There are many different formats of job description—informative, mission-driven, role-focused, short-form, or emoji-riddled.
The best job description, in my opinion, combines a little of all of these.
Many articles out there will say in, very generic terms, things like "be direct”, but that’s not particularly useful.
Here I’ll take you through how write a job description that attracts the right candidates for your roles, with specific examples from my experience.
- What is a job description?
- Writing a job description
- Tone of voice and format
- Common mistakes
- Tools to help
Let’s dive in.
What is a job description?
The purpose of a job description is advertise the position to potential candidates and inform them both about the role and your company. It should have enough information to help the candidate identify whether they are right for the role or not and pique their interest. It is also a chance to give a glimpse into your company's culture, mission, and values.
Historically, a job description and a job ad were two different things.
Job descriptions were the full, long-form internal documents that outlined all the requirements and responsibilities of the role. Usually, they were very factual and clinical.
Job ads were short-form, paraphrased versions of the job description designed to pique the interest of potential candidates.
However, more recently, as companies either create newer roles or want to display more about the role and themselves, the lines between the two became blurred. Today, job descriptions are being more or less used as a job ad.
I’ll now take you through my process for writing a job description.
Getting started writing job descriptions
Simple and easily understood job title
Start with the job title of the role. My mantra is to go for simple and easily understood language.
If there is already a naming convention for a particular role, there is no need to go creative with the job title. Otherwise, people will have trouble identifying their suitability from the title.
For example—if the role is an Account Manager—call it that rather than a Customer Relationship Guru or something.
Define responsibilities, outcomes, skills, and attributes
Next up it’s about ensuring you’re actually describing the role in terms of two major aspects:
- Responsibilities and outcomes
- Skills and attributes.
Responsibilities and outcomes
If you are stuck with creating the responsibilities, create a long list of all the duties you can think of that the person in this role will have to complete. You can a similar framework you’d create for your candidate sourcing strategy to help you structure your thoughts.
Then work to summarise or shorten the laundry list of duties you’ve come up with. The goal is to be informative but not to overload with information. 4-6 bulletpoints for responsibilities, and the same for skills, is good benchmark.
After deciding on what responsibilities you’re going to include, think back to your mission as a company. Perhaps you have some OKRs or goals for the team that these duties will contribute towards.
Start creating these as outcomes and add them to the list. This way you can link a specific set of responsibilities to an outcome.
If I was hiring a Tech Talent Partner, here are a few examples:
- Source, engage and screen candidates in the product and engineering space to help us scale from X to XX number in the next 9 months.
- Work with hiring managers to create hiring and onboarding plans and priorities to support scaling and growth, as well as ensure a great experience for the new hires.
Keep linking back to the company mission and why you exist. This creates a sense of belonging for the role and, by extension, a sense of belonging in the potential candidate reading it.
Skills and attributes
From there start thinking about what are the skills, relevant experience, and attributes required in a person to complete these duties and achieve goals.
This really has to be targetted to the audience for your role.
For example, if you are hiring for an entry-level role, don't put down 2-3 years of experience in X (like the research here found a while ago). That way you are contributing towards the memes of the catch-22 situation of needs experience to get experience.
If you have an entry-level role, focus more on the attributes and ambitions of the prospective candidate.
For example, for an entry-level admin role, things like attention to detail, organization, and ability to prioritize. Experience in these can come in many forms and doesn't necessarily have to stem from previous admin work.
If your role is not entry-level then you have to include specific experience, requirements, or even qualifications to attract the right candidates.
Specifying how many years of experience is minimum is a divisive topic. Some companies swear by it and others prefer to leave it vague. One pitfall to watch out for, however, is not to ask for more years of experience than the technology has been around, as the below example:
This one I will leave to you as I see both sides of the argument. Personally, I do think that a rough guide can be useful to people, but should not be treated as gospel and I lean away from using it.
Tone of voice and format
Now that we have what content will go in, it's time to think about the format and the tone of voice.
This is where you pull in your employer branding and, ideally, work with your marketing manager to create a standard job description template.
You are looking to create an identity where certain things are standardised, for example headings to guide the eye through the page and the company information.
That way, you can create something that people will recognise as a "your company's job description".
Usually, with my own job descriptions, I have the following:
- Overview—This is a one-two sentence attention grabber, plus a bit more on the conditions and location for the role (e.g. Remote +/- X hrs of this timezone, Full time, 9-month contract).
- About the role—this is where the responsibilities and outcomes go
- About you—this is where the requirements go
- About the company—some companies put this at the start, some towards the end, but it’s entirely up to you and your company's journey. This is where your mission and your company culture get to shine.
- EEOC statement—in some jurisdictions this is a must, so make sure you have one. In general, there are many examples you can copy. I’m a fan of writing one for your own company, and how diversity and inclusion is part and parcel of the company.
The tone of voice is also something that marketing can help you with. But, in essence, if your company's tone of voice is informal, and all of a sudden your job descriptions are formal and read like a Royal Gala invitation, then you have not created a coherent journey for the candidate.
