Job descriptions are important both to job seekers and employers. They let the candidate know the duties and requirements of the position and what the company will expect regarding performance. They also provide a way for employers to evaluate the job’s importance, its place in the business and to identify the characteristics needed by a new employee filling the role. As such, creating job descriptions is a process that bears careful and thoughtful consideration.
This article serves as a comprehensive guide to writing a job description designed to attract the most qualified candidates. It discusses the benefits a well-written job description can provide and contains advice on what to include in a job description, the language and tone to use when writing the description, how to write a job ad that attracts attention and where to place ads to get the most visibility.
How to Create a Job Description
Job Description Benefits
“A good job description is much more than a laundry list of tasks and responsibilities,” said Paul Slezak, co-founder of RecruitLoop, a recruiting software platform, in a blog post. “If well written, it gives the reader a sense of the priorities involved. It not only provides a clear picture of the position for potential candidates but is also a useful tool for measuring performance and a vital reference in the event of disputes or disciplinary issues.”
The job description is a critical document for every position, according to Slezak, and performs several useful functions.
A good job description:
- Defines where the job fits into the overall company hierarchy;
- Is used as the basis for the employment contract;
- Is a valuable performance management tool.
It also helps to attract the right job candidates and provides a reference point for salary decisions and unfair hiring practices, Slezak said.
What to Include in a Job Description
The Small Business Administration says a job description should be practical, precise and accurate, to effectively define your business’s needs.
Good job descriptions typically begin with a careful analysis of the relevant facts about a job, such as:
- Individual tasks involved;
- Methods used to complete the tasks;
- Purpose and responsibilities of the position;
- Relationship of the job to other jobs;
- Qualifications needed for the job.
The SBA says that a good job description will include the job title, objective or overall purpose statement, a summary of the general nature and level of the job and a description of the broad function and scope of the position. It should also include a list of duties, critical responsibilities and a description of the relationships and roles within the company, including supervisors.
The job recruiting site Monster.com has this to say about what job descriptions should include:
“The process of writing a job description requires having a clear understanding of the job’s duties and responsibilities. The job posting should also include a concise picture of the skills required for the position to attract qualified job candidates. Organize the job description into five sections: Company Information, Job Description, Job Requirements, Benefits and a Call to Action. Be sure to include keywords that will help make your job posting searchable. A well-defined job description will help attract qualified candidates, as well as help reduce employee turnover in the long run.”
(Note: Monster has a list of sample job descriptions intended to help in writing yours.)
A RecruitLoop ebook — “The Ultimate Guide to Candidate Attraction” — states that a job description should be no longer than one page and include a brief company overview (including location), list of duties, core competencies and a brief explanation as to what the job offers regarding company culture, benefits and salary.
The ebook also referenced a concept called “Performance Profiles,” in which it says “to determine whether a candidate will excel in the job … you actually need to define your expectations of success in the role from the outset … As an employer looking to hire somebody new, even before they come on board you should be able to define their performance in terms of the successes you hope they will achieve.”
It adds that expectations should be measurable, to enable you to better screen and interview candidates and benchmark a new employee’s success on the job.
Job Description Language and Tone
Language and tone are important when writing a job description or ad. Carefully consider these pointers:
Focus on Company Culture
According to Sabrina Baker, owner of Acacia Solutions, an HR consulting firm, who spoke with Small Business Trends via phone, company culture should
“You should use the language and tone that best represents your company culture,” she said. “If, for example, your company represents an open culture (such as a young tech firm), then reflect that in the tone of the ad. If it’s more traditional, use more formal language.”
Make Each Statement Crisp and Clear
The SBA says to make each statement crisp and clear using the classic verb/object structure. There is no need to reference the job occupant, however, since the person is the subject.
For example, a sentence about the description of a receptionist position might read: “Greets office visitors and personnel in a friendly and sincere manner.”
Keeping a sentence crisp also means clearing out the clutter by omitting articles such as “a,” “an,” “the” or other unnecessary words.
Use Present Tense in Verbs
The SBA also recommends the use the present tense of verbs and, when necessary, explanatory phrases telling why, how, where or how often, to add meaning and clarity (e.g., “Collects all employee timesheets on a bi-weekly basis for payroll purposes.”)
Make Titles Accurate
In an email to Small Business Trends, RecruitLoop’s Slezak said, “The actual position title must accurately reflect what your new team member will be doing in the role. Don’t make it too vague or ‘creative.’ You will just confuse people or perhaps even put them off. Internally you might decide to call your receptionist the ‘Director of First Impressions,’ but on a job description it should just say ‘Receptionist.’”
Construct sentences using the “he/she” approach or that negates the use of gender pronouns altogether, the SBA advises. Also, refrain from using adverbs or adjectives that are subject to interpretation, such as “frequently,” “some,” “complex,” “occasional” and “several.”
Include Salary Information — or Not
One concern of employers is whether or not to include salary information in job descriptions or ads.
“Most companies don’t do it,” says Baker, ” but if you’re comfortable with it, then, by all means, go ahead.”
She warns, however, that including a salary range lets candidates know the highest level. “Everyone will ask for that,” she says.
Slezak was more adamant. “Job ads and job descriptions are two entirely different beasts,” he said. “A job description doesn’t need to refer to salary whereas a job ad must include salary.”
How to Write a Job Ad: Best Practices
Once you’ve written the job description, it’s time to compose and run the job ad.
The ad is necessary because “it’s likely the first place a candidate will look and where your business has the best opportunity to capture their attention and interest,” says Baker.
She distinguishes the difference between a job ad and job description by saying that the job description is primarily for internal use while an ad is outwardly-facing and designed to attract candidates.
“Most companies used job descriptions in their ads, which puts them at a disadvantage,” she said.
Instead, Baker prescribes that to attract the best candidates, companies should include information about their culture, such as what makes them a great place to work and what separates them from competitors.
“While you should include a basic description of duties, your primary purpose is to highlight what makes your company stand out from your competitors,” she said. “That’s not something a lot of companies do, which puts you ahead of the game.”
Baker added that, in a job description, you should include information about the candidate’s duties and expectations. Also, list the minimum level of requirements and indicate that you will only accept those people who you consider meeting those.
“Be specific, to mitigate against unqualified candidates applying,” she says.
Where to Post Job Ads
Post job ads on the following sites, to gain the most visibility:
- Indeed.com is a job search engine that aggregates information from other locations. You can post a job and run keyword-specific pay-per-click ads.
- LinkedIn, the business social network, is a popular recruiting destination due to its 300 million member contingent. It offers the ability to post jobs and search for candidates. Unlike other sites, LinkedIn lets employers learn about candidates through profiles that detail their employment history, skills and personal recommendations.
- Glassdoor is a job and recruiting marketplace focused on transparency. It combines free and anonymous reviews, ratings and salary content with job listings. The site also offers recruiting and employer branding solutions to help attract candidates.
- Monster is a traditional job posting site that lets employers post jobs and search for candidates.
- Workable allows companies post to multiple job boards with a single submission. These include sites such as Indeed, Monster, Simply Hired, LinkedIn, Glassdoor and others.
(Workable has an extensive list of job sites on its website, which include outlets devoted to industry verticals, such as Flexjobs (freelance, telecommute), Behance (design), Dice (tech) and AngelList (startups). Another resource, Betterteam, a recruiting management software company, contains a list of 50 top job posting sites. )
As you can see, a lot more goes into writing a job description or ad than meets the eye. Follow the advice contained in this guide to lure more qualified candidates.