A job description is one of the most important parts of the hiring process. It sets the tone for everything that follows and defines the type of person you’re looking for and their skills and capabilities. It will set hiring manager expectations and will no doubt also be the starting point for setting expectations for the new incumbent.
Why Your Job Descriptions Are Important
We usually begin a job description with the person who has been doing the role (or a very similar one) most recently. Inevitably, the job description will then become a replica description of that person’s background and the work they did. This will set in motion a search for a similar person — and that could be wrong. Jobs evolve, technologies change and organisations develop which means that the role you have now is likely to be different from the one your last employee did.
The job description is usually written as an internal document, but then gets sent out to candidates when they apply. It’s also used as the basis for job advertisements and will often double as a pre-screening checklist for recruiters looking to shortlist for interview. Instead of thinking internally, you need to think about how it will look externally.
The need to attract and retain talent is at the top of the list of priorities for CEOs, HRDs and recruiters everywhere. And this process starts with scoping out the role and revamping our job descriptions.
Here Are 5 Ways to Go About Rewriting Your Job Descriptions
1. Stop attracting volume in your job descriptions.
One of the biggest pain points in recruitment is the volume of unqualified applications. In other words, we’re getting good at attracting the applicants we don’t want. This is time consuming and leads to a bad candidate experience.
So, you need to work out whom you do want. What are the competencies and capabilities you need? What is the scope of the role? A job description can’t be too vague, otherwise a lot of people may think that they qualify when they don’t.
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2. End the shopping list.
Reading a job description shouldn’t be like a visit to the supermarket for job seekers. They don’t want a long list of achievements, experiences and qualifications that need ticking off. Instead, they want to understand more about the purpose and context of the role, what it will contribute to the overall business and how valuable it is. Applicants don’t respond to lists, they buy into a vision. And good people apply because of the work they will be doing, not the skills they already possess.
3. Show personality in your descriptions.
Some of the company specifics will be important – size, industry sector, location – but they won’t be inspiring the best talent to action. Applicants want to know more about culture, opportunities for development and business values. They will be using sites like Glassdoor to check out your employer brand and the application process, so the job description will need to reflect what they may find.
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4. Encourage hiring managers to be creative.
Too prescriptive a job description may leave hiring managers thinking they need to find someone who ticks all the boxes right now, but this would be the wrong way to approach this process. A candidate who is ready for the role straight away and has already done a similar one elsewhere may find no scope to develop and want to move on quickly. The hiring manager needs to think more outside the box than focus on ticking a few of them off – and that means looking for someone who has potential, can develop the role and will fit well with the team. You need a job description that will encourage people like that to apply.
5. Don’t annoy your marketing department.
If you are an agency, recruiting for your client, by just copying and pasting the original job description they gave you onto your site, or various job boards, you run the risk of not being the first person to publish this on the internet. Non-unique content presents an SEO risk as Google does a good job at ranking original content, based on the time it’s posted. So ideally, Google will avoid presenting the same content more than once in one search. Therefore, your ‘copy’ will massively benefit from being re-written.
If you’re an internal recruiter, you still need to have a decent job description because most people will come across your job online, or at least look at it after you’ve drawn their attention to it. It will also be duplicated everywhere by various job aggregators; it needs to be well written if you stand any chance at getting it right first time. Copying and pasting last year’s version is just not good practise, for both recruitment and SEO, and frankly, it’s a bit lazy.
6. Can you skim it?
There’s no point trying to deny it. We’re lazy when it comes to reading because we’re so used to short, bitesize content. So, if your job specification isn’t skimmable (bullet pointed, the important bits bolded, or italicised in an aesthetically pleasing and logical way) then the perfect candidate might get bored, then get distracted by a cat gif and all of a sudden, they’ve completely slipped through the net. If you want the right people to see – and read it – make sure your job specification is easily digestible.
7. Be honest.
Are there aspects of the job that the public have preconceptions about? Call them out, and explain why your company does things differently. The worst thing you can do is lie, because you will lose both trust and your reputation that may have taken you decades to carve.
8. Write for the reader, not the recruiter.
It is most important to write a punchy job description that will inspire applicants and offer something they want to be a part of. This means writing the job description for the job seeker — not for the recruiter or hiring manager. Too many descriptions are written for the recruiter and hiring manager and are full of activities they want someone to do and the previous experience they think they need, but the way to encourage applications from the people who can make a real difference to the business is to write with them in mind.
Truth is, the best candidates will almost certainly not have the checklist of experience that initially goes into a job description. They may have less experience or a different skill-set, but will almost certainly have the desire, talent and potential you need. Traditional job descriptions might filter them out as they presume that they aren’t the candidates you’re looking for.
You need to stop writing job descriptions that pre-qualify and start writing them to generate interest and drive applications from the people who can really add value to your business.