You VS passive voice. I am a big fan of using "You" in job descriptions. I think it creates a closeness with the candidate and helps towards visualising and humanising the experience. This is in contrast to "the ideal candidate for this position shall have...".
Things to watch out for
Some common errors and frustrations I have when reviewing and posting job descriptions.
I am of the firm belief that if all you write is "great communication skills" or "attention to detail" you don't know the person who needs to be in the role well enough.
You need to think about what kinds of communication skills are required and be more explicit.
For example, a Product Manager might need to have "demonstrated great cross-functional communication skills where they are able to understand business and technical needs alike". This gives more of a guidance.
This is a touchy subject but, what I will say is, think about what is absolutely necessary.
If there is a requirement for a specific qualification, no problem mentioning that.
But a "2:1 grade minimum from a top 20 university" is incredibly exclusionary, and we should try to move away from this practice, especially in the face of so many alternative routes to a career.
Formatting on jobs boards
Be mindful of how your format may appear on different job boards. Many times I’ve laboured over beautiful headings and bullet point formatting, only for the job board to paste a wall of text when you look at the job posting.
Look around for a preview button, the formatting rules of the job board (usually on the page with the editor) or at least make sure that you view the live posting right after you post to verify formatting.
In more and more jurisdictions it's a requirement to post a salary banding or salary range in a JD.
I think this is an interesting move to level the playing field and give more power to candidates when negotiating. If you're going to adjust salaries per location make sure you specify that.
Tools To Help
Here are a few tools that can help you:
Other job descriptions
As simple as it may sound, if you are truly stuck on getting started with describing a role (seen this happen many times for junior or operational roles), have a look at how other companies are describing it.
Take a look at a few examples from competitors, and perhaps a few from completely unrelated companies, to see what the similarities and differences are (e.g. if you are a B2B SaaS company, take a look at how consumer goods businesses write about this role).
Studies upon studies have found two major differences in the way men and women apply for jobs.
Women, on the whole, try to match 100% of the requirements for a role before they apply (hence why you summarise and keep to fewer bullet points) and they are less likely to respond to overly aggressive or exclusionary language.
Recently I saw "He/She will join a 4-man team". Well done on the He/She (better would be You), but then they let themselves down with the 4-man team. Is it a turn of phrase—yes. Can it be exclusionary—also yes.
There are multiple tools for this. Datapeople and Textio are paid tools with advanced functionalities like languages decoders and some forms of AI (e.g they recognize turns of phrase) and Genderdecoder is simpler but free.
It may surprise you what can be considered an exclusionary language, especially if you've never needed to scrutinize your writing. A recent study found that language can even impact the average age of your applicants too.
Applicant tracking systems
Lastly, some applicant tracking systems (ATS) also have tips on how to optimize your ads for SEO so that they appear to the right people. Make sure to check those and, if you do have an internal SEO specialist, perhaps check with them on what else you can do.
Job Description Best Practices
A summary of the fundamentals.
Keep it simple
Use simple and accessible language (unless you are talking about specific technical terms). No one will be impressed with you if they need a thesaurus to understand your job description —unless you are hiring a thesaurus writer!
Keep it shorter
Every role has a mountain of duties and tasks to cover. But, if you write out everything you will get a wall of text which few people will read. Bullet points are your best friend, and it is very possible to group some tasks together and summarise them in one bullet point (see the Tech Talent Partner example above).
Link responsibilities to outcomes
Try to help the person visualize themselves in the role by linking back the responsibilities to outcomes and the outcomes to team or company goals. You want to make sure that the right candidate is already imagining how they will grow with your company.
Where to post your job description
Now you have a shiny new job description ready to put into the world, it’s time to decide where to post it.
This will depend on the role and location but some of the widely used general job boards are:
- ZipRecruiter (this one is a job board amalgamator as well, posting to multiple other job boards)
Additionally, you can look to post your roles in more specialized places—either industry specialized, like EdSurge to Edtech roles, or more role-specific job boards like Dribbble for designers.
One piece of advice is to put yourself in the shoes of your perspective and find where they might hang out—designers on Dribbble or example.
More recently, there’s been a big surge of remote-specific job boards like Remoteok, remotive, and WeWorkRemotely, which opens your candidate pool worldwide!
The common threads behind bad job descriptions are complacency and copying.
When you sit down to write a job description, try to really focus and think “what would you want to read to be able to make a decision on whether or not to apply for the role?
Just like with marketing, write as if the product is for you.
Writing job descriptions gets easier with practice. If you are just starting out, ask someone who is more experienced, or someone on your marketing team to take a look before you post.
In fact, it’s good practice to get another pair of eyes on any piece of content before launching it into the world.
Job descriptions are a great opportunity to show a potential employee how they will fit into the overall puzzle of your company.
It’s your opportunity to really highlight the things that are important to you. If you treat it like a window into your company, make sure you don’t only give a glimpse but a full panoramic view!
Some further reading to help you attract and hire the right candidates: