5 tips for writing better job descriptions.

  • workforce insights
  • June 23, 2017

You’re ready to hire. You fought hard to convince your company to bring on another full-time professional, and it’s time to post your new employment opportunity online. In a tight employment market, how will your opening rise above the competition? It all begins with the job description.
Here are five hacks that will secure your job description more views, yield higher engagement and send better job applications to your inbox.

1. be clear

Make sure the job requirements and duties are easy to understand. Some job descriptions include so much corporate jargon that it's challenging for job seekers to tell whether they are qualified, leading many to simply submit a resume. For example, one company is currently advertising for an executive assistant to “manage the process and assist in preparation of board materials and maintain RFI and submittals for projects and QAQC audits.” Compare that with this posting for a senior administrative professional: “You must be a  highly motivated administrative professional with a solid track record for providing support for C-suite executives in the financial services industry. You maintain physical and network-based files and documents."

The second is easier to understand since it doesn’t include acronyms, it is more specific and likely will attract stronger applicants.

The takeaway: if you're not sure whether you have included company-speak, have a friend or HR professional review your posting and give you feedback.

2. write for the online user

You’ve titled your job correctly, and more prospective candidates are reading your job description. Or are they? Online readers – using devices ranging from desktop computers to tablets to smartphones — don’t read. They skim.

A study by the Nielsen Norman Group finds that on the average web page, users read just 20 percent of the content. According to a research from Pew Research Institute, 47 percent have had problems reading the text in a job posting because it was not designed for a mobile device. 

Here are a few tips to make your position 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. 
  • Be concise and precise. Transmit just the information required. 

The takeaway: candidates won’t read your online job description word for word. With that in mind, be concise and precise and transmit just the necessary information. 

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 research, 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.

According to Randstad’s 2017 Employer Branding Survey, here are the top three most attractive employer traits:

1. Salary and benefits

2. Work-life balance

3. Job security

Here are the top three sectors in which employees would like to work:

1. Consulting, scientific and engineering services

2. Media and IT

3. Aerospace and defense

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.

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 significant.

For example, executive assistants know that they will be responsible for offering administrative support for senior executives. That’s a given. It’s also wasted space. Knowing what we know about the online user, every bullet point counts, so make the most of them.

Here is an example of what we’re talking about:

Plain ol’ responsibility: give administrative support to executives.

Attractive responsibility: take visionary concepts from the CEO, translate them into action and support others toward goal achievement.

Notice the difference? The attractive responsibilities seize the opportunity to sell the job, highlighting the administrative professional’s autonomy and creativity in supporting the CEO.

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

5. limit the requirements

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

Recall that online users skim 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 nonobjective 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 collaborating with executive team, human resources, internal corporate departments, clients, business partners and vendors.”   Aren’t business partners and vendors pretty much the same thing? And HR is an internal department within the business. Eliminate this sort of unnecessary verbiage. 
  • 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 whether they are a good fit for the job by making the qualifications section a quicker read.