Creating a job description is one of the most important parts of finding the best hires for your company but making a great one takes more than writing two paragraphs and a list of desired skills. Here’s what you should know to write a job description that attracts the best candidates.
Why Are Job Descriptions Important?
Job descriptions are often the first impression a job seeker has of your company. Unless you’re a famous multinational corporation, there’s a good chance most people don’t know anything about you when they see your listing, and first impressions matter. Even if you don’t hire them, people in a relevant industry could become valuable contacts later.
When deciding how to write a job description, the most important thing to understand is that it’s fundamentally persuasive work, not descriptive.
Your goal is finding the best applicants for the role you have and convincing them that it’s worth applying, so if you focus only on what your company wants and not what the applicant will receive, you’ll push away many great applicants.
Job descriptions also have several other purposes. They simplify searching on an applicant’s end, allowing them to self-select out of the process if they don’t match, and they can also make interviewing easier. Writing great job descriptions will save you both time and money.
Now that we know why presenting job duties and responsibilities correctly is vital, let’s look at the components.
Job titles are one of the first things people see when they’re looking at a job description, and this alone can tell them whether they want to click on it. About a third of all applicants search mainly by job titles.
The best job title uses standardized language like Executive, Senior or Junior to clarify the level of the position, plus the specific job title that best matches the work duties of the role. If you’re not sure which title matches the job best, the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics defines many jobs and can help you decide on one title.
Try to avoid any company or industry-specific terms unless it’s a fundamental skill for the role. For example, it’s okay to ask for an Android Software Developer if you want to publish on Google’s Android platform.
Remember, there are many potential routes to most jobs. If your titles are too restrictive or specific, you could accidentally filter out some top-notch candidates.
Start your summary with an attention-grabber that convinces someone to keep reading. Be sure to keep the focus on the reader. Remember, this is a persuasive document, so the goal is to convince them that it’s worth their time to keep reading.
Once you have their attention, launch into your overall expectations for the role and a brief description of your company. The job summary section is the first filter in the job description and should help the reader decide whether or not it’s worth continuing. If they’re a poor fit for the job, they won’t read any further.
Most job seekers care about your company culture, so try to include a few details that showcase the best of what you have to offer. Culture can include anything from a flexible work environment to special perks and benefits in the office. Having a reader-friendly role description encourages them to spend more time considering you.
Don’t go into the main benefits of the role yet. Instead, the intro section can include a smaller version of benefits you may offer, such as catered lunches, training programs or anything else that might be relevant.
Job Duties and Responsibilities
The duties and responsibilities section allows you to describe the position in more detail, starting with the core responsibilities.
While many jobs seem complex at first, it’s usually possible to narrow the work duties to a few sentences. Try to avoid making the primary duties longer than two paragraphs. Make sure to include all the fundamental, must-do elements of the position, so people can determine if they’re still qualified.
Being comprehensive is good, but don’t forget to include a little more explanation as needed. For example, if the job reports to the board of directors quarterly, make sure you say that its quarterly. Otherwise, people might assume it happens weekly or daily, and a qualified candidate might feel too nervous to apply.
Many companies stop their job duties section here, but there are two more parts you can include to make a job description significantly better.
You may want to add an explanation of the role’s day-to-day activities. If you’re not sure what someone does each day, ask someone in a similar position to describe it. Daily activities can vary between companies, even between similar jobs, so try to keep the focus on what people can expect from you.
The second addition explains how the role fits in with the rest of your company. Generally, this should include to whom the position reports, who it has authority over and what types of benefits it has for the business. Applicants don’t know your company structure, so this information helps them understand the overall position you’re hiring for.
Qualifications and Skills
Qualifications and skills are one of the main areas where companies make mistakes while creating a job description. Specifically, companies often create a “wish list” of job description skills covering everything they want in a candidate. The problem is that few people can meet every item, and they won’t apply if they think you won’t be flexible.
Avoid making wish lists. Instead, focus on the specific education, experience, certifications and other skills necessary for the position. Keep these as limited as possible, then include any other skills in a separate section. State that a candidate does not need to have those skills, but that having them is a plus.
Also, make sure to tell applicants if you’re willing to train them. Many companies expect applicants to have a complete set of skills, but a small investment in training can help you get fantastic employees that you’d be missing out on.
Don’t list specific years of experience if you can avoid it. More experience is always helpful, but the more of these you add, the less likely it is that candidates will feel they match.
Salary and Benefits
Great candidates are always looking for salary information, but most companies hesitate to provide this detail. That’s understandable, especially if you want to get a good deal and avoid overpaying an employee. However, many candidates will walk out of an interview if your offer is too low, which means you’re wasting your time.
Including a specific salary or a range will help you stand out from other employers and attract better candidates. The best employees are confident and have experience, and they’re rarely willing to settle for a bad offer.
A job description is persuasive work. If you don’t include salary information, many applicants will suspect that you plan to lowball their pay, so they won’t even talk to you.
Providing this information makes you predictable. Great employees like predictable employers. Make sure any summary you post is an accurate reflection of the pay you’re offering. If you say, “up to $40,” but tell everyone in the interview they’re going to get $20, you’re wasting your time.
Aside from salary information, benefits are another way to attract great applicants. The better your benefits, the more likely they are to apply.
Good benefits include things like paid time off, insurance coverage, reimbursement for tuition and certain expenses, or having a pet-friendly office. Benefits are the main thing that set you apart from competitors offering similar pay, so these are an investment in quality candidates.
Make sure to mention any rare or appealing benefits. For example, some companies are allowing paid time off with no explanation — employees don’t have to justify a reason for wanting it, they can just take it.
The sections above are the most important part of learning how to write a job description, but there are a few more things to keep in mind.
