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How to Write Good Job Descriptions that Attract Great Candidates

In Human Resources — by Erin Engstrom

Here at Trakstar, we occasionally have clients ask us why they’re not getting the volume of applicants they’d anticipated for a certain opening. There can be any number of reasons–maybe the opening isn’t on certain job boards and should be; maybe it’s a hot job in an ultra-competitive market (say, iOS developer in San Francisco). But sometimes it comes down to the job description.

A job description is like an employer’s sales pitch to candidates. You’ve got to make them descriptive enough to get a candidate’s attention, and interesting enough to keep it. Most companies aren’t Apple or Google, with thousands of would-be applicants stalking the careers page every day. The economy is steadily improving and it’s increasingly a candidate’s job market . The following tips will help you write compelling job descriptions that help your openings rise above the competition.

Lose the Buzzwords

Terms like “rock star” and “ninja” are played out. For real. They don’t make you seem hip or cool, they just make job seekers’ eyes roll. At one point in time, it may have seemed that such whimsical terms made job descriptions stand out from the pack. But now, they’re just tired cliches.

Consider the job search process from a candidate’s point of view. Serious candidates aren’t searching for terms like “data guru” or “social media maven.” They’re searching for “data scientist” or “social media specialist.” When writing your job descriptions, try to home in on the keywords your target audience is searching for. Indeed’s Job Trends tool can help you figure out how popular your keywords are. To avoid getting lost in the crowd, try to make your job descriptions as specific and direct as possible, and employ long-tail keywords .

No Purple Unicorns

Recently a friend of mine posted a job description on Facebook with the message, “Puh-lease, HR folks! This is not the job of one person. How many employees do you realistically see in this description?” Even a cursory glance at the description revealed a position “requiring” specialized skillsets that would most likely be spread out between three or four employees.

When writing a job description, always have it vetted by someone who’s already worked in that role. If it’s a brand-new position, seek the advice of people outside your organization who are working in similar-sounding jobs to make sure what you’re seeking is realistic. Professionals with parallel experience to what you’re hiring for will help you set reasonable expectations and figure out what qualifications are absolute requirements, what are nice-to-haves and what are totally unrealistic or unnecessary.

That person who’s an SEO expert with a CPA license who knows Ruby on Rails and is a certified sommelier–they probably exist, somewhere. But they’re a one-in-a-million candidate. And you probably can’t afford them.

Details, Please

While you don’t want your job description to address every skill under the sun, you do want to make it as detailed as possible. Between 700-2,000 words is a sweet spot for job descriptions –that’s between two-and-half and seven pages typed double-space!

That may seem like a high word-count, but it’s actually pretty easy to get there:

  • Paint a picture of the day-to-day responsibilities of the job, including a breakdown of tasks by percentage.
  • Give candidates an idea of how the role functions within the organization as a whole.
  • Address who the role will be in regular contact with. Supervisors? Supervisees? Customers? Colleagues from other departments?
  • Provide desired years of experience . Employ this one with caution, though. Particularly in tech or with mid-career changers, candidates may have a solid foundation of training but not a ton of experience in the field.
  • Supply a salary range . I once had multiple interviews with an organization, including one that required me to drive six hours round-trip. The responsibilities seemed like a great fit for my experience. I liked the people I interviewed with. They liked me. And then I learned the salary. The gap between my requirements and what they could offer was too large to surmount. Don’t waste your company’s–or your candidates’–time like this. You want to make sure that you’re only reviewing candidates who will be happy earning what you can afford to pay them. Posting a salary range will reduce the time you spend sitting at the negotiating table, too.
  • Emphasize what makes your organization unique . Do you have an employee volunteer program? A cafeteria that serves up delicious food? Shuttle service to between the office and the train station? An unusually high retention rate? Candidates aren’t looking for run-of-the-mill experiences, so address what makes you different.

The need for details extends to job titles, as well. Instead of just “communications coordinator,” consider “editorial communications coordinator,” “digital communications coordinator” or “communications and events coordinator.” The more specific you are with the title, the better idea you’re giving candidates of what to expect. This leads to more self-selecting applicants, which in turn leads to a higher quality pool of candidates.

Focus On Where You’re Going (Not Where You’ve Been)

Maybe your company has an illustrious history and some amazing brand recognition as a result. Great. But guess what? Candidates didn’t work there back then. We’re living in an era of unprecedented rapid growth, where publicly traded stalwarts can be upended seemingly overnight by lean and mean startups.

Candidates want to know what the future plans are for your company. After all, they’re the ones who are going to help shape and execute these plans. Are you a SaaS company focused on expanding your product offerings? A healthcare company increasing your focus on insurance? A higher ed organization getting into online degrees? That trophy case full of awards is all well and good, but candidates really want to know about the opportunities that lie ahead.

What Can You Do for Them?

I used to work for an organization that wasn’t very widely known, and it wasn’t in a particularly sexy industry. What they did have, though, was absolutely extraordinary benefits. We’re talking more than six weeks PTO, 12 percent retirement contribution, tuition reimbursement, pre-tax transportation benefits, Cadillac health insurance and a gym onsite. While some job descriptions at my former employer referred to the “amazing benefits,” they never got into specifics. What a huge mistake! As a result, the time-to-fill for my old role was more than 60 days–over twice the national average .

Of course candidates need to know how they’re going to serve your company–that’s what’s going to enable them to discover your opening in the first place. What’s going to make them take the next leap and apply, though, is emphasizing how you can serve them. Do you offer equity? Stock options? Flexible hours? Telecommuting ? Child care assistance? Paid parental leave? Don’t keep that stuff under wraps–shout it from the rooftops! Candidates need to know how a new job will benefit their lives, not just their work.

Consistently communicating your unique perks in your job descriptions will have the added benefit of bolstering your employer brand . Even if you’re a small company that isn’t widely known, job seekers will begin to keep an eye out for openings at your company if they know you’ve got a lot to offer.

The process of creating a good job description is a mixture of art and science. You want to inject some personality and convey what makes your organization unique. But there are also certain conventions you want to adhere to. To ensure a great job description, set realistic expectations, research keywords, provide details galore, convey your company’s future plans and emphasize how your company helps benefit employees’ lives. Do these and you’ll find yourself swimming in consistently deep pools of awesome candidates.

Image courtesy Neetal Parekh

About the author
Erin Engstrom is the web content strategist at Trakstar. I’m in Chicago for now, but hope to take advantage of Trakstar’s remote workplace and do the digital nomad thing. Relax and eat the elephant one bite at a time.

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