How to Write a Job Description That Strikes a Perfect Balance

By Robert Half July 2, 2018 at 11:30am

There’s a lot of variety when it comes to job descriptions, from the overly casual to the dense, dry and daunting. Ideally, you’ll mix some art and science to create a balance of the must-have skills you need and the position you have to sell.

Are your job descriptions for your open roles too laid back? Certain job descriptions scream “super-fun workplace” by leading with the company’s informal culture (Shoes? What shoes?) and ample perks (Did we mention there’s a dog park? And a nap room? Yeah, they’re just beyond the foosball tables). This type of job description’s tone is casual, but job seekers may walk away not understanding the ins and outs of the position.

On the other side of the spectrum, there are the job descriptions laden with company-specific jargon and idealistic dream lists of required skills. In addition, larger organizations can run the risk of creating job descriptions that feel more mass-produced than personalized, making it difficult for some candidates to connect with the company. Focusing strictly on “work” while neglecting “play” can make job descriptions — and companies — seem a little dull.

The key is for hiring managers to write job descriptions that are both informative and inspiring. Remember, if the job you’re describing isn’t intriguing, you won’t likely get the type of applicants you’re seeking.

“A well-written job description can mean the difference between a trickle or a flurry of qualified applicants,” says staffing expert Diane Domeyer, executive director of The Creative Group. “Conversely, a poorly written job description can significantly expand the quantity of unqualified applicants. Writing a good job description requires an ability to prioritize essential skills and qualities while also ‘selling’ your company to job seekers.”

In other words, hiring managers must walk a line when writing job descriptions. They must understand not only how to describe the position and its must-have skills, but also how to sell both the position and the organizational culture to qualified candidates.

Here are five tips to keep in mind when writing job descriptions to attract the most qualified people and show off your company’s attributes:

1. Think of the job description as a blueprint

If you put time and thought into writing a job description, the rest of the hiring process should move along more easily. These are the key elements of a well-written job description:

  • The job or position title (and job code number, if applicable)
  • The department within the organization in which the position exists
  • The reporting structure for the position, up and/or down, as applicable
  • A brief summary of the position and its overarching responsibility or function or role within the organization
  • A list of the position’s essential duties
  • The specific knowledge, skills, work history, or other experiences, training, language, or aptitudes required for the job
  • The educational requirements for the job, such as degrees and industry-specific certifications
  • Qualities or attributes that contribute to superior performance in the position.

2. Update, update, update

Many jobs are far different from what they were a few years ago. As technology evolves and expanded skill sets are required, job descriptions may need to be updated more frequently. Think about what the job should entail based on your company’s current needs and long-term objectives. Viewing the job description as a benchmark for performance of the successful candidate will help you determine if the description is accurate and thorough enough.

3. Get your priorities in order

Don’t scare off a potential top candidate by overdoing the “must-haves.” A laundry list of duties gives little insight into what is most important, and it can make good people shy away. Focus on the five or six crucial responsibilities of the position. Consider consulting high-performing employees in the same role for help developing the list of core duties and most valuable job skills.

4. Don’t hunt for unicorns

You may want a rock-star-of-all-trades, but that may require you to wait too long for the perfect candidate — if that person even exists. Does the job seeker fit your corporate culture? Is the experience you’re asking for essential to excelling in the role, or are you setting unrealistic expectations? Can you offer professional development training that will help provide the skills needed to do the job?

Be sure you know how to write a job description that is realistic and flexible so you don’t limit your pool of qualified applicants, especially given the competition for top talent today.

5. Show your personality

While you want to use clear and concise language, you also should give applicants a sense of your company’s culture (read: fun side). The right position at the wrong company can make a new hire walk right back out the door, which will cost you time and money. So tell a story or paint a picture about what it’s truly like to work for your company.

As with any type of writing, one of the best ways to ensure you’ve hit the mark is to run your job description by a fellow manager or an employee in the position you’re hiring for and incorporate their feedback. You might even turn to a professional copywriter if you need help choosing the right words.

Although you may be in a hurry to fill a position, knowing the secrets to how to write a job description and taking some extra time to shine a favorable light on the job and the company is a worthy investment.

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