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The Smoke and Mirrors of Job Descriptions, Part Deux: Get Your Job Descriptions Right

by Oct 10, 2012, 5:41 am ET

In my September 12 article called “The Smoke and Mirrors of Job Descriptions”, I took a stab at a job posting I happened upon during my usual perusing of LinkedIn. The issue was simple: the job title in the posting was completely left of what the company was advertising for. This posting troubled me so much that I decided to take a stab at explaining the ramifications of being misguided, overtly vague, and/or blatantly misrepresenting job duties and KSA’s.

Since I have addressed what not to do in a job description, I thought it would be helpful to talk about how we (including me) can get our job descriptions right. Luckily for me, I had some help in my research. David Clark, senior product and operations manager at CareerBuilder, was kind enough to indulge me in my rant about companies that continually miss the mark where job descriptions are concerned.

Let’s start with some facts.

According to a 2012 survey of jobseekers on CareerBuilder), 75% of jobseekers said that the look and feel of a posting influences their decision to apply. Even more interesting is the fact that the average jobseeker spends less than 30 seconds reviewing a job posting.

This is a familiar scenario, because the average recruiter spends about the same amount of time reviewing resumes of applicants. The question becomes, “why do we as recruiters expect a comprehensive resume when we don’t offer a comprehensive job description to begin with?” Perhaps it is because we have forgotten or don’t know what the components are of a good job description to begin with. Here are some guidelines as to what makes a comprehensive job description:

  1. A job description should inform and/or educate the jobseeker. This entails giving candidates an accurate snapshot of “what a day in the life” is at your company.
  2. Sell the Opportunity. Why would people want to work for your company?
  3. Create filters. This is where you get granular and really drill down to what specific knowledge, skills, and abilities a jobseeker will need to adequately perform the duties and responsibilities of the job.

These three guidelines seem easy enough, yet time and again companies are admonished for job descriptions that are poorly formatted, vague in their description, lacking in compelling company info, and my No. 1 pet peeve; usage of unconventional or misleading job titles. David Clark also adds that many of the ill-conceived job descriptions floating around the Internet are in part due to time constraints on recruiters, lack of knowledge about the inner workings of SEO, and too much focus on internal perspectives of the job being recruited for.

All of the pieces David cites are relevant, but nevertheless they are excuses that the average jobseeker doesn’t want to hear. Either we grab the job seeker’s attention in 30 seconds or less or they are on to the next company’s career website. To ensure that you are posting attention-grabbing job descriptions, follow these additional tips:

  1. Be sure to review or have the appropriate parties review their job descriptions every three to six months. It would be disastrous to put out a job description with antiquated duties and requirements.
  2. Be transparent where reasonable and be accurate. If your pay and/or benefits lag the industry standard, you may not want to put that in your posting. However, you should play up the areas where you excel. If people know what to expect, they may not mind working with you despite your company’s shortcomings.
  3. Make sure your job description aligns with the talent pool you are targeting. That is tailoring your job description to your audience. In the same way that we tell jobseekers to tailor their cover letters and the format of their resume to suit the job they are trying to obtain, we need to do the same with our job descriptions.
  4. Don’t overshoot your requirements. Requiring a bachelor’s degree where a high school diploma would be just as well to get the job done will limit your ability to find the right fit for your job. You will not only limit your applicant pool, but you may be creating adverse impact where it could have been avoided.
  5. If you don’t have the expertise on your staff to get your job descriptions right, find professionals who can help. There are a bevy of consultants and/or independent professionals out there who live, eat, and breathe job descriptions. Why stress your brain trying to get it right when someone else can lift that burden? This is especially helpful when you are in a niche field like I am (government) with regulatory requirements added to the fun of creating a job description.

The whole point of your job description is to drive traffic to your website, encourage qualified applicants to apply which hopefully will lead to a great hire. Getting your job description right is easy and essential to you attracting, selecting, and hiring the right people for your organization.

If I missed any best practices in writing an effective job description, please feel free to share your success stories.

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

  • Gregory Post

    I think these are some great suggestions, Janine! I have a couple to add:

    Keep it short – if candidates spend (on average) 30 seconds looking at job descriptions, build your ad with that fact in mind. Listing 20 bullet points in the responsibilities section and 23 in the requirements section is the equivalent of a 7 page resume. Nobody reads the whole thing, and it’s annoying.

    Don’t just copy/paste internal HR job descriptions – I see this all the time, especially in third party where sales staff are too weak or afraid to challenge the customer to get a real description of the role. Internal documents are important, but they are often outdated and very lengthy (see my first point).

