Rethinking job descriptions: How impact descriptions can attract better candidates
I think you’ll agree with me when I say: Writing job descriptions is one of the most tedious jobs hiring managers have to undertake. Side note: At JobAdder, we take the tedious out by automating the process of posting jobs to multiple boards.
All too often, hiring managers stick rigidly to the same uninspiring template someone created years ago when trying to attract qualified candidates. The rationale for doing so usually goes something like:
“This is the way we always write a job description, and that seems to work just fine.”
It’s not difficult to spot the glaring flaw in this logic. How do you know your job descriptions are performing well if you’ve only ever used one style and format? You’ve got nothing to compare them to. To attract a higher calibre of candidate, you must be willing to break with tradition.
WATCH NOW: Discover vital tips from recruitment expert Barbara Bruno on overcoming talent shortages
What’s wrong with typical job descriptions?
Monster conducted a large candidate survey on job specifications which revealed some interesting insights. Of 2,030 candidates, 64% said they wouldn’t respond to a job description with a vague or confusing job title. In addition, 57% reported that they found jargon in job descriptions “annoying”.
Writing quality job descriptions clearly play a significant role when candidates are deciding on a role. So those who take the time to get it right have a distinct advantage.
This is especially true for smaller organisations. Without a recognisable brand or wealth of funding to fall back on, there’s less room for error. Terrible job descriptions will still receive plenty of applications when posted on job boards, if the advertised salary is well above the market average. Similarly, jobs posted by easily recognisable brands will always generate a lot of candidate interest, regardless of how the description reads.
Smaller organisations don’t have this luxury. For them, job descriptions should be thought of as vital recruitment marketing tools to highlight the organisation’s mission, culture, and exciting ongoing projects. Not just another box to tick.
Failing to understand the audience
Most generic job description templates suffer from the same problem: they give zero consideration to the target audience. They are written to appeal to the needs of the employer, not the job seeker. Usually, they read like a laundry list of required experience and qualifications. Responsibilities and requirements don’t exactly spark excitement in potential hires (or anybody else for that matter).
When a candidate reads a job description, the question most likely going through their mind is “What will I get out of this role?” If they don’t get a solid answer, they won’t be rushing to click apply. If you came across a job description that looked like it had been thrown together last minute, with vague duties and responsibilities, you’d probably have some doubts about working for the company who wrote it.
Taking the easy option
If generic templates are that bad, why are they so widespread? Well, the answer is simple. They’re quick and easy to make and don’t require much thought or planning. And they do generate applications. But usually from a flood of candidates who aren’t up to the demands of the role. Lots of precious time is then wasted sifting through poorly matched CVs.
This is not to say that internal recruitment is lazy. Far from it. In smaller organisations they’re usually significantly under-resourced and struggling just to keep their heads above water.
So the idea of finding time to carefully craft job descriptions can seem like a complete pipedream. Where are the extra hours going to come from?
There’s no getting around it. Good writing takes time. It takes thought, care, and creativity to present a role in a way that speaks directly to the things candidates care about most.
So if you’re serious about improving your job descriptions, you need to make them a priority by blocking out time in your calendar to give them your full attention.
It should be thought of as an investment. It will actually save time and money in the long run by helping your team define, attract, and hire better candidates.
Rethinking job descriptions
To stand out from the crowd, your job descriptions will need to tell a better story than your competitors who are after the same candidates. So before getting started, it’s important to take a step back and consider what aspects of the role you should be emphasising.
We spoke to recruitment expert Mitch Sullivan for his thoughts on what candidates really want to see. Mitch has more than 25 years of recruitment experience and recently published On Recruitment, a collection of his most popular blogs. Alongside his continued work in the industry, he also coaches recruiters on how to write better job descriptions. Here’s what he had to say:
“For me, what most of the best candidates want to know is what the particular challenge of the role is going to be. Often that means knowing what’s not working currently and how the candidate might fix it. A lot of people are goal-driven and having a clear idea on what difference they’d be making is important to them – but it needs to be expressed as an opportunity rather than simply a list of tasks and responsibilities.
“Doing this would help hiring managers think more deeply about the job that has to be done and to be honest about what’s not working as well as they’d like. Equally, if the job has no real challenge and just requires a candidate to keep things ticking over, that needs to be said as well. Most job descriptions give very little insight into the realities of the job which is why so many people leave in the first 6 months.”
Your job description should paint a clear and honest picture of what life will be like in the role. And ultimately, what most candidates are motivated by is knowing how their work will actually make an impact. Nobody wants to feel like they’ll simply be another faceless cog in a machine.
Enter the impact description
Forward-thinking organisations are now abandoning traditional lists of generic skills in favour of performance-based or “impact” descriptions. These give a much more meaningful overview of what the role will involve. They focus on what the candidate is expected to own, learn, and improve once they’re in the job, as well as outlining how the role is expected to progress over time.
So what do you need to do? Here are six things to consider when crafting your own impact description.
Work closely with hiring managers
You can’t write a good impact description without significant input from your hiring manager. After all, they’re the ones who best understand the realities of the role and job responsibilities. Set up an initial meeting with your hiring manager to collect all the information you’ll need (more on this below). Once you’ve created an initial draft, sit down with them again to review it and make any suggested changes.
Get the title right
Although they may seem quirky and cool titles like “Marketing Ninja” or “Rockstar Developer” are best avoided. They’re too open to interpretation and they aren’t popular search terms. Most candidates search for roles that closely align with their previous experience, so using unusual terms in job titles can cause confusion and put people off from applying. If the role is in customer service, don’t frame it vaguely by calling it a “Success Agent”.
