Boring Position Descriptions Are Dramatically Decreasing Your Application Rates, Part 1

I often am asked, “What is the easiest way to improve the number of top applicants who actually decide to apply for jobs?” The answer is easy: Rewrite your position descriptions so that they excite candidates rather than turn them off. It’s easy to do and it produces dramatic results.

Employed Top Performers Require a “Better Job”

Unemployed people and semi-anxious people are significantly less picky about applying for open job opportunities, and in some cases apply for any and every job. The job title matters little to them, and no matter how mundane the position description is, they will apply. Any job is a better job to them. But what few people know who haven’t researched the topic is that the very highest quality candidates have estimated drop off rates as high as 90% once they have scanned your position description. Top performers are curious just like everyone else; however, all of your efforts in branding and marketing to get these high-quality candidates to look at your jobs becomes an immediate waste after they scan your position description and then immediately move on because they see no indication that this job is superior to or better than the job they already have. Here are four facts to consider:

  • Top performers already have pretty good jobs.
  • Invariably, they will only consider a job that is clearly better than their current job.
  • Once they quickly scan your boring and possibly outdated position description and they fail to see that this position is clearly better, you will lose them.
  • Once you have lost them, it is unlikely they will return to look at future jobs, and they will probably tell others that your jobs are mundane, further spreading the damage.

Missing Your First Sales Opportunity

If you want to dramatically increase the number of high-quality candidates who apply directly to you, you must first realize that after your company’s image, the first opportunity you have to really excite them about your firm and this particular job is when they begin to read the actual position description. Your position description is, in essence, your first and perhaps last sales opportunity. Incidentally, you are not alone in missing this opportunity; literally 98% of all firms skip this tremendous opportunity to wow and excite potential candidates with an exciting description of their next job.

Why Do Employed Top Performers Drop Off So Quickly?

A firm’s well-crafted employment brand and image can be dashed almost immediately when high-quality potential candidates find that the position description doesn’t match the positive image they had of the firm. Quality candidates will immediately assume this is not a better job when they see:

  • Antiquated equipment, tools, or methods mentioned.
  • Terminology that is “so yesterday” used throughout the description.
  • A lack of emphasis on learning, challenge, and growth (often their number one expectation) within the description.
  • The mention of paper-based systems or aging systems when they expect advanced technology.
  • No mention of great management practices or great managers.
  • No mention of innovation and a leading-edge approach.
  • That all of the glamour demonstrated in your corporate website is just show because it isn’t matched by what really matters: the job content that you will have to face every day if you accept an offer.

Position Descriptions Are Written By Some of the Dullest People on the Planet

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Let’s cut to the quick here: Position descriptions are almost always written by people with little knowledge or interest in marketing or sales. Most position descriptions are written by a combination of the following individuals:

Compensation people. Not a pink shirt among them (an inside marketing joke). There is literally no chance that they’ve taken a marketing or sales course. When asked what criteria they use to put together position descriptions, they almost universally acknowledge that they populate them using “compensable factors” from some (antiquated) job-factor matrix or index. Dullsville.

Hiring managers. They are almost always universally too busy to spend time on position descriptions. They generally just take an old one and modify it slightly, or even worse, accept what the job analysis people from compensation recommend. Even hiring managers in marketing and sales are not exempt from this malady. Recruiters. Most great recruiters are great marketing and sales people; unfortunately, greater recruiters literally hate to write position descriptions. Mostly, it’s because they’re so busy; so when forced, they rush to put them together. Some even delegate this task to junior recruiters or those non-recruiters that I call “requisition managers.” These requisition managers invariably make a special attempt to leave anything bold or controversial out of their position descriptions, so that they can successfully get the requisition approved (which is their only goal).

Marketing, sales, or PR. Only a handful of firms have figured out that right within their own organization, they have powerhouse people who can guide recruiting in making their position descriptions exciting. Unfortunately, like the Maytag repairman, they are seldom called upon to advise on this sales opportunity.

Fixing the Problem is Easy, Quick, and Inexpensive

For years, recruiters have been using boring position descriptions. With the advent of the Internet, the practice has become even more prevalent because it is so easy for a firm to put massive numbers of job descriptions on a job board or its own website. If you are recruiter or a recruiting manager and you want to both wow currently employed people and build a competitive advantage for your firm, it is essential that you revisit how you sell individual. I might also add that by turning your position descriptions into powerful sales tools, you will lighten your workload because the ratio of “turkeys” to top performers who approach you will be reversed almost overnight. Next week, Part 2 of this article will address the action steps required to transform position descriptions into more exciting position sales sheets.

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website and on He lives in Pacifica, California.