shackleton’s Help Wanted Ad

I’m writing on Columbus Day, and I don’t know anything about how he hired sailors for his ships.  Thinking about explorers and staffing expeditions made me think about the most famous help-wanted ad ever:

“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.”

A little bit of research indicates the ad may, unfortunately, be fictitious.  No-one has been able to find the newspaper in which it supposedly ran.  The way the story played out, however, suggests Shackleton may have used something similar to find the crew for his epic journey.  (OTOH, he wasn’t planning on staying over the winter–that was the “safe return doubtful” bit–so why would he have mentioned “long hours of complete darkness?”  In the summer, Antarctica actually has “long hours of endless daylight.”)

Supposedly, he received over 5,000 responses, although a review of the history indicates that reporters may have confused his several trips to the south.  No-one mentions exactly how he managed to sort through 5,000 resumes.

Reading the ad more than 100 years later, having been to Antarctica (and his famous hut) myself, my response goes in two directions.

How Shackleton would write the ad today

(or rather, how Monster.com would make him run it)

People wanted for hazardous journey.  Minimum wage.  OSHA investigating working conditions.

(I need to research how the crabbers on “the world’s most dangerous jobs” get around their working conditions, which are still better than any of the polar explorations.)

How this ad can work for you today

Don’t sell.  Challenge.  At the turn of the previous century, polar exploration was the Moon Race of the day.  Everyone wanted to be a part of it.  Everyone wanted to contribute.  Getting to the pole was good, and you had to make it back alive or no-one would believe you.  5,000 applications for a minimum wage job.

Writing for AllBusiness.com, Peter Horan was struck by the power of Shackleton’s ad as well.  Although 2006 was more of an employee’s market than it is today, his point is still valid:

In my experience, great people want to do great things. The German poet Goethe admonished us to “Dream no small dreams. because they have no power to move the hearts of men.” Dream big dreams for your business and invite your employees to share them. Not just for scale and sales but for quality, innovation and service. The best people will always want to be part of your team.

If your business has a mission and a challenge and a call to change the world, let people know how important and hard your work is.  You’ll get better candidates for it.

What challenge can you include in your next help wanted ad?  Let me know in the comments–Thanks!