Human Resources Today

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Conversations about how to write compelling, effective job descriptions have been going on for as long as many of us can remember. So, why the continued dialogue? Because no one has nailed it yet? Because recruiters are terrible writers? Because everyone wants to up their SEO and Google for Jobs game? Because applicant tracking systems continue to limit job description creativity and interactivity?

Maybe it’s all, some or none of the above. Regardless, your job descriptions could probably use a refresh and we want to help you. But first, a quick note. Throughout this post, when we refer to “job description,” it’s important to understand that we are not referencing the internally facing descriptions used by Human Resources as part of a formal job grading or approval process. Instead, the focus here is on externally facing job descriptions -- or job postings -- intended to attract job seekers.

 

Here are four important tips for employer brand and talent acquisition pros on how to write more effective job postings that will help you attract best-fit talent.

 

1. Write for Your Company

Job descriptions are highly visible pieces of content. They may be the only piece of information someone ever reads about your company. And, because of the crawlable nature of the web, they can easily and quickly become sprinkled across free and paid job search websites. Often, we see job descriptions structured like this:

  • Company name and location

  • Job title, hours and schedule

  • Position duties and responsibilities

  • Minimum requirements of the job

  • Benefits overview

  • EEO statement

Sure, this tells us what a person will do if hired, but it does very little in educating the reader about the holistic opportunity the organization offers. Is this a short-sighted approach? Yes, as this approach doesn’t compel best-fit talent to apply. Nor does it dissuade job seekers from applying who may not be a fit.  

A job seeker looking for a customer service job has many options. As do individuals looking for sales, trainee, warehouse, IT or driver jobs. After a while, these job descriptions all start to look the same. (<-- Click to tweet!)

What if, instead, we wrote them with our organizations in mind and included:

  • What makes the employment experience unique

  • Core employer brand messaging based on workforce insight

  • Insight into the culture, core values and vision

  • How this position helps the organization strive toward its mission

  • How the position impacts the company, customers or communities

  • Information on the office, and insight into the department and team

 

2. Write for Your Audience

Before writing a job description, we must know as much as we can about the role, responsibilities and requirements. Often, we get this information from a library of job descriptions that Human Resources writes, manages and maintains. Sometimes, recruiters go the extra mile and talk to hiring managers to understand what it takes to be successful in the position.

Do you see who is missing from this approach? It’s the actual type of person we’re trying to attract. How can we attract best-fit talent if we don’t talk to individuals who are performing well in the job? (<-- Click to tweet!)

Now, we don’t need to conduct 10 hours of in-take calls and employee interviews to nail the job description. Consider these easy and effective options:

  • Ask the hiring manager who on the team they would like to “clone” and reach out to them

  • Send a quick survey via email to a few top performing employees

  • Grab coffee with someone who has previously worked (or currently works) in the position  

  • Have lunch with a work friend who is currently in the same role

 

3. Write for the Web

Writing for the web requires a specific understand of your audience -- what matters to them and where they click. One way to understand your web audience is through heatmaps. If you haven’t ever seen or used one, they are worth exploring. This heatmap study by Nielsen Norman Group found readers -- regardless of website or task -- tend to read individual web pages in an F-shaped pattern. The study also suggests that site visitors read page headlines and subheadings, as well as the first two paragraphs of text. In this 2010 study by Microsoft, concludes that “users adopt a ‘screen-and-glean’ browsing behavior where they vet the page prior to more detailed examination.”   

So, what does all of this mean when it comes to writing job descriptions? It means they need to:

  • Capture your audience’s attention

  • Open with relevant and important details

  • Include subheadings to break up large blocks of content

  • Guide the reader down the page and description

  • Use rich media to hold the reader’s attention and break up text

  • Be easy to skim, read and digest quickly

 

4. Write Like You Mean It

This Wall Street Journal article states that job seekers spend less than one minute (49 seconds to be exact) reading a job description before they have an important moment of truth: to continue reading or not. This is a small, but important, window of opportunity to persuade qualified candidates and dissuade the rest.

Ask any decent writer or journalist about the importance of headlines and they will tell you headlines are critically important when it comes to readers finding, clicking or choosing a story to read. Almost as important are the first words of the story when it comes to engaging readers. Therefore, two things are clear:  

  • How you title your job descriptions affects whether someone finds and clicks it.

  • How you kick off your job description affects whether best-fit talent will spend more than 49 seconds reading it.

If the title is a perfect fit or potentially interesting, they’ll click. If your opening statement is compelling, they’ll keep reading. If your job description is a match, they’ll apply. Your position as the job description writer is to grab your reader’s attention and keep it. (<-- Click to tweet!)

When it comes to writing – a news article, book or even a blog post – the author gets the byline. But there is a probably a person (or two) playing the role of contributor, informant and/or copy editor behind the scenes. Why should your postings be any different? Be humble and collaborative, and ask for support from hiring managers, role incumbents, marketing, communications or HR colleagues who can help you.

And, remember to write holistically – for your company, your audience and the web. After all, your descriptions aren’t just about jobs. They are about compelling best-fit talent to find, read and consider a career at your organization.  


Shannon Smedstad (@shannonsmedstad) is a Principal Employer Brand Strategist for exaqueo, an employer brand experience firm building employer brands and the talent strategies that drive them through research, consulting and creative and digital execution. Contact exaqueo to learn more about our employer brand innovation, workforce research and recruiting strategy offerings

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