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

Oct 10, 2012

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.

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