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What Great Job Postings Have in Common

by May 29, 2013, 6:41 am ET

job descriptions.jpgToo often company job descriptions are filled with hyperbole and trite sound bites like “work-hard, play-harder” and focus more on details such as lunch and snacks than the job itself. A job description is your critical first impression when recruiting, and if you lose them before they even apply you’re operating at a steep disadvantage. Too often, generic, lackluster descriptions fail to communicate some pretty cool opportunities.

In order to get the talent you want and need at your company, sharpen your job descriptions to attract the most qualified candidates. I’ll tell you how do to that, but first I’ll start with what not to do.

Nearly all job descriptions do a poor job at outlining the work opportunity and presenting the employer company in an appealing light. Many descriptions include extensive and unnecessary details about benefits, while others were just a list of generic catch phrases with only vague descriptions of the actual work. Very few descriptions include any information about pay, despite the fact that’s one of those most important data points for employees.

I ran a poll on Hacker News where I asked “What would it take for another company to poach you?” The results were hardly surprising. Developers are mostly attracted to interesting work, closely followed by more money, with lifestyle choices as a distant third, and only 20 percent prioritizing flexible work arrangements.

There seems to be a major disconnect between what matters to prospective candidates and what a job description lays out. I wonder how many job seekers may pass up the perfect fit simply due to the lack of information in the job description.

In most cases, the person writing the job description does not have all the pertinent information (such as job specifics), so the prose defaults to easy-to-write and extremely generic descriptions that focus on culture and “rockstar” and “code ninja” narratives. In many cases, vague job descriptions almost sound inter-changeable across different companies and positions in the industry.

Attracting the Right Candidates

Once you understand what motivates developers — “more interesting work” and “more money” — outbound communications like job descriptions need to be changed to attract these interests.

I analyzed hundreds of job postings, from job boards to descriptions submitted to our platform. I also looked at companies that most appeal to developers such as Facebook, GitHub, Twitter, etc.

I found the following common taxonomy across all great job postings:

  • One liner about what the company does.
  • Long form descriptions with extensive detail about the exact challenges the developer will face along with what will be accomplished.
  • A short list of the requirements; use the actual expectations of experience. Recruiters tend to go overboard with the number of years of experience required (a value that is commonly derided among developers as a very poor metric for talent).
  • Salary information. Outlining salary details is quite rare in the job description, but it is extremely effective to finding the right candidates.

If the recruiter (or person writing the job description) doesn’t have the pertinent details like salary and day-to-day aspects of the job, this reflects an internal communications issue that needs to be addressed. Recruiters should have all the resources needed to attract the best talent.

Luring Top Talent in a Competitive Field

Developers and designers know they are in demand. At less than 4 percent unemployment, which is broadly considered by economists as full employment, companies will most likely need to turn their attention to passive candidates. In other words, they’ll need to find a qualified candidate who isn’t necessarily looking for work, but who may be interested if the right job comes along.

Mediocre or generic job descriptions won’t lure top talent away from their current gig to your opening. Providing color and excitement about your company is an important first step, but provide solid details about the specific job to make it stand out in a sea of opportunities.

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.

  • Cindy Postanco

    The problem with the entire process of recruiting, and not just about how somebody writes a job post, is that it’s a form of art. To do it good, notice I said good and not great, you need to actually give a damn about what you do, and really look into what you need to do in order to get it right.

    What’s easier? Just ticking that “fill the slot” check box with anybody that sort off fits in the profile, or the “find the best fit” check box?

    So that’s why we see all this job posts, because most of them can be recycled for the next batch of openings, without much work from whoever is responsible for them.

    Fortunately, this art of recruiting can be taught to those willing to learn, so please keep this sort of articles coming.

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

    I totally agree with Manny.

    Job posts (not necessarily the same as the job description) that recruiters/HR use need to change.

    Typical job posts do not affect a potential candidate’s desire to apply.

    If you want the best talent to apply, you need to affect the desire to apply…by hitting upon what your targeted “ideal” applicant really wants.

  • Will Branning

    Very good article, Manny. I generally do include salary and bonus information in my posts…your article reminded me to always get a good understanding of what the candidate will actually be doing day-to-day and examples of important projects they will likely be working on. Engineers that I am recruiting are very interested in the job duties and in the projects they’ll be working on…

  • Keith Halperin

    Thanks, Manny. A couple of things:
    1) Before a company tries to get top talent, it should try to determine if this is realistic, using the Corporate Desirability Score or CDS (http://www.ere.net/2013/02/15/recruiting-supermodels-and-a-tool-to-help-you-do-it/). It can than effectively go after reasonable-quality candidates, as opposed to the “Fabulous 5%,” which are probably well beyond its reach, as they have little more than hype to offer exceptional people.

