How to Write a Job Description That Attracts Talent (+ Amusing Examples of How Not to)
This recent post on the Jobbatical blog highlighted some of the biggest mistakes recruiters make that get in the way of hiring the best global talent. In this follow-up post, we take a closer look at one of those mistakes: poorly written job descriptions—and how to get better at them.
Over the course of the past two and a half years, Jobbatical’s writing team has waded through a fair amount of job descriptions, ranging from simple three-bullet briefs to four-page jargon-riddled documents brimming with corporate nonsense. Our copy team has taken it upon themselves to turn these job descriptions into something easily digestible and attractive without completely obscuring the company’s own unique voice. Along the way, we’ve noticed a few things employers do that are hurting their chances of attracting great talent. Here’s how you can start getting better at writing job descriptions:
1. Sort out your recruiting priorities
Does this sound familiar?
“Independent, yet a team worker. Very structured and process-driven, yet extremely creative.”
We get it—you want your new hire to thrive in every possible situation. You want them to be multifaceted and adaptable.
But it often seems that some companies ask for every strength in the book. As anyone that’s worked with actual humans can tell you, building a great team is about having a diverse set of people who balance out each other’s shortcomings. And there will be shortcomings. Looking for a magical unicorn person is an awful starting point for an honest conversation about a mutually beneficial professional relationship.
Going back to the example above, the reality is that many creative types sometimes tend to go easy on the structure and vice versa. And sure, there are “independent team workers” out there. But most people do their very best work either alone or on a team. Your vague demands of “just be kind of great at everything, OK?” make it look like you don’t really know what you’re after. Which means people won’t know what they actually have to offer you.
Being overly demanding isn’t limited to personality traits. Going overboard with required skills and experience is another giant pitfall. It’s a widely quoted statistic that people (women in particular) are less likely to apply for a job if they don’t meet all the requirements. You might miss out on some amazing people if your requirements are too intimidating. And yes—that is your problem, not just the talent’s.
Are you 100% sure you absolutely need that new hire to have 8+ years of experience in that one very specific field and be fluent in two languages and have a degree (or two) and be an independent team player who is extremely creative and analytical to the point of obsession? “We only hire unicorns” doesn’t make you sound cool. It makes you sound out of touch.
The thing to keep in mind here is that adjusting your expectations is not the same as lowering your standards. Prioritise your requirements and make them clear. It makes it easier for everyone.
2. Communicate your priorities clearly
Once you’ve made your top recruiting priorities clear to yourself, your biggest task is to make them clear to your potential applicants too. That means turning your job description into an actual job ad.
There are countless ways to turn your job ads into word salad. And they all detract from your credibility as an employer. Bad grammar and spelling, corporate jargon, redundancies, inconsistencies, and — yes, it happens — sloppy use of Google Translate will all tell potential candidates you’re not making an effort.
This point can be roughly divided into two sub-points:
2a. Ditch the corporate jargon and cut the filler
The bad news: Too much dry jargon takes up space without adding meaning and makes you look like this guy:
The good news: You can just skip most of this without losing any value. Here are five real-life examples of phrases and sentences (and their translations into human-speak) that don’t add anything to a public-facing job description (what you do with your internal documents is your own business):
- “Comfortable collaborating with global/regional/local colleagues as part of a physical or virtual team” = You know how jobs work.
- “Dexterity of hands and fingers (or skill with adaptive devices) to operate a computer keyboard, mouse, and other computing equipment.” = You were raised among humans.
- “Successfully run operations.” = In case you were worried we’d like you to fail at your job.
- “Flexibility to perform various tasks” = Again, you are familiar with the general concept of a job.
- “The successful incumbent” = We use words like ‘incumbent’ so you know we work in a relaxed, casual startup atmosphere!
Honourable mention: “The candidate shall”. This phrase needs to die a swift death. As a species, we are better than this.
Once you’ve cut out the bits unsuitable for human consumption, there’s one more step:
2b. Pay at least some attention to grammar and spelling
The bad news: Bad grammar/spelling and incomprehensible sentence structure can make you look unprofessional and diminish the credibility of your employer brand.
The good news: Jobbatical takes care of this for you. Here are some snippets from real job descriptions we’ve had to battle:
- “The right candidate should both be extremely hands on, technically excellent and solid engineering principles as well as exhibiting strong leadership and people development skills.” = The word ‘both’ might not mean what we think it means.
- “Working alone and will be responsible for solving all problems, coming up with solutions and experimenting” = Yup, you read that right—you get to solve all the problems… alone. You’re welcome.
- “Commercial, creative, innovative, Tech-savvy, resultfocused, likes high responsibility and freedom in job” = We like a lot of freedom in how we capitalise and hyphenate things! Also, we’re pretty much just throwing buzzwords out there. Aaalllll of them.
- “He or she is a disciplined and independent worker who takes pride in his product.” = We stopped paying attention halfway through this sentence. Does it show?
- “Track founded Security Incidents and validated when it reported as fixed” = ??? Um… It validates the incidents or else it gets the hose again?
Congratulations! You’ve written a job description suitable for humans!
Inspired to take your hiring game higher? Head on over to Jobbatical—we’ll write your job ad for you! Outraged that I compared you to a serial killer? Leave a response and click the 💙 to prove you’re not!