How to Write a Great Job Description
Writing a job description is about more than simply telling people about an open position. It’s about setting the right expectations and attracting the right candidates.
Would you rather receive 100 applications, with only 25 high-quality candidates in the pool? Or 25 applications with 20 high-quality candidates? In this article, we’ll teach you how to write a job description that attracts not only a higher percentage of qualified candidates but also candidates who are truly interested in joining your organization.
How to Write a Job Description
Writing a job description doesn’t have to be difficult, but it should take careful thought. You need to get beyond the vague concept of “someone who’s going to kill it,” and think about what that someone’s skill set actually looks like. How much experience do they have? What duties will they take on? What kind of person are you looking for? What kind of team will they be joining? Use the steps below to answer these questions and create your next job ad.
#1 Write a clear and attractive job title.
Attracting the right candidates starts with presenting the right job title. Candidates who read your job ad will look at this element first and consider if the title sounds like what they’re looking for.
That’s why it’s important to stick to familiar, recognizable job titles whenever possible. While ‘Email Marketing Guru’ might sound more exciting than ‘Email Marketing Specialist,’ if you don’t use terms the candidates are searching for, they may not ever see your exciting job title in the first place.
If your organization is hiring for a unique position that doesn’t match a traditional job title, choose a title that is as clear as possible. Try to include keywords that identify the main functions and specialties of the job so applicants will be able to find your job ad and understand the position at a glance.
#2 Write a great introduction.
The opening sentence or two of your job posting is where you need to put on your marketing hat and hook your readers’ attention. By this point, they’ve probably decided that the job title matches their abilities—they’ve answered the question “Can I do this?” In the first few sentences of your job posting, they start to consider their interests, goals, and desires—they need to answer the question, “Do I want to do this?”
The introduction, or lead, should help your potential candidates answer that second question with a resounding “Yes!” Highlighting a handful of enticing features, benefits, or duties of the position upfront will get job seekers excited about applying.
#3 Outline the essential job functions.
Before writing a job ad, break down the core responsibilities of the role with the hiring manager.
Fun fact: the human brain can only hold between five and nine pieces of information in short-term memory. A huge list of duties will only overwhelm candidates and obscure the most important information, so start with five and try to keep the list brief beyond that.
By prioritizing a handful of simple, clear items that are critical to the role and require specific experience, your candidates are more likely to understand the full scope of the job in their first read-through.
#4 Break down the average day.
Another great way to approach how to write a job description is to walk through what your new hire will do from day to day at your organization. Work with the hiring manager to list how much time this person will spend on main daily duties and how much they’ll spend on occasional peripheral tasks.
This will help you emphasize the right points while writing a job listing. For example, if your writers spend 75 percent of their time writing emails and only rarely get to write a video script, then listing both tasks as main job responsibilities may set inaccurate expectations for your target candidates. While this might help you attract enthusiastic candidates in the short-term, the new hires you bring on will be confused and frustrated when the job doesn’t meet their expectations, and you’ll be looking at longer-term consequences like turnover.
#5 Define what success is for the position.
Next, examine how you or your hiring managers intend to measure success for this position. Is it based on quantity or quality? Is the team competitive or collaborative? Are goals measured in revenue, leads, user ratings, or some other metric?
Answering these questions in the list of job requirements and responsibilities is important for both candidates and hiring managers. It’s all about setting proper expectations. When managers understand what a new hire will need to do to be successful, they can look for relevant qualities in potential candidates. Likewise, when candidates know what a position requires, they can honestly evaluate if they’re willing and able to meet those standards.
#6 Consider the training process.
Consider how much training your organization plans to provide for the position. Your organization’s training capabilities will help you fine-tune the requirements included in your job posting, such as amount and type of experience, skills, certifications, and proficiencies. Certainly, every new hire will need training during the onboarding process to learn the ins and out of your organization’s systems and culture—but what about training beyond that?
Is your organization willing to hire an entry-level candidate who may need to learn a few skills before filling the role completely? Or do you need an expert who can step in and own the position right away? Answer those questions before you start the hiring process so you don’t waste time looking for candidates who don’t fit your organization’s needs.
#7 Sell your organization.
In addition to describing the job, a good job ad should include key information about your organization.
This is a great opportunity to explain your organization’s mission, vision, and values, if you have them. You may also want to include unique perks and benefits, well-known projects or clients, testimonials from current team members, and details about your company culture. This section is about more than simply telling candidates what your organization does—it should help the candidate get excited about the idea of working for your organization.
3 Things to Avoid When Writing a Job Description
Following the steps above will help you create consistent, effective job postings again and again. However, knowing how to write a job posting doesn’t just mean knowing what to include—it also means knowing what not to include. Here are four elements to avoid in every job description.
#1 Biased Language
While some examples of bias are obvious (like stating “preferably Caucasian” in a job ad), unconscious biases aren’t as easy to avoid. The challenge is right there in the name—because they’re unconscious, they’re often unintended, and therefore more difficult to identify without careful attention.
Bias can creep into job descriptions with gendered or otherwise skewed language. For example, it’s easy to use neutral pronouns like “they” instead of “he” or “she” in your description, but you might not realize that describing your ideal candidate as a “data wizard” or “multitasking ninja” could discourage female candidates from applying. Once you’ve finished writing your job description, take a second look (you may want to use a tool like Textio) to make sure your language is fair and neutral.
#2 Walls of Text
More and more, candidates are searching for jobs from their phones and on social media. This means your job descriptions must be easy to read on the go, with bulleted lists and clear headings.
If candidates have to spend several minutes scrolling through long chunks of text in order to find key information about the job (spoiler alert: they won’t), your organization will miss out on many qualified applicants.
#3 Laundry lists
As we mentioned above, it’s important to distill your job description down to a few critical requirements, clearly presented. Don’t get your wants mixed up with your needs, or you might turn away perfectly qualified candidates who thought “Can make a mean chili for our cook-off” was a critical skill. Sometimes, hiring teams focus too much on what they’d like to see in a candidate instead of what elements are actually needed to do the job, and they create a laundry list of so-called requirements that are actually preferences.
Presenting too many requirements can also drastically narrow your pool of candidates, but not in a good way. You might exclude high-quality candidates who don’t match every piece of criteria but could otherwise do an excellent job.
It’s no secret that the job market is becoming more and more competitive for employers. More positions are opening than hires being made, and stellar candidates don’t stay jobless for long. To stand out from the crowd, you need to know how to write an effective job description.
By following the steps above, you’ll save yourself time, attract the right candidates, and scoop up awesome new hires before they’re gone.
Get caught up every month on all things HR. Don't worry, we promise we won't spam you.