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How to Write Better Job Descriptions

image for Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock
Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock

Wonder why you're not getting great job applicants? You might want to take a closer look at how you write your job descriptions.

As the unemployment rate falls and the battle for talent heats up, job listings are becoming much more competitive.

For every great job description, there are many more that simply list keywords related to job duties, tasks, qualifications and experience requirements. While it's easy to write job descriptions that are simply lists of keywords, these descriptions are hard for applicants to read and understand. They also attract job seekers who are mass-applying to jobs – and who might not be a good fit for your organization.

Instead of focusing on getting a high number of applications, you should focus on attracting the right talent. Your job listing will be many candidates' first impression of your company. While you want to avoid keyword stuffing, you also don't want to fill your listing with cliches or fluff.

So how do you create a more effective job description to attract the right candidates? Business owners, recruiters, marketing managers and career experts outlined the basics.

A good job description goes deeper than a typical list of skills, tasks and role requirements. To attract the highest-quality and best-fit applicants to your position, give them a feel for your company culture, said Jean Cook, a former business coach for The Alternative Board.

Rebecca Barnes-Hogg, founder and CEO of YOLO Insights, shared similar views, stating that quality employees will invest in businesses that reflect their own interests and values.

"They want to understand your products and what you stand for," she said. "Your ad needs to tell them that. The first few sentences need to capture the candidate's attention. Like any effective sales pitch, make it about them and their interests."

Jaynine Howard, founder and career strategist at JJ Howard & Associates, recommends being upfront about salary in a job description. Many applicants will turn down an offer at the last minute after being informed of the pay, she added. Clearing this up from the start will prevent you and your applicants from wasting time.

Michael Lan, senior resume consultant at Resume Writer Direct, recommends including application directions that contain a specific call to action. Whether it's to email a specific person, leave a phone message or include a code word in their cover letter, asking applicants to do something extra can help you quickly narrow down your interview pool.

A clear call to action like this "serves as a built-in screening process, as you will be able to weed out applicants who are not able to follow directions and demonstrate a clear lack of attention to detail," Lan said.

When you sit down to write your job description, you'll want to use a tone that represents your company's brand, said Joseph Terach, co-founder of Resume Deli. For instance, if you're searching for creative employees, make your job post quirky and amusing. Detail-oriented tech employees, on the other hand, may do better with concrete lists of necessary skills.

Since many people are distracted and rushed, they will likely respond better to listings that are easy to read or scan, especially on mobile devices. Don't overwhelm your candidates with useless information or lengthy paragraphs.

Steve Dempsey, COO of staffing firm Aquent, recommends organizing key responsibilities with bullet points and separating sections with descriptive headers.

"Most job seekers are scanning," he said. "They are on the hunt for the right job and will look at a job post and scan the details before deciding to apply, or to ignore it."

Jan Hudson, COO of Surf Search, agrees. "Most job candidates search job boards on their phones now. Keep it simple, and always use bullet points." Hudson also suggests using the headings "Responsibilities" and "Requirements" before bulleted lists for added clarity.

Finally, light humor can make candidates remember your listing and want to apply. Chris Mindel, marketing manager at Dexter Edward LLC, uses subtle jokes in his job descriptions. "It makes the applicant smile when they think about your company," he said. "They're more likely to apply."  

Taking all of this advice into account can be overwhelming.

For your next open position, consider using a two-sentence opening pitch about your company, two bulleted lists under the headings "Responsibilities" and "Requirements," and a short one-sentence call to action asking the applicant to click a link to fill out an application.

For better readability and a higher response rate, make sure to include the important information about job duties, skills, tasks, and necessary experience in the "Responsibilities" and "Requirements" lists.

Hudson provided the following job description, which attracted candidates with excellent qualifications in the life sciences field:

Global medical devices leader seeks a Supplier Quality Manager to lead a supplier quality team in the development of new Class III medical devices. The Supplier Quality Manager will lead supplier quality initiatives and qualifications, as well as provide mentoring and oversight of a supplier quality team. Travel is expected to be around 25%, both domestic and international.   

Requirements:

  • Bachelor's degree in engineering required; advanced degree preferred
  • 8+ years relevant experience in medical devices, preferably Class III
  • A background in medical device product development
  • 5+ years leadership experience
  • Strong management and leadership skills to ensure management, growth and development of personnel
  • Previous supervisory experience
  • Strong statistical and analytical skills
  • A track record of accomplishment managing multiple competing projects or programs
  • The ability to travel up to 25% both domestic and international
  • Quality certifications such as ASQ CQA, CBA, AQA, RAB, CQE strongly preferred
  • Lead auditor certification preferred
  • Working knowledge of Microsoft Office Suite (Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Visio, etc.)
  • Strong working knowledge of Quality System regulation (QSR/FDA regulation) and ISO 13485 standards
  • Design control and validation experience is a plus

Responsibilities:

  • Manage investigation nonconformance issues identified for device components
  • Ensure compliance of supplier files
  • Identify supplier quality engineering resource requirements and manage resources to provide quality coverage for the new product development programs
  • Lead continuous improvement initiatives, including quality system and supplier qualification procedures
  • Manage supplier quality team

Dustin Diehl, director of content marketing at Digital Current, provided this quirky job post aimed at attracting a creative content marketer. Notice the use of headings and humorous voice.

Content Strategist

This is probably, what, the seventh job ad you've seen today? Tenth? Hey, if it's your first, we feel lucky! We understand finding a new job can be tough – so we want to make this as easy as possible.

What are you hiring for?

A content strategist!

What, exactly, is that?

If you have to ask, you may not be right for the job.

OK, well, what's Digital Current's definition of a content strategist?

Fair question! There are lots of different ways to interpret the role of a content strategist, so here's our take:

  • At DC (that's our abbreviation for Digital Current, not the comic book company, although that would be awesome – we'll ask you about your favorite Justice League member during your interview, don't worry), our content strategists:
  • Are digitally savvy
  • Understand the roles of content strategy and content marketing in today's digital marketing landscape
  • Have 2-4 years of experience in digital content strategy
  • Understand the importance of (and how to develop) personas, buyers' journey maps and content messaging, including voice, tone and style guidelines
  • Can conduct content audits to review existing content performance and quality
  • Work with SEO teams to incorporate the latest SEO best practices in their content recommendations and planning
  • Are comfortable presenting and speaking with clients
  • Can lead creative workshops and editorial planning sessions
  • Are always looking for ways to improve and educate themselves, their peers and their clients on the latest happenings in the digital content space

 Great! Where do I sign up?

Send us your resume and we'll set up a call! Can't wait to meet you.

Whether you're hiring a senior engineer or an entry-level marketing specialist, it's important to write concise job descriptions that showcase the most important parts of the position.

Use headings, bullet points and clear calls to action to increase readability and response rate.

Don't be afraid to make your job listing match your company culture – you'll attract more candidates who fit your organization.

Additional reporting by Brittney Morgan and Sammi Caramela. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article. Miranda Jade Friel updated and provided additional sources for this article.

Miranda Jade Friel

Miranda Jade Friel is a HR content strategist and copywriter. She emphasizes building trust between companies and employees. When she's not researching and writing, she's soaking up the sun near Orlando, Florida. You can reach her at miranda.jade.friel@gmail.com.