The best job descriptions are short and direct. Good use of formatting elements like bolding, bullet points and headers can make the description easier for people to scan. Try to avoid long blocks of text.
Serious applicants may be looking at hundreds of job descriptions every day. They don’t want to spend too much time reading, and if they see a bunch of text, they may assume you’re asking for something too complex.
Company values are an increasingly important metric that applicants are using to evaluate companies. Listing your values outright is good, but you can also change the tone of your writing to reflect your workplace culture.
Ultimately, what most job seekers want is a fair work environment. Many people are willing to work hard, but if your company values make them think you’ll only push them even harder and not reward them for their effort, they’ll hesitate to apply.
The best place to put company values is generally at the beginning or the end of your job description.
The ideal length for a job description is just long enough to cover the subject in sufficient detail. Brevity is always better because the longer your job description is, the fewer applicants you’ll get.
Try to avoid having your job description go over 2000 characters. For context, that is significantly shorter than this guide.
Thinking Like Applicants
What do people looking for specific jobs care about? Understanding the mindset of a role and its likely applicants can help you make significantly better job descriptions.
For example, people who work in technical fields often prefer having a lot of information, so they may like more detailed descriptions. However, people in art or graphic design roles may care more about the feelings and mood of a job, especially if they’re confident they have the right skills.
Thinking like an applicant means understanding the unique tendencies of each role. What makes sense for one position with your company might not work for other roles. Keep that in mind when deciding how to write a job description for any specific role.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some common questions people have about writing a great job description.
Job Description Templates
Job description templates can be appealing because they offer uniform styling and reduce the amount of time you spend designing them. However, it’s better to avoid using the same template for every role at your company.
The main reason company-wide templates rarely work is that each position is different, so you need to customize the job description to appeal to different applicants.
For example, hiring a new CEO is different from hiring an artist. CEOs often want to know how much they’ll make, how much authority they’ll have and who they’ll be working with. Artists usually care about the type of work they’ll be creating and how fast they need to make it.
Everything has an exception, though. Marketers may prefer seeing what looks like a job description template, even if you don’t use it for any other role, because it implies you understand the value of branding and can make good use of their skills.
Templates don’t add much value to job descriptions. Most descriptions have a standardized outline, so adding a template creates restrictions without providing any new or meaningful benefits.
Persuasive Job Descriptions
Job descriptions are advertising. Instead of trying to sell a product, you’re trying to advertise your company in exchange for someone’s time and skill. You want to persuade them that applying and working for you is worth their time and skill.
Creating a persuasive job description is the secret to getting high-quality applicants.
Most companies focus too much on themselves and what they want when they’re creating a job description. This is understandable, because people writing job descriptions often go in with the mindset of having a position and needing to fill it so the company can accomplish its goals.
However, this runs the risk of pushing candidates away, because they don’t see what’s in it for them. Great applicants know the value of their skills and won’t bother applying to companies that won’t care enough about them.
Persuading applicants with a job description ultimately comes down to convincing them that they’ll get something they want out of the relationship. Different perks and benefits appeal to different people and positions. The better you make the job sound to an applicant, the more likely they are to apply.
Great employees bring more value to a company, so taking the time to find the best employees pays off. Employees are an investment, and there’s a clear difference between a good one and a bad one.
Benefits That Are Appealing to Applicants
According to Harvard Business Review, the most important overall benefit is insurance coverage, particularly including dental, health and vision. Insurance can be the reason that some people keep a position they don’t like, which only emphasizes how valuable it can be to include.
The most appealing benefits depend on the position, so there’s no universal answer to this question. However, there are some benefits that people tend to focus on more than others.
Modern workers also like some flexibility in their working hours. There are some positions where this isn’t possible, but the truth is that many corporate jobs don’t require a 9-to-5 schedule. Some people would rather start working early and free up their afternoons, while others might prefer to work less each day but continue through the weekends.
If you can be flexible, you should. Workers also prefer more vacation time and the option to work from home in any role where it’s possible. Unlimited vacation time, although that requires some trust from the employer, is also valued.
While the details vary, people want to have a better work-life balance, which means more say over how and when they work.
Good employees will get their job done, regardless of how long they spend working. From that perspective, this is a good place for companies to compromise (and state it in the job description). If someone can do their work both fast and well, let them feel rewarded.
Hard and Soft Skills
Hard skills are specific capabilities that are easy to define and measure. Hard skills include things like the ability to program in certain languages, familiarity with analytics or knowledge about specific chemicals and products. Most hard skills are specific to one job, or perhaps a small grouping of related jobs.
Soft skills are more universal and apply to almost any position. These include things like creativity and flexibility, which are difficult to adequately measure, but often have a strong impact on someone’s potential for performing well.
It’s possible to evaluate both hard and soft skills by looking at an applicant’s work history. You can evaluate soft skills by looking for areas where people could apply them and how they did in that role. If people they worked with describe them as easy to get along with and good at their job, they probably have acceptable soft skills.
People who are new to the workforce may have more trouble with soft skills than hard skills. This is something people tend to develop over time after they’ve completed their education, so it’s not realistic to expect great soft skills for younger hires. Consider a training program if soft skills are important to your company.
The American Management Association explains, soft skills make up most of an applicant’s potential for long-term success. Hard skills and technical knowledge are much less important, because they’re relatively easy to teach.
Impact of Location on Job Descriptions
Yes. Your company’s location can have a significant impact on your job description, ranging from the perks you can offer to what company values you want to talk about. The location also tends to affect salary explanations.
If you’re offering $60,000 and demand people live in an area where they need $90,000 to get a basic apartment, you might have a hard time finding applicants. On the other hand, if employees can work remotely, you might find some great applicants who live outside the area in which you usually advertise.