The majority of job descriptions don’t actually do a good job of describing the ‘job’.
There’s no information about current projects, important deadlines, company culture, the team the candidate would be working with, objectives, goals... nothing.
Most look a little like this:
“We are looking for a (some general job title) who has the following set of skills (list of general skills) with (required level of education and years of experience). Please submit your resume or CV.”
It’s easy to forget that part of the purpose of a job description is to convince your ideal candidate to apply. While job descriptions may have an administrative HR function, ultimately they are advertisements for your company, and they can make or break whether or not you attract today’s top talent.
Carefully and thoughtfully crafted job descriptions are an easy way to differentiate yourself from the competition, showcase your employer brand, and attract better quality applicants.
We’ve put together a framework to help you create the perfect job description.
Before you begin: Understand your hiring needs
There is no such thing as a perfect, ‘one-size-fits-all’ job description – each serves a specific purpose. This purpose, of course, depends on your hiring needs. And that means, you need to understand the key skills that each individual role requires before you begin writing.
A good place to start is by having a conversation with the hiring manager. What will the role actually entail, and what specific skills will set a candidate up for success in that job? Once you have identified the skills that are needed to do the work, you can begin to craft the job description.
1. Use your job description as a qualifier
Do you want more applicants or the right applicants? It’s the question that you should ask yourself whenever you sit down to write a new job description.
More doesn’t always equal better. The more candidates who apply to your open role, the more time your recruiters spend filtering through resumes and CVs, and interviewing. This is not necessarily bad – when you have more applicants, you have a larger pool of talent to choose from.
But what if it’s the wrong talent? What if your job description is so vague (or misrepresents the types of skills the position requires) that you’ve been inundated with totally unqualified applications?
This is a serious waste of your (very valuable and limited) time. The best job descriptions don’t appeal to everyone – they stand out to your candidate persona (i.e. your ideal new hire for that vacancy).
If you’re hiring engineers, consider asking your Head of Engineering what kind of things get their team excited. And if it's a new Sales Account Executive position – what gets your sales team going?
Putting this kind of thought behind your job descriptions may not lead to more applications, but it will at least stop you and your team from wasting time on the wrong candidates.
(For smaller companies, the job of sorting through individual applicants is typically a pretty manual process, but more and more large organizations are beginning to invest in AI-driven tools to help their recruiters be much more efficient.)
2. How should you approach job titles?
Candidates should understand what your job entails from the title. Occasionally, companies try to be trendy and create new, dramatic sounding titles (particularly for technical roles) – including words like ‘ninja’ or ‘rockstar’.
While some may feel that this is an interesting aspect of your employer brand and it grabs the attention of active and passive job seekers, it’s not for everyone, and it really can muddy the waters.
It depends on your target audience, but we would recommend keeping it simple and sticking to more ‘traditional’ titles. If your ideal candidate is looking for a role as a Full Stack Engineer, what better way to grab their attention than to use the language they are already searching for?
3. How should you structure your job description?
Build your job description as you would want to read it.
Put the key information that candidates are looking for, (salary, location, title), right at the top. That makes it easy for people to self-qualify and decide whether there’s anything that completely rules you out as an employer.
In fact, some parts of the world are actually requiring employers by law, to disclose salary information in job descriptions. And other geographies will likely follow suit in the coming months and years.
So, what comes next?
Skills. Today’s top employers are moving away from job descriptions that list out specific experience and educational levels a candidate must meet. Now, in today’s talent market, skills are the priority and your job descriptions should reflect that.
Clearly state the skills that are absolutely needed to do the job well, and share any ‘nice to have’ skills that could transfer well into the role, or would be nice compliments to have, but aren’t necessary to be considered as a candidate.
Keeping this section as lean as possible gives candidates everything they need to know about the role without wasting words. This also leaves room for what comes next – your company’s story.
4. Telling a story with your job description
Job descriptions should shine a light on your unique blend of company culture and employer brand. What makes your organization different from your competitors, why should a candidate apply to your role over someone else’s?
