The Dos and Don'ts of Writing Job Descriptions

By Robert Half June 20, 2013 at 7:00am

If you're like most creative leaders, you probably don't spend a lot of time thinking about job descriptions until there's a key position to fill. Then it's crunch time: You must communicate what the role requires in a way that's clear and compelling. A well-written job description can fill your inbox with spot-on resumes. But one that's not quite right may leave you sifting through hundreds of applications that miss the mark.

To help you develop job descriptions that attract the talent you seek, we spoke with several industry veterans who shared their do's and don'ts for writing effective job descriptions:

DON'T forget to talk about potential hires. A job ad isn't solely about the job requirements and organization. Mention what your perfect hire might be like. Amy Marshall, talent manager at branding and design firm Hornall Anderson, often begins a job description by detailing the ideal candidate. This typically involves "you" phrases, such as "you fight for your ideas but keep an open mind" or "you take the time to listen."

DO tell people what it's like to work at your firm. Sometimes job ads focus so heavily on the open position that they gloss over the organization itself. Tell a story about what it's actually like to work in your office."Create a picture for people who are reading and trying to decide if this is a place they might be interested in working," says Marshall.

DON'T list too many must-haves. Knowing what you need in a job candidate is critical, but a list of 15 requirements might work against you. Focus on the five or six most crucial skills or qualities for the job; you'll cover the fundamentals but still leave enough room to discover unexpected talents that might be of value to your company.

DO write the job ad in your company's voice. A legal firm, for instance, might need buttoned-up formal job descriptions while a small digital agency might write in a more playful, conversational tone. If you're not a wordsmith, try tapping your company's creative team for help. "I have partnered with our internal copy team," Marshall says. "They're writers. They definitely helped me set a tone."

DON'T go overboard. A little fun in a job listing can be good, but it still needs to come across as professional to attract top talent. Your company might throw the best Friday happy hours, but it's probably better to focus on the lively, creative atmosphere at brainstorming sessions in a job description.

DO take the opportunity to refine a position. When hiring for an open role on her team, Stephanie Dahlman, creative services manager at the American Heart Association, starts by looking at an existing job description. But then she thinks about how she can refine the role to move the whole department forward. "I always try to look for talents that could potentially grow the creative department's services," she says.

Do you have your own do's and don'ts for writing great job descriptions? We'd love to hear about them in the comments.

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