5 hacks for writing job descriptions

So you’re ready to hire. You fought hard to convince your organization to bring on another full time resource, and it’s time to take that fight to the job boards. 

In a job market that’s tight, how will your open req rise above the competition? It all begins with the job description. Below are five hacks that will garner your job description more views, yield higher engagement and put better candidates in your inbox.

1. Use the right title

Landing interested applicants in your inbox is a numbers game. The more qualified job seekers who see your job description, the more qualified applicants you receive. To maximize views, use the right title.

Almost all job board search engines put significant weight behind your job’s title when ranking it in their search results. Your job’s visibility will rely heavily on the right title. At Randstad’s job board, programmers and software developers searched for jobs containing their specific programming language such as “java developer” 13 times more often than the generic “software developer.”  There were zero searches for “software developer III.”

the takeaway
Users won’t find your job if you don’t name it correctly. Even if the official job title will be “Software Developer III,” give your job description a name that will get it found.

2. Write for the web user

You’ve titled your job correctly, and more prospective candidates are reading your job description. Or are they? Web users consume information very differently than all other forms of media. Unlike magazines, newspapers or television where users are more or less stuck reading what’s in front of them, web users have the entire world’s library of entertainment, knowledge and digital tools a few keystrokes away. They don’t read. They skim.

In fact, the image below was pulled from an eye tracking study conducted by TheLadders.com that empirically illustrates how little reading job seekers actually do. Eye tracking is a technology that tracks the pupils of users and can record where on a page the users are focusing. The red areas are places where they focus most.

According to one study, it takes the average job seeker less than a minute to dismiss a job description as a poor fit. Here are a few tips to make your job easier to skim:

  • Use bullet points. They help web users scan.
  • Put the most attractive information near the top.
  • Use bolded subheadings to aid skimming.
  • Use bolded words (sparingly, or they lose their impact) to draw attention to specific areas.

the takeaway
Job seekers on the web have low attention spans. Cater to them by formatting your job description to align with their reading habits. 


3. Sell your company

Before job seekers delve into requirements and responsibilities, they want to know about their potential employers. Don't waste this opportunity with the company boilerplate. According to our employer branding survey, job seekers are looking for very specific qualities in their next employer. If your company offers excellent compensation, provides long term security or demonstrates work life balance, be sure to highlight those benefits for interested candidates.

Here are a few more attributes that candidates are seeking in their next employers:

the takeaway
Job seekers want to know more about your company. Don't just paste in your boilerplate. Instead, highlight the most impactful benefits of working there. Use this as a reference.

4. Write attractive responsibilities

To drive more qualified candidates, the "responsibilities" section of your job description should tell job seekers not only what they have to do for your company, but also what they get to do. The difference is subtle, but it can be a difference maker.  

For example, all database admins know that they will be responsible for maintaining databases. That’s a given. It’s also wasted space. Knowing what we know about the web user, every bullet point counts, so make the most of them. Here is an example of what we’re talking about:

Notice the difference? The attractive responsibilities seize the opportunity to sell the job, highlighting "state-of-the-art" data centers and "autonomy" to make decisions.

the takeaway
The responsibilities section tells candidates what they can expect from their role, but is also another opportunity to make it more attractive. Highlight what’s interesting, innovative or unique in each bullet.

5. Limit the requirements

Often times, writing a job description is just a brain dump of wants.  We think that we will waste less time sorting through resumes and bring in more qualified candidates if we are more detailed. The opposite is true.  

Recall that web users skim over job descriptions instead of reading them. By narrowing your requirements and listing only the most important ones, unqualified candidates will quickly self-eliminate. The more bullet points, the more likely an unqualified candidate is to miss the important ones that disqualify them.

Here are a few criteria to use for narrowing your job descriptions:

  • Remove the non objective qualifications such as "highly motivated," "excellent communication skills" or "strong attention to detail." 
  • Remove redundant qualifications that are explicitly or implicitly included in other qualifications.  For example:
    • "Experience with UX within a scrum development process"
    • "Experience working in a collaborative, cross‐functional team"

    Scrum teams are collaborative and cross functional. One of these is unnecessary.

  • Limit "desired but not required" skills as much as possible.

the takeaway
Job seekers don’t spend much time looking at job descriptions.  That means you need to get your point across quickly. Help candidates discern if they are a good fit for the job by making the qualifications section a quicker read.