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Writing more effective job descriptions

Job descriptions may seem like one of the most straightforward parts of recruiting and hiring: you list what’s expected and what skills and experience you want, then you proofread and release it to the winds. It’s a necessary part of the process, but maybe not the one you spend the most time or attention doing. However, like with everything else in recruiting, there’s an art to job descriptions. With finding the best talent getting ever more competitive, your job descriptions should be as dynamic, effective, appealing, and informative as possible–in a relatively small space.

Know what (and whom) you’re seeking

Many hiring managers and HR professionals see a job description as a basic checklist of tasks and roles that the new employee will need to fulfill. When you’re thinking about what to include in a job description, don’t just think about the tasks and top-line responsibilities. What work are you expecting to be done in this role? What will this person be achieving for your organization? That helps reframe the job description as not just the what, but also the why.

Thinking about the work itself (and the goals) can also help you get to a more robust description of the job. Instead of relying on later conversations or interviews to flesh out the job, having more information and realistic bullets about the job can help you set a clearer expectation for the role. That will lead to getting better, more qualified people responding to your ad.

Be descriptive about the candidate you want

Space can be at a premium in a job description, so it’s important to emphasize the necessary elements in a successful candidate. Instead of limiting it to basic things like education level or years of experience, think about the most important skills or elements of experience needed for the role. For example, does this job really need someone with a master’s degree? Or are you really looking for someone with a particular skill set instead of a diploma?

This can also help you make a more inclusive job description. For many otherwise qualified candidates who have good skills, experience, and the potential to grow into a role, arbitrary requirements on a job description can be a barrier that keeps them from applying in the first place. Would you be willing to hire someone who didn’t have internship experience? Is there a significant difference between someone with four years’ experience versus seven? When writing your job description, think about the entry requirements you’re putting in place. Make sure that they’re both necessary for the job and descriptive enough to help a reader determine whether they should apply or not.

Be clear on the expectations for the new hire

Remember that you’re not just trying to get someone in the door–you’re working hard to make sure you’re getting the right person to join and contribute to your organization for a long time to come. An effective job description should include information (if only a sentence or a few bullets) that outline what kind of performance metrics the person would need to meet in, say, the first 90 days or the first year.

Show off your employer brand

You’re shopping for a new hire, but the new hire is also shopping for a company. A great job description includes a few lines about your organization and what it can offer. Salary (or salary range) and benefits should be included, but also make sure to include bullets about your company’s values, mission, or culture.

The best job descriptions go beyond the bare basics of the job itself. It’s about how the role fits into the company as a whole, what the person will really be working on once they join your organization, and what attributes the right candidate will have. The more care you put into this description now, the better your recruiting results will be.

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