A Recruiter’s Guide to the Ultimate Job Description
We wish we could tell you that every candidate will spend hours reviewing your job descriptions, objectively assessing their fit with your company before deciding to apply. But as everyone in recruiting knows, this isn’t the case. On average, job seekers spend less than 80 seconds reading a job description. And that’s for a position that actually piques their interest.
So how do you write a job description that will convey relevant information to a generation of readers more accustomed to listicles than paragraphs? We’ve got you covered. Read on for some foundational tips that will help you write scannable and compelling job descriptions, complete with some examples from our job boards.
DEFINE THE POSITION BEFORE WRITING THE JOB DESCRIPTION
Nothing you do will prove as valuable as taking the time up front to clearly define the position you’re looking to fill. Start by gathering all parties involved with the req - the cast of characters may include HR, recruiters and the hiring manager, but don’t hesitate to get more people involved if necessary - and focus on answering a few key questions:
- What does the position look like?
- What will the new hire be responsible for?
- What will their core responsibilities consist of?
- What skills and experience will the ideal candidate possess?
This information will influence the entire hiring process, so don’t be afraid to go deep.
GET SPECIFIC WITH THE JOB TITLE
When it comes to writing a clear job description, it’s best to start at the beginning. Generic job titles like Software Engineer and Marketing Manager may cast a wide net, but will they catch the attention of the qualified candidates you’re looking for? Likely not. Take a look at these two examples:
- Lead Front End AngularJS Engineer
These positions appeared in the same search, but the second example is an order of magnitude more specific than the first. Ironically, they appeared side-by-side, perfectly illustrating how a more specific job title can outshine vanilla offerings. It’s not just technical roles that require specificity, either. Take a look at these results from the same search for marketing positions:
- Digital Marketing Manager
- Digital Media Manager, Paid Search & Paid Social
While the recruiter made a valiant effort with the first example, it’s still not as specific as we’d like to see. The second example does a wonderful job of defining the position and providing insight into the sort of experience a candidate will need to be successful.
CLEARLY OUTLINE DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES
Aside from helping you identify the most appropriate candidates, a clear understanding of responsibilities can also lead to higher employee satisfaction and productivity. You want to ensure candidates understand exactly what the position entails, so go ahead and get technical. Take a look at this job description for a Java developer:
- Developing components for voice applications based on call flow specifications
- Implementing VXML/JSP components, Spring WebMVC controllers and DAO implementations
- Writing automated unit tests
- Properly documenting application code
It manages to outline the core responsibilities of a highly-skilled role in just four bullet points. It may not make sense to those of us without a background in Java, but that’s ok. The position clearly requires a very specific skillset, and the job description was created for candidates with the required technical knowledge.
CLEARLY OUTLINE SKILLS AND COMPETENCIES
As with duties and responsibilities, clearly outlining necessary skills and competencies will help candidates assess their fit and lead to higher quality applicants. It pays to be specific here, so avoid requirements that are open to interpretation (more on that in a minute). If you’re requiring a degree, for example, include the areas of study you’ll consider. If you need a candidate familiar with specific tools, include them. Take a look at this example for a marketing position:
- Bachelor’s degree with focus in marketing, advertising, economics or related field.
- Familiarity with social advertising platforms including Facebook and Twitter.
- 1-3 years of experience managing performance-based UA campaigns.
- Experience with mobile attribution software like Tune, Kochava, Appsflyer, etc.
- Strong analytical skills and attention to detail.
- Advanced Excel skills.
In very clear terms, it sets expectations for educational background, experience level and familiarity with certain key tools. It bends where necessary (phrases like “advanced” and “strong”), but never breaks.
AVOID LISTS OF “NICE-TO-HAVE” SKILLS
It’s time to think like an editor. Have you included a laundry list of nice-to-have skills the perfect candidate will possess? Get rid of it. If you’ve clearly defined the role, you’ll be looking for candidates that meet very specific requirements. Trimming your job description to the bare essentials will help you find them. By explaining exactly what will be expected of the applicant and cutting any extraneous information, you’ll attract qualified candidates that understand the position. Consider the following example:
Nice To Haves (not 100% required):
- CPG and/or marketing automation experience.
- Awards or public recognition for outstanding sales, complex negotiations, and/or customer retention
- Bachelor or University Degree
What does “not 100% required” mean? 99% required? Not at all required? It’s easy to see how these lists often do more harm than good. Holding out for a “purple squirrel” candidate that meets all of your nonessential requirements will only delay the hiring process. Be crystal clear with your expectations and you’ll improve your odds of attracting the right candidates.
AVOID AMBIGUOUS LANGUAGE
What does “advanced understanding” mean? How about “occasional travel,” “frequent client interaction” or “equivalent experience?” Vague, right? Ambiguous language can lead to confusion for the candidate and negatively impact both the quality and quantity of applicants. Luckily, it’s one of the easiest mistakes to avoid. When writing your job description, check every line for clarity and detail. If you’re left with any questions, more information is necessary. How specific do you need to be? Take a look at these examples for some inspiration:
- Experience carrying a quota of $500,000 - $1,000,000
- Willingness to travel at least 50 percent of the time
- Past experience in public relations, corporate communications, content marketing, or relationship management
Notice they leave nothing open to interpretation. Exact figures and specific fields of experience make it clear what the employer is looking for and what the candidate can expect.
DEFINE SUPERVISORY/DEPARTMENTAL STRUCTURE
In some cases, the supervisory and departmental structure is obvious. A CMO answers to the CEO, a VP of Engineering reports to the CTO and so on. With other positions, however, things aren’t so clear. Take front-end developers, for example. Some may be responsible for product development while others may be part of the marketing team. The same holds true for writers, designers, account executives and other roles. Make sure applicants understand the team they’ll be a part of and to whom they’ll report to ensure the right candidates are applying for the right positions. Once again, we’ve pulled a few examples:
- Reporting directly to the SVP of Marketing, this person will partner cross functionally with senior leaders from demand generation, client advocacy, and marketing operations to take an integrated approach in helping us achieve our comprehensive marketing strategy.
- In this role, you will be a part of [our] UX Team and work with our Product and Engineering teams to create delightful, effortless experiences for our users.
- Specifically you’ll be working with both the Product Manager and CTO on all programming tasks at hand.
FORMAT, FORMAT, FORMAT
Have you noticed all the subheads, bulleted lists and pull quotes we’ve used throughout this article? That’s more than window dressing. Appropriately formatting your writing can help guide readers to the most important information, increasing the odds they see what you want them to see. The same holds true for your job descriptions, but a soft touch is necessary. Formatting can be a great way to help information stand out, but if your entire job description is a bulleted list, it will lose its impact.
MAKE IT EASY TO APPLY
This should be a no-brainer, but we’re always surprised by the number of job descriptions we see that don’t include a clear path to application. Whether it’s an email address, a clickable button or some other method, interested candidates will be looking for some guidance on how to apply.
If the next step isn’t obvious, odds are good you’ll lose talent to other opportunities.
The simple truth is that, no matter what you do, few job seekers will actually read your job descriptions cover-to-cover. But a few small tweaks to your writing style will help ensure candidates get the most important information, and you get the most qualified applicants.