Most job descriptions stink..there, I said it. I’m not blaming anyone for writing stinky job descriptions. I don’t like writing job descriptions. It’s right up there with writing my own resume. One of those things you just want to get over with as quickly as possible and never think about again. Like when you are about to rip off a band-aid or when you know you have to throw up and you just want to get it over with so you can brush your teeth and get on with your life (too vivid?).
Nobody is really paid to write job descriptions, not recruiters, not gens (at least not here). Unless you are a copy writer for a recruitment advertising firm, you have every excuse to write stinky job descriptions. After you read this post, the excuse is null and void. I don’t have all the answers but I can tell you how to avoid the realm of really bad descriptions.
Effective job descriptions really start with the hiring manager; the person that knows the most about the job, the skills that are required and how the new employee will be measured. But who knows what good job descriptions look like; what candidates respond to and what simply causes head scratching and job board radio silence? Recruiters. We owe it to our hiring groups to help them understand the elements of effective job descriptions Let’s come together, people, and rid the world of stinky job descriptions. Let’s have some mercy on the poor job seekers who have to find and read these job descriptions.
We are all wired differently, intellectually. So I won’t give you a linear process for writing the things (I’m a big fan of the brain dump onto note cards, ordering them and refining the description but that’s just me). But I can offer some tips and observations for hiring managers…
#1: Do not start a job description with a question. What is up with that anyway? This is a big pet peeve of mine and a number of other recruiters I work with. I believe these questions are intended to inspire enthusiasm (“are you passionate about…”) but the tactic is over-used and unless you are very careful, it can look silly. “Where do you want to go today?” is one thing, a 5 question intro paragraph is something else. I think people have just become conditioned to do this. At my last company, I worked with a recruitment advertising firm that was submitting 4 potential ads for publication. At the beginning of the project, I told them “do not start any of these ads with a question”. Three out of four of the ads that came back started with a question. Grrr.
Feel like you can’t avoid starting a job description with a question? Write the question, look at the point you are trying to make (it’s really the job value prop, isn’t it?) and then turn it into a statement. Or else, start the job description with this: “When was the last time you rode a giraffe?”. Go ahead, I dare you ; )
#2: Avoid alphabet soup. I see this all the time too. Hiring managers load up their job descriptions with acronyms. We get so used to referring to things as letters (and we like to pronounce the acronyms as words here at Microsoft…sometimes with hilarious results), it’s hard to turn that off. Don’t use internal acronyms at all if you are posting the job. If you are inclined to include an industry acronym, consider that your desired candidate may know the acronym but might not search on it. For example, if you are looking for someone with Sarbannes-Oxley experience and you refer to it in the job description as SOX, keep in mind that job seekers who use the search term “Sarbannes” or “Sarbannes-Oxley” will not find your job description. It’s about understandability but also about searchability (I might have just made up some words there…also something I wouldn’t recommend doing in a job description).
#3: It needs to make sense to an external audience. Beyond acronyms, there are some concepts or terms that reside inside the walls of your company. They might be fairly intuitive but there will be a gap in understanding the usage. For example, we use the term “go-to-market” quite a bit here. You could intuit that this has something to do with product marketing strategy, but the term itself really represents a specific framework for taking a product to market. Simply stating the work that needs to be done provides for more clarity.
#4: You don’t need to fit every nuance of the job into the job description. I think there’s a tendency to want to fill the page. Think about what the candidate will really care about, what will attract them and what accurately represents the major responsibilities of the position. Once you have included those things, step away from the job description.
#5: Get clear on requirements. How many job descriptions include a requirement referred to as “strong communication skills” or something similar? There’s a difference between great presentation skills and great writing skills (though both could be considered communication skills, right?). I encourage hiring managers to think about WHY the communication skills are important and state it plainly: “ability to clearly present technical concepts to a non-technical business audience”…see the difference? Who disqualifies themselves from consideration because of the “strong communication skills” requirement anyway?
#6: YOU spell check it. Our job descriptions get loaded into our system via a tool used by the hiring groups. Our system does not include a spell checker. If you enter your description with typos, it goes into the system that way. Don’t expect your recruiter to paste it into another document and spell-check it. Spell check it in Word or Outlook when you write it.
#7: Don’t ask your recruiter to write it for you. YOU are the expert on your business. Think about it this way: if you don’t have time to write the job description, do you have time to interview people? Will you have time to ramp up the new employee?
#8: Bullet points are good but they don’t translate well on job boards. The concept is good, the HTML isn’t. People like to read little snippets, but it’s distracting if they start with some little squiggly thing a job board translated your bullet points into. Also, with regard to bullet points, they should be grammatically consistent. If the first one starts with “Building a marketing strategy for…”, the next might be about “implementing“, but not “implement”. Build/implement/drive. Building/implementing/driving/ get it?
You might think of other tips. But those are my eight tips for writing job descriptions that don’t stink up the place.