Why are job descriptions so awful?

Job descriptions are the first step in a relationship, so why are they so bad? They tend toward boilerplate meaningless meandering and I can’t imagine why. Attracting the right person and discouraging the wrong one is a mission-critical strategic initiative.

A project I worked on recently included rewriting a job description for an entry level position at a major national company. The original was three single-spaced pages long. I had to read it several times to figure out what the job was. The duties alone were almost a page long, yet I still wasn’t clear about the job.

My assignment was to bring the posting score to over 90% on textio. Textio is a great tool that quickly evaluates your job description giving it a score and offering tips on how to make it better. The score is based on evaluating what really works in hiring the right person, and not encouraging the wrong one.

Here’s how to write a winning job description:

Break your description into the categories below. They are in logical order based on what the candidate would need/want to know.

ABOUT US. Don’t us the company boilerplate copy. Write from the point of view of the person you’re looking to attract. Obviously this would be different information for a senior position than it would be for entry level. This is also a good place to note any corporate involvement in the community and/or the world. People want to work for a company that cares about more than money and makes an impact on things that matter. So if this company does that, be sure to mention it here.

JOB SUMMARY. Say what the job is. Save all of the duties and requirements for later. Be clear and brief. Use this same description in the rest of the document. For example, don’t call the position Administrative Assistant then later refer to the Executive Assistant.

ABOUT YOU. This is a great place to communicate the traits that are needed for the job. You can say a lot here rather than in the experience section which should be much briefer (see below). And, you can do it with personality, even though you’ll be using bullets. For example, “You have no problem multi-tasking,” “You truly think numbers are fun.”

CULTURE. Culture matters to people. Just saying “fun” once every few paragraphs, does nothing except illustrate that your company isn’t. Saying “you’ll have fun entering data on an excel spread sheet all day” isn’t making any useful points. And yes, that’s from an actual job description.

Communicate some of the company values and how they benefit employees. For example, “we value openness and candor, and your ideas will be heard.” Ping pong tables and bean bags are pretty much over as major enticements, and are really more furnishing than culture. Culture should focus on what the company represents and believes in. It’s an important section worthy of serious thought. Every employee enhances or derails the culture, your most important corporate asset. Getting it right is a big deal.

DUTIES. Rather than a paragraph about the duties, give an example of what the new person’s day will look like. Bullet out some tasks performed routinely during a typical day for this position. “Day in the Life” sections are surprisingly overlooked. What candidate wouldn’t want to know that? Also, this will really raise the textio score, not that that’s the point, but it means your job description is effective.

Small changes can have a big impact

EXPERIENCE REQUIRED. This should be brief and to the point. For example, “College graduates with at least three years of experience in the workplace are welcome to apply.”

VOICE. Use an active present tense style. Establish a tone and stick with it. Ideally, you’re company already has a voice. If not, default to conversational. No one wants to work for a company where everything sounds like it was written by three lawyers.

COMPENSATION AND BENEFITS. Put the salary first, in a sentence. Then list the benefits with bullets including time off, insurance, any discounts offered, and things like a gym, etc. Some companies put things like a gym or free coffee under culture, but it’s really a benefit. Culture refers to beliefs (see above).

So, to summarize, remember that your job posting is to attract the perfect hire. Write for that person. Be brief, honest, friendly and informative.

Don’t write for SEO. Naturally you’ll mention the industry and job title in a few places, not for SEO purposes but for informative purposes. SEO- sounding job descriptions are the opposite of compelling ones that sort out the field to send you your perfect hire.

There are other engaging types of job descriptions including video and other interactive features. But for a straightforward effective approach, this should send the right candidates your way.

Recommends appreciated if you found this useful!

I help companies determine and tell their stories via blogs, social media and even job descriptions.

I think. I write. I worry.