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How to write job descriptions

Rob Long
Rob Long

Rob Long is CRO at Workable. He's a former recruiter who writes mostly about hiring best practices.

Job descriptions could and should sweep candidates off their feet. But all too often we’re content to lean on the old-fashioned and generic with the result that most job ads are mediocre. We’re guessing you don’t want to be average. You’re not one of those guys looking for superheroes who is too lazy to write job descriptions that might actually attract them.

PRO TIP: The first time we came across Medium’s careers page was in Lou Hoffman’s article: The best job descriptions on the planet. Enough said. 

Read on for more tips or download the complete startup hiring guide eBook for free.

Love at first sight

We all know that applicants like to scan. They want to look at an opening and be able to recognize in the blink of an eye if it’s their dream job. Like all busy people they have a thousand things competing for their attention; especially the passive candidates for whom you’re trawling. Make every job description seductive. Start with the job title, keeping in mind that most job boards work like search engines, therefore candidates use keywords to search for jobs.

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The about-the-company part

This is your chance to make a good first impression, so start thinking about the distinctive characteristics that make your company special. The type of job description you publish is closely related to who you are as an employer. Give them a glimpse of your company that will charm them into coming to working for you.

PRO TIP: Check out Vend. We couldn’t even choose what our favorite job description was. We loved them all.

Candidates need to be able to relate to job descriptions on a personal level. Tell them a story about your company that will make them sit back and picture themselves working with you. Start with an educated guess, with something simple, ask for feedback and then optimise. Ask employees why they enjoy working for your startup. If you have a marketing department lean on them for some content marketing advice. Hiring should not to be done in isolation. You’ll need to put in some extra effort but it will pay off. 

RelatedBest job posting sites to use when hiring for startups

The about-the-job part

You know that if you go with the flow then your job descriptions will be deathly dull but you’re tempted to do so anyway. Because that’s the way everybody is doing it. But it won’t help your company stand out – it will just add to the mountain of identical job descriptions that grows larger every day.

PRO TIP: Mundane jobs must make for boring job descriptions. Wrong. This is epic

How are job seekers (let alone the precious, passive ones) supposed to spot that you’re offering a dream gig when it looks like a machine wrote your job description? It’s not necessarily because they’re not well-written, it’s because they’re presented as if they were not written by or for a human being. Do everyone a favour and stick to the important stuff. There are tons of job descriptions out there listing every tiny little task a future employee might perform. That’s not the point.

It’s all about clarity

Start writing job descriptions that build businesses. They will attract the best talent and convert prospects into candidates. How?

• Sell your company and their future in it in an engaging fashion

• Get rid of the boring corporate tone

• Keep it chatty and friendly

• Use words that evoke feelings

• Make them aspire and then act on that desire

• Use you or we; drop the passive voice 

To up the ante you can also add a list of people the future hire will get to work with on a regular basis.

The about-the-requirements part

We’ve covered the basics in our “There’s a difference between what you want and what you need” blog post. If you’ve used Workable you may have noticed the must-haves and nice-to-haves requirements. Why did we add this feature? To make sure that candidates won’t get excluded from the hiring process just because they clicked “NO” on a secondary skill that is unlikely to be pivotal. Think about what skills would make sense, adding to the equation the fact that they are individuals and not miracle workers. Must-have requirements are the bare minimum: the can’t-live-without list. Nice-to-have requirements are the extras: they belong on the we- can-live-without list.

PRO TIP: Worth looking at KinHR. They might not have a careers page at the moment but this sales job description rocks. 

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