Using industry-standard language is a safer bet. Title the role based on what is likely to be the most searched-for term by candidates. You can use free SEO tools such as Google Keyword Planner or Moz to help with this. If you have several different title options, choose the one with the highest monthly search volume on Google.
Begin with an engaging overview
Summarise the role in four or less sentences. Your overview should outline the jobs major function and how it contributes to overall company objectives. As a rule of thumb, your initial overview should concisely answer the question “How will this role contribute to solving existing business or social problems?”
Focus on what candidates actually care about
As Mitch Sullivan indicated, most top tier candidates are motivated by challenging work, opportunities to learn and grow, and being able to make a tangible impact. Use your initial meeting with your hiring manager to drill down on the following areas:
Paint a clear picture of the kind of interesting problems they’ll be working on. Give them some real substance, not boring fluff about responsibilities.
Opportunities to learn and grow
Great candidates generally fear boredom and stagnation. Highlight how your role will help advance their career by providing plenty of opportunities to grow their skills and learn from other smart people.
Making an impact
Show how their work will impact their department, the organisation as a whole, and if applicable, the wider industry. Be honest and upfront here. Don’t promise the world and fail to deliver. Small but tangible contributions are still meaningful.
After discussing these areas with your hiring manager, talking with current employees is a great way to dive even further into the specifics. When creating an impact description, it’s often extremely helpful to bring a group of recent hires and longer-term high performers together in the same room to discuss:
- The kinds of work they find most challenging and engaging
- How they’ve grown and developed in the role
- How they conceptualise the impact they’re making
According to a 2018 LinkedIn study, 450 candidates were shown an example of a job description. Unsurprisingly 61% of those candidates said that details about salary are the most important part of a job description.
Focus on what matters, as this information can help you to know what information candidates prioritise when they’re reading your job descriptions.
Having this information to hand is what will allow you to create a compelling impact description.
Sell benefits, not features
You’re a Fortune 500 company? That’s great. But the reality is, candidates don’t really care. It doesn’t mean anything to them personally.
Matter-of-fact descriptors like this and others such as “two million customers”, “startup”, and “new team” are features. You should convert these features into benefits by giving them meaning that appeals to candidates.
You should review some of your standard descriptors and answer the question “so what?” for your readers. For example, if you are a startup – does that mean candidates will get to play a larger role, be more involved in key business and technical decisions, or get more stuff done in a shorter amount of time? Sell the benefits, not the features.
The details matter
Good candidates will judge your organisation on seemingly tiny details. After all, you do the same with their CV. Spell check, grammar check, and proofread your impact description then go back and do it again.
In addition, do your best to create an efficient reading experience. Put all of the key information at the beginning of the description and use bullets and lists so candidates can quickly and easily scan through it.
Impact description template
As previously mentioned, an over-reliance on job description templates has created the problems we see today. But it’s still helpful to know what you’re aiming for. So once you’ve followed the advice above, what should the finished product look like? Below is an example impact description template to make sure you’ve got all the key components checked off.
(This is by no means the only way to present an impact description, it’s just a suggested guide. Feel free to get creative!)
[Job title optimised for search]
Use Google Keyword Planner or Moz to choose the most searched relevant job title.
Briefly state your company’s mission and strategy.
At Finimize we’re on a mission to empower everyone to become their own financial advisor. Providing the information and tools our users need to invest with confidence.
Summarise the key contributions of the role.
[A day in the life]
Provide insight into the practical day-to-day realities of the role.
- Develop new user-facing features
- Build reusable code and libraries for future use
- Ensure the technical feasibility of UI/UX designs
- Optimise applications for maximum speed and scalability
- Assist Tech Lead in planning technical changes and adjustments
- Assure that all user input is validated before submitting to back-end services
- Collaborate with other team members, Designers, and Product Managers in the delivery of new features.
State the expected progression of the role over a 6 month period.
Within 1 month, you’ll:
- Complete our developer onboarding process.
- Meet your team and learn the nuts and bolts of our business, and where we’re going.
- Familiarise yourself with our technology by pair-programming with teammates and attending training sessions presented by your peers.
Within 3 months, you’ll:
Within 6 months, you’ll:
State the things you consider critical to be able to perform well in this role. Stick to the essentials, don’t go overboard.
- You get things done
- Keen to help architect solutions and scale a product
- A high bar for how things you build both work and look
- Enjoy brainstorming product and technical ideas
- Excited by the idea of scaling apps to millions of users
- 3+ years relevant experience, with solid knowledge of:
- Web markup, including HTML5 and CSS3
- Angular & ReactJS
- Front-end build tools, such as Grunt and Gulp.js
- Cross-browser compatibility issues and ways to solve them
- A strong desire to keep learning new things!
[What sets us apart?]
Provide a list of perks, benefits, and any other unique selling points of your organisation. Sell the benefits, not the features.
- Work directly with the founding team
- Work with a team that has a proven track record
- You’ll gain experience in some of the hottest technology going and will be encouraged to broaden your skills across front-end, back-end and DevOps
- Regular social events
- Very generous equity
- Your own personal development budget
- Special rates for local gym memberships
- Free iPhone
Barbara Bruno reveals her tips for overcoming talent shortages in our free on-demand webinar.
Related blog posts
Proactive recruitment is all about sourcing and nurturing talent before you need it, building diverse talent pools that you can …
Temp recruitment can be a crucial component of your dual-desk recruitment agency’s long-term success, but there are a few mistakes …