How to build more compelling job descriptions
If you’ve ever searched for a job, you know that not all job descriptions are well written. And if you’ve ever had to build a job description—well, let’s just say many of us would prefer to watch paint dry. But crafting a job listing doesn’t have to be a horrible experience.
Here are 14 tips to make your job descriptions more effective and powerful, and hopefully a lot less painful to write.
14 tips for writing job descriptions to attract candidates
1. Sum your company up, but succinctly: In your intro, write just one or two sentences about what your company does, what makes you stand out, and why your work matters. Employees want to know that they’re working for a company that stands for something. But don’t drone on and on about what you do, or your market. A good candidate should research that for themselves once you’ve baited the hook. You just want to prove you are legit and stable, identify your space, and draw their interest. Then move on to what they care most about—their job.
2. Include just a few company perks: Be sure to include a few of your exciting or unique benefits in your job description intro. But don’t overdo it. At the early stages of a search, candidates are looking for things that make your company stand out. So if you have a sabbatical, unlimited vacation, or an on-site gym, be sure to highlight those perks. Likewise, you can use the perks you highlight to help screen for culture fit. A game room, charity drives, performance bonuses, or education reimbursement will attract different types of employees. Highlight accordingly.
3. Eliminate corporate speak or jargon: It can be tempting to create a job description by pulling sections from past efforts or templates, but try to resist. Except in the case of compliance, most jobs are unique and your job descriptions should be, too. Candidates will sense when you are blabbing on from a template and will lose interest quickly. Jargon can also be confusing and subjective. (The term “playbook” may mean something entirely different to two different companies.) Use job specific language and focus on the tasks this job will entail, how this role matters, and how you’ll measure its success.
4. Be specific about expectations and responsibilities: Building off that last point, you want to be sure that you’re explicit about the scope of your role. This will help job seekers understand if they’re a good fit or not. Job descriptions are more than ads—they’re also a sort of GPS for the role. They give your hire an initial direction, but then they live on to guide your hire and help him or her prioritize and set goals over time.
5. Outline specific tasks and percentage of work distribution: This will be the blueprint for the role and one of the most important sections for a prospective employee. It is also the part of the job description that will help you most in assessing performance down the road. Make sure you include everything that is important to this role, and break down what percentage of time will be spent in each general area. Use bullet points so that it’s easy to skim and digest.
6. Include measurable KPIs and metrics: It’s important to not just lists tasks but also to articulate how the success of the role will be measured over time. What are the key performance indicators (KPIs)? What are the minimal deliverables and metrics that will be expected of this employee? Laying this out to start with will create a template for assessments and performance reviews, scare off weaker candidates, and save a lot of headaches down the road.
7. Provide job context: Another helpful bit to include in a job description is the degree to which this role will interact and collaborate with other groups and roles in your organization. Figure this out by doing a job assessment and gathering information from all stakeholders in your company.
8. Use SEO-sticky terms—especially in the job title: Write a job description that will get noticed by search engines, and use words that will pique the interest of a candidate who may have looked at 30 other jobs that hour. Skip over tired terms like “rockstar” that can indicate a preference for one gender. Use words that will be meaningful and exciting to someone who would love your job. Keep search engine optimization and keywords in mind, too, so you rise to the top of search results.
9. Use a tone that reflects the behavioral traits you seek: Hopefully you’ve used a tool like the Predictive Index Job Assessment tool to identify the behavioral traits you need in this role. If you need a consensus-building extravert, make sure you use words in your job description that will attract that candidate. Advertising that role as a “heads-down, intense or self-directed” one is likely to attract a candidate with the opposite traits. Instead use words like “team-work, facilitation, and group brainstorming.”
10. Reflect your employer brand and voice: Your job description is perhaps the first time a candidate will encounter your company and employer brand. Make the effort to write job descriptions that reflect your values and culture and you’ll be more successful in attracting candidates who will thrive and stay.
11. Cross your t’s and dot your i’s: Your job description won’t be effective if it doesn’t meet basic compliance. A job description is a legal document and will play a role if there’s any kind of dispute or challenge, so be sure to make it air-tight. Follow ADA and EOE guidelines, and be consistent in following all of your internal policies.
12. List the level and salary range: This might seem counter-intuitive. You may feel like you don’t want to tip your hand and pay more in salary than you have to. But if you’re doing your research properly you should know what the fair range is for the role and the experience you want. Candidates also know what they are worth. Playing it coy with salary and level may make the most confident and accomplished candidates pass on you. Offer a general range based on experience.
13. Be realistic: Don’t write your entire wishlist for a candidate. If you are exhaustive in describing your most idealized candidates, you may lose the attention of a candidate who would actually be perfect for you. A job description that boxes candidates into a corner can be intimidating, and will not get the activity you want.
14. Proofread: This goes without saying, but you’d be surprised how many mistakes and typos can creep into a job description—especially when editing or adapting an existing document. Proofread carefully.