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Writing a Great Job Description Results in Better Hires

Writing a Great Job Description Results in Better Hires
Credit: Vinnstock/Shutterstock

If you want to make better hiring decisions, you may need to change the way your job postings are written, new research finds.

A few minor changes in the wording of a job advertisement can increase the size and quality of an applicant pool, which can result in better employee-company matches, according to a study set to appear in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Business and Psychology.

While typical job postings focus on what the employer wants from the applicant, such as academic degrees, specific skills and a strong work ethic, more-effective ads focus on what employers can provide job seekers, the study's authors said. That can include work autonomy, career advancement and inclusion in major decisions.

For the study, researchers manipulated real job ads at a large engineering-consulting firm. This was perhaps the first study to use data collected in the field from active job seekers applying for actual professional positions, said David Jones, one of the study's authors and an associate professor of business at the University of Vermont.

The study's authors found that postings that focused on what employers can supply to meet a candidate's needs received almost three times as many highly rated applicants as did ads focusing on what abilities and skills the organization demands of candidates. 

Jones said so many employers still run postings focused on their needs because of the limitations faced by people writing the ads. These individuals often have little training in this area, have very specific skill gaps they need to fill quickly or rely on headhunters who might focus on the needs of the clients, more than those of the applicants.

"A hiring manager in a specific unit or a supervisor of the second shift in manufacturing with little training in this stuff may be crafting the ad," Jones said in a statement. "So it's not surprising that it's filled with [those type of] statements, because they want someone with a specific skill set that they don't have to spend a lot of time training and who can start day one."

While employers might be inclined to simply slap some employee-friendly statements on their postings, Jones said such a strategy won't work if the claims aren't true.

"If you create what is called a psychological contract where the applicant has an expectation of what is going to happen as an employee and then it doesn't, the people you hire are less likely go above and beyond and are more likely to quit much sooner than they otherwise would," Jones said.

Based on the research, Jones theorizes that employee-focused postings garner larger applicant pools because they attract two types of applicants. These ads appeal to both the top candidates, who have the luxury of applying to a small number of positions, as well as the applicants with average resumes who apply for as many positions as possible during a job search.

By contrast, the typical postings that focus on employer needs primarily attract average applicants, who use the shotgun approach when applying for jobs.

The study was co-authored by Joseph Schmidt from the University of Saskatchewan and Derek Chapman from the University of Calgary.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years in media. A 1998 journalism graduate of Indiana University, Chad began his career with Business News Daily in 2011 as a freelance writer. In 2014, he joined the staff full time as a senior writer. Before Business News Daily, Chad spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Chad has also worked on the other side of the media industry, promoting small businesses throughout the United States for two years in a public relations role. His first book, How to Start a Home-Based App Development Business, was published in 2014. He lives with his wife and daughter in the Chicago suburbs.