Most people know what a job posting is, but how many people know how to write a job description?
It’s a craft, but it isn’t a mystery. If you’re looking for employees to hire, this post will show you how to write job descriptions that:
- Attract the right types of candidates.
- Improve your hiring process.
Ready? Let’s write.
How to write a job description in 4 simple steps
To create a job description that will attract great employees, follow these four steps:
- Write a clear job title.
- Structure your job description.
- Write a first draft.
- Revise and refine your job posting.
Now let’s look at each step in turn.
1. Write a clear job title
People decide to read both news articles and job descriptions based on their headlines and titles. If you need somebody to provide technical support to end-users, consider using the title “End-user technical support.”
If, instead, you write a title like “Support Rockstar,” you might:
- Be screaming “We’re trying too hard to sound cool!”
- Confuse people whose first language is not English.
- Not have the title picked up by web searches. (Note: SEO applies to the rest of the job description as well.)
- Miss out on candidates who have the skills you actually need.
When it comes to hiring employees, the direct approach is best.
Related: How to start a business in Canada
2. Structure your job description
After the job title, list the headings for the material you want to cover. These headings could include categories like summary, responsibilities and qualifications, plus any of the other headings you’ll find as you scan this post.
3. Write a first draft
As you write, consider replacing paragraphs, where possible, with more “scannable” structures. These include:
- Bulleted lists
- Numbered lists
- Tables, if the information lends itself to tabular format
Tricks like this make it easier for job hunters to read your description and find information quickly.
Here are five common sections found in most job descriptions:
A concise summary is the antidote to people who think “tl;dr” (too long; don’t read) when they see your job description. Those people also won’t pass it on to other potential candidates.
Next to a clear job title, a good summary is the best way to help job hunters quickly determine for themselves whether they should make time to read your job description. It also can help them determine whether the job would be good for other people they know.
Tip: Write your summary after you write the rest of the job description. Once you’ve written everything else, you will be better able to boil the job down to a powerful three-sentence (or thereabouts) summary.
Use this section to illustrate responsibilities by describing the activities the job includes. Start each task with a verb to more clearly explain what the candidate would do each day.
Sometimes you can’t avoid industry jargon, but when you can, opt for layperson’s language. This is clear, simple, specific language that makes the job description accessible to the widest possible readership.
In other words, don’t use words when 25-cent terms will do.
Remember to sell the position in every section of the job description. Include all the positives, from interaction with interesting people to use of leading-edge technologies, to whatever else would interest a person looking for a given position.
While the whole job description should sell the job, this one section has above-average selling clout. Vacation days. Learning opportunities. Subsidized gym memberships, daycare, [insert your service here]. Don’t be shy. Show every last carrot in the benefits box to make your job description “stick” in a candidate’s mind.
Include a list of required skills (hard and soft):
Separate these qualifications into must-haves and nice-to-haves. This separation helps candidates estimate their chances at the job. Nice-to-haves can also include skills candidates can learn on the job.
Don’t fall into the trap of asking for too many requirements. See if you can relate each qualification directly to a responsibility.
Tip: Know something about the skills you’re looking for. In the 1990s, I saw a job ad requiring X years of Java programming experience at a time when Java had only been available for less than X years. (Sorry, I’ve forgotten the exact dates.) I presume somebody got tripped up by a template or a copy-and-paste oversight (we’ve all committed those). Nevertheless, Java programmers who saw that ad must have scratched their heads in bewilderment.
About the company
You’ve told prospective candidates about the job. Now, tell them how the role fits into the company’s goals.
You may be told to use boilerplate language, perhaps lifted from the company website. That’s great if it’s well-written. If it’s not, consider suggesting revisions, and explain why the changes are necessary. Tell the powers-that-be that this bland description hampers your efforts to find the best employees to hire.
Don’t forget important items like salary range and job location (if relevant). These two alone could draw high-quality candidates in or send them running.
Wonder how long it should be? Indeed for Employers claims that job descriptions between 700 and 2,000 characters elicit up to 30% more applications.
4. Revise and refine your job posting
Now that you’ve written much of the job description, write your summary. You probably know by now what that summary should say.
Next, scan your first draft for anything that could be read as discriminatory.
Talent comes in all genders, colors, ethnicities, religions and so forth. Use less-than-welcoming terms and that talent will pass your company by.
Consider including an equal-opportunity disclaimer and evaluating the language you use in the description for bias using either technological tools or other sets of eyes.
- Revise, revise, revise! Never publish a first draft of a job description.
- Remember that “getting it right” means more than just spelling, grammar and eliminating discriminatory language.
- Aim to keep the job description short and to the point.
As you revise each draft, keep this formula in mind: Second draft = first draft minus 10%. Your job description will improve as you pare it down.
How to write a job description defined
Learning how to write a great job description takes practice. If you frequently write job descriptions, consider creating a template that covers all these sections. Update that template when you find new ideas that could improve your descriptions.
Your template helps ensure you cover the bases in this post.
- Write a clear title
- Structure the post using headings
- Structure your writing using graphical elements
- Include all the right sections: summary, responsibilities, qualifications, benefits, company description and so on.
If you stumble across a better way of writing job descriptions than the method listed here, by all means, discard this method. Your goal is to find great employees to hire, so if you hit on a solution that does that successfully, keep at it!