Five Tips On How To Write A Great Job Description

Originally posted on the Jobvite blog by  | March 01, 2011

Writing a great job requisition is hard but not as hard as you would think.

It’s exactly like writing a marketing email. You get a few seconds for the job seekers to make a decision if this is a job they want to apply for or not based on your job description of 400 words or less.

Constructing requisitions is sometimes an afterthought with a company in startup mode, or gets lost in the world of corporate standards and communications. What your job requisition says is the best marketing your company can do for finding amazing talent for your culture.

I’ve managed and recruited large teams and consistently refer candidates that get hired to recruiters. Here are the strategies I used to find people I wanted to work with in putting together great requisitions. Some of them worked so well, recruiters have asked me for my secrets.

Here are a few tips that make a big difference:

Write A Great Job Title (And Do A/B Testing)

Subject lines for requisitions and marketing emails are important, yet only marketing emails get the tried and true A/B testing methods. Why not do the same for job requisitions and post them on craigslist?

When I played recruiter, I used to write two different job descriptions for HTML/Front End Coders: one that was a bit more corporate and another that was a bit more hip.

One read, “Do you dream CSS classes and JQuery functions?”

The other read, “Front end developer.”

Far and above, the best and most talented applicants answered the first ad. Three I hired specifically said they applied because of the requisition.

Portray Your Culture In The Company Description

By revealing your company culture and expectations, you’ll get people that are a better fit for the culture. Getting ten qualified resumes is better than the carpet bomb of 1,000 resumes.

For many, the culture of the company is almost as important as the pay.

We all want to work in an environment where we are comfortable with the people and values, because we spend so much of our intellectual capital building ideas. I will personally work somewhere for less on a worthy idea with a team committed to building a great product rather than working for more money and feeling uncomfortable.

Here are a few items I would talk about in the company description:

  • Is it a startup, where people bring in their dogs and lunches are free?
  • Is the company trying to change the world next week, or is it a slower, more laid back place?
  • Is it super laid-back or more corporate? Is it a 9-to-5 or 11-to-7 shop?
  • How big is the team? How much of an impact can someone make? How much can someone learn from other professionals there?

These types of descriptors should be included somewhere in the requisition; while they might not be selling points for every candidate, they are selling points for the right candidate.

By revealing your company culture and expectations, you’ll get people that are a better fit for the culture. Getting ten qualified resumes is better than the carpet bomb of 1,000 resumes.

Be Realistic About The Requirements

The applicant should be able to scan the bulleted list and tell quickly if they are qualified for the position. The list of required qualifications shouldn’t be too long. They shouldn’t be too diverse either; because the more diverse the requirements are, the closer are you to describing the unobtainable candidate.

I work as a User Experience (UX) professional. The talent and the company can both have very different expectations when it comes to these roles, and a good job description can save everyone a lot of time.

Some UX professionals would rather be the lone gun in the company, where others enjoy the collaboration of working in a team of 30. The requirement of a specialist or a generalist should be spelled out in the requisition, because people like to take on different roles. I’m more of favor of doing a variety of tasks, where my colleagues are more interested in specializing in User Research.

What User Experience means to some startups is that you have to chip in with HTML, CSS and Visual Design. That’s something I can do, but not what I want to do. If a company is not realistic (or open) about communicating the job requirements, it’s a waste of time for both of us.

Be Realistic About Experience Needed

We can talk endlessly about title inflation in technology, but what it really translates into is that any position should have clear expectations of what skill level required.

I see a lot of jobs for Senior User Experience Architects that ask for three to five years of experience. Anders Ericsson, a prominent psychologist, researched different fields and found that experts became that at about 10,000 hours, which translates roughly into ten years of experience.

We can talk endlessly about title inflation in technology, but what it really translates into is that any position should have clear expectations of what skill level required. For example, if a developer is expected to re-architect a system, one to two years experience is too little.

Advertising for the wrong skill level for the position needed sets candidates up for failure and is damaging to a culture. Think about how that person fits in the culture and how much experience would really be needed for the position. Ask others in the field for their opinion (I get calls about this all the time) and structure the requisition accordingly.

Keep It Flexible

Remember, you’re building a team, not widgets.

There is no perfect candidate that’s going to fit every position. For example, I have no interest in designing microsites ever again. Your team should grow and consider different skills each member brings.

People bring different, unstated skill sets that come out only during a job interview or by reading between the lines of a resume. I used to edit a community newspaper years ago and have done magazine and book design. This is no where on the resume, but this background experience would work well at a company like Flipboard, which is trying to design a Magazine paradigm on a tablet.

Don’t just copy and paste the last job description your company used for a position or copy another company’s posting. Take a little more time upfront to communicate the character of the company and the real skills and experience needed for the job. You’ll be rewarded with more qualified and prepared candidates.

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