  • http://hr.toolbox.com/blogs/aristocracy-hr/ Janine Truitt

    Here’s some bonus information for my readers on how my colleague David Clark and his team at CareerBuilder are helping businesses get their job descriptions right.

    What is CareerBuilder doing to assist employers with improving their job descriptions/postings?

    CareerBuilder offers 2 different professional writing services leveraging our 15 yrs of recruitment advertising experience, avoiding the mistakes mentioned in your article and generating more jobseeker engagement and interest in the ads we review. In the basic version, called Job Enhancement, we translate data into information by understanding which keywords jobseekers use when search for specific jobs. We incorporate the most popular and relevant keywords throughout the job posting to increase that job’s placement on relevant jobseeker search results. Finally, we improve the layout and formatting of the ad to enhance the visual appeal that is so important to jobseekers (mentioned at top).

    The higher end solution is called Job Optimization and includes everything you get with Job Enhancement but is a custom solution that uses a consultative interview with the employer to understand the company’s recruitment strategy and challenges to write a tailored job description, advertising the role and the company based on their consultation. The main difference is that the Job Optimization is a more custom solution that allows CareerBuilder to leverage the company’s recruitment strategy into the advertisement and use specific examples from their consultation to sell the company and the role.
    As a result, both versions generate higher traffic, more engagement, and higher qualified candidates that decrease time to hire and provide an advertisement that can be used forever and on any website the company chooses.

    For more info contact:

    David Clark

    Senior Product & Operations Manager
    CareerBuilder | Empowering Employment
    5550-A Peachtree Pkwy Ste 200 Norcross, GA 30092

    Direct: 770.349.2653 | Cell: 404.587.6554

    Email: david.clark@careerbuider.com

  • http://hr.toolbox.com/blogs/aristocracy-hr/ Janine Truitt

    Gregory,

    Thanks for reading and chiming in. I love your point about keeping it concise. I see this especially in my sector where less is not more. I think hiring managers tend to feel that listing every granular detail of a job requirement ensures them that the candidate will throughly understand what they are looking for. Instead, it is a turn off and the candidate moves onto less wordy pastures.

    Lengthy job descriptions can also indicate to the applicant that everything you do in business is long, drawn-out and verbose thus, making them unlikely to want to join your company at all.

    I appreciate your insight, Gregory.

    Best Regards,

    Janine

  • http://www.minnesotatechjobs.com Eric Putkonen

    Great article!

    One of the things I’ve been preaching is that typical job posts do not affect a potential candidate’s desire to apply. sell the opportunity – as you said.

    For example, if I am a Java Developer in Minnetonka, MN…why would I apply to your job among the 200+ job postings 10 miles from my home that all say “Java Developer”?

    Thanks again for the great article!

  • http://hr.toolbox.com/blogs/aristocracy-hr/ Janine Truitt

    Hi Eric,

    Thank you for reading and your kind feedback. You make a great point. In as much as there are more people looking for jobs these days, it hasn’t really helped those of us who are looking for candidates in niche markets. That said, employers better sell their opportunities and make it worth it for that Java developer in Minnetonka, MN to apply or they have missed the boat on a key candidate.

    I appreciate you chiming in.

    Best Regards,

    Janine

  • http://www.sparkhire.com Josh Tolan

    This is a great post about what should be going into job descriptions. Many companies find it to be tough to write good job descriptions, but it’s an essential task. After all, the job description is the first thing a potential applicant sees about the company. If the job description is accurate and gives job seekers good reasons why the company is a great place to work, you’ll receive the resumes of great applicants. More importantly these applicants, whether they’re using traditional or video resumes, will be more tailored to the position you need to fill.

  • http://hr.toolbox.com/blogs/aristocracy-hr/ Janine Truitt

    Josh,

    You are absolutely correct. Job descriptions are that first essential impression. Getting it wrong is like being late on your first date or saying the wrong thing-it’s a turnoff.

    Thanks for chiming in, Josh. I appreciate your insight.

    Best Regards,

    Janine

  • Keith Halperin

    Thanks, Janine. I’ll repeat what someone (maybe here) suggested:
    After having Recruiting work with the hiring managers to get the requirements, turn to Marketing to create some tight, exciting JDs.

    Cheers,
    Keith

  • http://hr.toolbox.com/blogs/aristocracy-hr/ Janine Truitt

    Hi Keith,

    Thanks for reading and chiming in as always. I appreciate it.

    Best Regards,

    Janine

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