Are Boring Job Descriptions Keeping You from Hiring Top Talent?

A great, detailed job description can set you apart from other companies. This guide will teach you how to avoid boring job descriptions that put candidates to sleep as well as several other fairly common job posting mistakes.

At some point, we’ve all read — or written — a job description. And, more often than not, those descriptions are just about anything but descriptive:

“Acme Corporation seeks a highly motivated self-starter with great organizational and interpersonal skills who embraces challenges. Graduate level degree preferred, but will consider candidates with a college degree.”

Who exactly is a posting like that trying to target?

Unfortunately, far too many job descriptions sound just like the one above. Not only are they bland and boring, they also fail to actually tell candidates what the position entails, or what type of person the business is trying to attract. They use generic, innocuous language that appeals to a very broad, untargeted audience, and reveal very little detail about the role that the ideal candidate will play.

If your job descriptions sound like the one above, the harsh reality is that you are simply misusing what should be a recruiter’s secret weapon for attracting top talent.

5 Best Practices for Writing Effective Job Descriptions

Simply put, great job descriptions must include some very basic elements, including specific responsibilities, qualifications and performance objectives. But they should also be clear and concise, and — in some cases — creative. Your goal, after all, is not to appeal to as many candidates as possible — it’s to appeal to the right candidates.

So, how can you do that through your job descriptions? Here are the five best practices to keep in mind:

1) Provide Honest, Appealing Information

This might be obvious advice, but many companies ignore it. The content within a job description must accurately reflect the job’s title and responsibilities, as well as the profile of your company. As my colleague Katy Smigowski put it in a recent blog post, there is a fine line between writing job descriptions that are appealing and writing ones that over-exaggerate.

When you write your descriptions:

  • Be sure that the job title accurately reflects the role that someone will play within the company
  • Avoid being too modest or too boastful about your company’s success. A job description is marketing collateral. It should inform and attract the audience in an appealing way.
  • It is important that the description accurately reflects what the job entails. It is never okay to embellish role responsibilities.
  • Try to find a balance between descriptive and short and sweet when writing your job descriptions. Provide information that is most relevant to the position and the type of candidate you are trying to attract.

2) Include the Minimum Qualifications Necessary to Do the Job

This does not mean that you should provide a bare-bones list of qualifications that open the door to unqualified candidates who think they fit the job profile. Instead, the goal is to avoid going overboard by creating a laundry list of requirements that dissuades potentially great candidates from applying.

For example, if you are writing a job description for a VP of Marketing, you may want to list specific technical and job history requirements, as well as a note that applicants should have previous senior-level experience in marketing in an enterprise SaaS environment. But if you go much further than that, you may limit the candidate pool you can tap into.

3) Be Open-Minded and Focus on Your Needs, Not Your Wants

As respected recruiting expert Paul Blumenfeld writes in this post, companies very often fall in love with the idea of recruiting candidates with flashy resume credentials. Unfortunately, those qualifications may not be of real value to the business or the person’s day-to-day responsibilities.

Instead, Blumenfeld encourages companies to be open-minded about their must-haves, and tailor job descriptions to the current and future needs of the companies. If, for instance, your business is entering the expansion-stage and needs salespeople who are adaptable and capable of evangelizing a product why would you write a job description tailored toward “BigCo” salespeople who have never worked in that kind of environment?

4) Expand Your Horizons and Get Creative

While a standard job description that outlines specific details about the role, responsibilities, and qualifications can be a highly effective way to attract quality candidates, job postings with some flair can actually yield more qualified, interested candidates. That is particularly true if you do not yet have a recognizable name behind your company.

What do we mean by “flair?”

It could be as simple as getting bold with the titles you use (i.e., “Kick-Ass Flash Designer,” instead of simply “Flash Designer”), or it could be as complex as creating infographic-like job descriptions that are more visual than they are textual. According to this post by ERE’s Jamie Peil, the latter type of job descriptions are becoming more popular, and for good reason — visual representations have been proven to improve reader cognition and engagement, two things that are particularly critical to a recruiter’s ability to attract top talent.

5) Don’t Forget About Company Culture

As Blumenfeld points out in his post, recruiting isn’t just about finding candidates who are great at what they do. It’s also about hiring people who have the chops and personality to work well in your company’s unique environment.

So, when you write a job description, use the messaging that speaks best to your company’s culture and don’t be afraid to include quirky factoids about your business. Showcasing your company culture up front can draw in, or weed out whether or not that person will thrive in your company culture.

Avoid These 3 Mistakes and You’re Golden

Now that you know what you should be doing to write better job descriptions, you may be wondering what you should be avoiding to ensure that your job postings don’t find themselves in some sort of recruiting black hole.

For the most part, we covered those mistakes earlier in this post, but, as a reminder, here are three major job description infractions to steer clear of:

1) Providing Only Generic, Boilerplate Information

When a job description is too broad, unqualified resumes will come flooding in. And for many expansion-stage companies, sifting through those resumes is a massive time suck. More importantly, a generic job description may make the position seem less challenging, which is often a turnoff for candidates who want to continue to learn, grow, and make an impact — all qualities expansion-stage companies need.

2) Using Too Many Buzzwords

As Katy points out in another recent post, by now, most high quality candidates are able to recognize hyperbole in job descriptions. Results-driven, high-energy A-player capable of providing cutting-edge insights. Proven ability to work in fast-paced, deadline-oriented environment as a dynamic self-starter. Truthfully, cliché buzzwords like those do nothing to quantifiably illustrate the skills and competencies that you want potential candidates to posses, and top talent will often ignore those types of descriptions.

3) Having Unrealistic Expectations

While you do want to clearly convey the key requirements and qualifications for specific job postings, you should be careful not to take it to the extreme and provide a laundry list of unrealistic expectations. For instance, if you are hiring a digital marketing manager you might stipulate that qualified candidates must have an MBA, 5-7 years of progressive experience in digital marketing, and proven experience managing a team of 2-3.

Seeing is Believing: Learn From These Examples

Ultimately, the most important thing to keep in mind when writing job descriptions is that honesty is the best policy. The more open you are about who you are looking for, what that person must be capable of doing, and what they can expect from working for your company, the better your chances will be of finding and hiring the talent you need to drive your business forward.

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We Want to Hear from You

What are some of the best examples of creative, effective job descriptions you’ve seen?

Photo by: fiatlux

Carlie Smith
Carlie Smith
Director of Talent

Carlie Smith was the Senior Talent Manager, Sales & Marketing at OpenView. She worked directly with hiring managers and key stakeholders within OpenView and its portfolio to lead vital searches and provided process guidance on recruitment strategy, including talent identification, strategic sourcing, relationship building, and competitive intelligence. Currently, Carlie is the Director of Circle.
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