    2) To get the posting as good as it can be, after you’ve worked with the hiring managers to include the necessary info, have Marketing/PR/Etc. make the wording the best it can be, as THIS IS WHAT THEY’RE PAID TO DO.
    Cheers,

    Keith “Let’s Get Realistic” Halperin

  • http://www.grouptalent.com Manny Medina

    Keith – great piece, thank you for pointing me to it. Agree with most of it, but I am making a slightly different point.

    For technical talent, that is developers, designers and possibly program/project managers, what matters most and above all is the work they will be doing and pay. All other ancillary, benefits, commutability, recognition, etc. is far less important.

    This fact may lead to a different conclusion than what your article may imply. That is, that a company that is not so hot, may have a department with very hot projects indeed. And by highlighting these hot projects (new technology, interesting problem space, etc.) not-so-hot companies have a real shot at attracting very hot talent.

  • Robert Dromgoole

    I prefer Lou Adler’s performance profile. In my experience, putting salary information on a job is a terrible idea. If you put a range, the candidate wants the TOP of the range, and you get people applying due to $. I highly recommend not putting salary information in any job except maybe that there are relocation benefits provided. My $.02.

  • Keith Halperin

    Thanks, Manny. Almost all companies have some positive features they can use to get GOOD people, but very few companies have really anything that can help them get the extremely-high caliber people they (erroneously) think they deserve. The companies need to realize- they aren’t that special, and there are many others just like them saying and offering just about the same things. There ARE things these companies can do to beat the others, and it doesn’t really involve spending money, etc: hire more quickly and treat their candidates better than their competitors who think that people should be willing to line up around the block for them. If you want special people, you should treat them specially well.

    Cheers,

    Keith

  • http://www.bright.com Jen Picard

    Amen! Your job description is your opportunity to sell a candidate on your company, and your job.

    I recently did a webinar where I discussed the importance of prioritizing the company, though, so that you can at least get the candidate interested in working for your company eventually, if not now (they may not have found the perfect opportunity). Check it out and let me know what you think: http://www.bright.com/recruiter/webinars/utilizing-recruitment-advertising

    Of course, after you’ve sold the candidate on your company, you need to try to sell them on the job – and you’ve provided some great tips for that. Keep spreading the good word!

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  • http://www.employeeinsightsllc.com/ Jay Fritzke

    Nice job Manny! We see far too many posting using your sound bite analogy. The candidates need to see themselves in the position as described or they won’t apply. This also helps keep people that don’t see themselves in the position from applying. As Cindy said this is an art.

  • http://www.jobcoconut.com Kourosh Ghorbani

    I really liked this piece and I completely agree. Job descriptions are important to get right. In my opinion if you want the best candidate that is suited to the company, don’t fill your job description with unnecessary information. Use key words that will attract the people you want in the company. At jobcoconut.com the job descriptions are tailored to attract the ideal candidate for the company, focusing on the SEO key words that the potential candidate is likely to search.

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  • http://www.alasdairdmurraycopywriter.co.uk Alasdair Murray

    I don’t know if it’s a USA UK thing, but here in the UK a job description is that dull wadge of information the client gives you when you meet them to discuss a particular role. It’s like a checklist, an inventory of duties and skillsets if you will, and not the same as a job post(ing), which should be born out of a job description but only taking the most relevant and interesting bits. That’s how you create a job ad. 2,3,4 maybe 6 or 7 pages of dull client generated job description turned into 3 or 4 paragraphs, maybe a few bullet points, of information that will appeal to the reader because it talkes about why they, the potential applicant, should want to do this job. It entices, it intrigues, it calls out to them on a personal basis (i.e. don’t say ‘successful candidate’, say ‘you’. A simple tip for writing online job ads. Imagine you’re a potential applicant. What would you want to read about? Is it what you’ve just written? If not, give it some allure. Find something great to say about the client you’re recruiting for and some genuine reasons why this job is a must have for the right person. Inject some wow factor rather than, as can be seen all too often online these days, an ad that has ‘dead cow’ factor (i.e. no allure whatsoever)

  • http://www.grouptalent.com Manny Medina

    @Alasdair thx for your input. We ran the poll on Hacker News ie news.ycombinator.com, which presumably reaches out engineers across the world. However, HN audience is mostly (if not exclusively) developers, so this post speaks more to what that demographic responds to as opposed to any.