Research shows that candidates really care about this – roughly 31% of them spend time browsing the company’s website before they consider applying for a job. And 28% read employee reviews on forums like Glassdoor to hear opinions from current and former employees before they submit a resume or CV. They want to understand what life is really like at your company.
Do you blame them? In most cases, the decision to move jobs is a big life event. People want to understand as much as possible about the place they’re going to spend 40 hours a week at.
This is why it’s so important to spend time outlining your working environment and company culture, and display that in the job description. This will help you to attract more candidates who are a good fit for your organization.
Here are a few things you should consider when sharing your company story:
- Company culture
- Daily working environment (office vs. hybrid vs. remote)
- Specific targets and challenges the team is facing
- Fun perks (e.g. a pet-friendly office, free beer on tap)
- Unique benefits (e.g. company paid healthcare, visa sponsorships, unlimited PTO)
Aside from pay, these are the things today’s top talent care about. They want to know that their employer will treat them well, and truly care about their well-being. Fun perks are great, but when it comes down to it, most people just want to be treated fairly, and have a positive and fulfilling work environment. So be sure to display that in your job descriptions!
5. Priming your job descriptions for SEO
How do people find your job? Many candidates start with a simple Google search. This makes standing out in the sea of search results pretty important. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the way to do this organically, and improve the search ranking of your careers site.
Here are a few ways you can better optimize your job descriptions for SEO:
Include the right keywords
When candidates search for jobs they typically use specific keywords. This could be as general as “Front-End Developer Roles” or as specific as “Node.js Developer Roles in Eastern Seattle”. Your job titles need to take this aspect of candidate behavior into account.
But how do you know which keywords to use?
If you’re unsure, a simple tactic is to look at what your competitors are doing. Are they using certain phrases in their job descriptions that candidates would be likely to use in their searches?
You can also think about the ways that you would search for your own jobs online – what specific wording would you use? It’s important that at least some of these words make it into the job description, to ensure that the right people find your open role.
Engaging page titles and descriptions
Getting to the first page of Google means nothing if people don’t click to go to your site.
Your content management system (CMS) will allow you to add SEO titles and meta descriptions for every page on your website. This isn’t something you would really notice while browsing through your site, but it makes a big difference on the backend and in search.
Make sure both your page title and meta description are engaging and informative. This helps Google decide if your site is relevant to someone’s search, and also increases the chance that someone will click on your search result and read more about the role on your site.
If you’re brand new to the world of SEO, here’s a nice resource from Google to help you get started with this.
6. Example: What does this job description actually look like?
As we mentioned above, there is no single ‘perfect’ job description – what you write depends entirely on your hiring needs at that given time. To give you an example of the kinds of things to focus on, we’ve shown a great description below from Onefinestay, (a service that helps people let their houses or apartments), for a Global Sales Account Manager.
Quick note: this particular example doesn’t include information regarding salary, but that’s not uncommon for large brands still (although more and more companies are beginning to include that information, and some are required to by law).
Final note – Who should write the job description?
Where possible, job descriptions should be collaborative affairs.
Taking a little extra time, and getting recruiters and hiring managers in a room together (in-person or virtually) to hash out the details and craft something unique.
This should give you a total understanding of the hiring need, and ensures that recruiters understand exactly who the company is looking for. Also, having hiring managers and the talent acquisition team involved helps ensure that everyone is aligned before the search begins.
If possible, you should divorce as many of the legal and administrative aspects of the job description as you can from the version you host on your site. This candidate-facing version needs to act like an advertisement and draw the right people in.
Using the tactics we’ve outlined above, you should be able to strike the perfect balance between getting your requirements across and attracting high-quality applicants.
If you want to dig deeper, there are a lot of other things that can potentially ‘go wrong’ with a job description, such as language that introduces bias to your hiring process. Luckily, there are tools backed by AI that can help identify these types of issues, and can help make your recruiters much more efficient and effective in the process.