How to Write the Perfect Job Description in Four Steps

Author: Caron Beesley | July 30, 2015

With time and the pressures of business growth (not to mention day-to-day operations) on their mind, small businesses are particularly susceptible to making the wrong hiring decisions. It’s an expensive mistake. Recruiting a new employee even at minimum wage, can end up costing a company around $3,500 in direct and indirect costs says Investopedia (including advertising, recruiter fees, training, workplace integration, and more).

While there’s no silver bullet for hiring the perfect candidate, one often overlooked step in the process is the job description itself. Get it wrong and you’ll risk attracting the wrong kind of candidates, or even worse, put off the right candidates.

To help you understand the elements of a poorly written job description, here are some common mistakes that hiring managers and recruiters make:

  • Inconsistencies between the actual job description and the online advertisement. If you’ve ever applied for a job on an online board like Monster or LinkedIn, only to be contacted by the recruiter and emailed the full job description, only to find that it’s quite different to the one posted in the ad, then you’ll identify with me on this one.
  • Inaccurate or incomplete location information. With an uptick in virtual employees, more and more jobs can be performed by home-based employees in another city or state. Job descriptions often fail to reflect this portability when posted to job boards.
  • Inconsistent job titling. Similar to my first point one above. A job may be posted as a “Sales Director” in an online ad, then becomes an “Account Manager” when the recruiter shares the actual job description, then changes to a “Sales Manager” by the time that candidate progresses to the screening interview. If you’re in sales then you’ll know these are quite different functions and reflect varying levels of experience. However, somewhere along the way, the job title got misinterpreted or was modified to fit the available options of an online job site ad template.
  • Too much or too little detail. This is a common problem. Many job descriptions are guilty of insufficient detail, too much, or of muddling the two together so that it’s almost impossible to gauge the hiring manager’s priorities or help a candidate determine if they’re a good fit.

So what can you do to write a great job description? There are no hard and fast rules, and the description format may vary across industries and job functions, but here are four things you really should be doing:

  • Avoid using boilerplate job descriptions. If you have a job description for each role in your business, stop right there. Jobs evolve and desired skill sets change, so what may have worked in the past probably won’t work now. Take the time to approach each job description with fresh eyes. Seek input from other employees (if an employee is vacating a role, ask their opinion too). Brainstorm your needs, both now and for the future, and have several review cycles with your management team.
  • Separate out the general from the specific. Avoid muddling or co-mingling skills, requirements and tasks. If a skillset or experience is a priority for you, be specific about it. Create distinction between desired requirements and mandatory requirements, and order them accordingly so that the candidate can scan for a right fit quickly and easily.
  • Use keywords. According to the LinkedIn 2015 Global Recruiting Trends Report, small businesses rely heavily on internet job boards when looking to fill new open roles. “They need ways to help talent find them – not the other way around,” writes Heidi Kotansky on the LinkedIn Talent blog. Critical to this is ensuring your job description includes the appropriate keywords that will attract the right talent to your online listing. In addition to keywords in your body copy, make sure you use industry-standard terminology for your job title, skills, and so on, and be very clear about the location.
  • Be involved in the next step – the job listing advertisement. Once you’ve nailed your job description, spend an equal amount of time ensuring that the actual job posting reflects your needs and vision for that role. Whether you post the listing yourself or enlisting the help of a recruiter, make sure you or your hiring manager have approved the ad. This way you’ll alleviate the problem of inconsistencies between the ad and the description itself. Don’t forget to include your keywords in this process too.

For more tips on finding the right candidates, check out this article from Rieva Lesonsky: How to Find Great Job Candidates.

 

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