How to Write an Effective Job Description


April 14, 2015


Hiring great talent starts with attracting the right candidates. To do that requires an engaging job description targeted to exactly the audience you're trying to reach. Here, three recruiting and job search experts share their tips, tricks and hacks for writing job descriptions sure to attract elite talent.

How to write an effective job description

Hiring great talent starts with attracting the right talent. To do that requires an effective, engaging job description targeted to exactly the audience you're trying to reach, and getting those potential candidates excited about their potential with your organization.

"The best job descriptions combine a little bit of marketing, the reality of the role, the necessary skills and competencies and the organization's culture. All those things put together are key to how to present an open role to the market," says Justin Cerilli, managing director, financial services and technology for Russell Reynolds and Associates, an executive search and leadership transition firm. Nowadays, in addition to the standard role descriptions, education and experience requirements and skills needed, recruiters and hiring managers must place extra emphasis on culture, mission and values to avoid making a bad hire. Here, three recruiting and job search experts share their tips, tricks and hacks for writing job descriptions sure to attract elite talent.

Get the job title right

You want to be creative and engaging and make sure your job title gets attention, but don't be so esoteric that you miss out on people who are searching for the same job under a different name. Integrate industry standard language and titles so potential candidates won't miss your company because they're searching for roles using different nomenclature, says Colin Day, founder and CEO of SaaS-based recruiting software solution platform iCIMS.

"Keep in mind that your company and the open job have to be found. In order to do that, step out of your own company's mind and internal terminology. If you call it 'client relationship manager,' and they're searching for the more commonly used 'account manager,' you're going to miss out on those candidates," he says.

Focus roles and responsibilities on growth, development, change

Don't just list a bunch of daily tasks, but rather explain how the job will contribute to the direction the business is heading, the potential for advancement, and how candidates' achievements and accomplishments can contribute to that. "You want candidates to be excited about your company and the transformation happening in the industry. Start by including a bit about what the company's doing within the larger industry, how technology enables that, and how the company, the role and their skills and knowledge can further their growth and development," Cerilli says.

"While you should place emphasis on the technical specs, the skills and experience needed for the role, make sure the job description is also exciting and engaging," says Day, "You could include something like, 'We're anticipating growth beyond 20 percent this year,' or 'Be part of a team that will add X number of new accounts'. You want to attract candidates who are goal- and action-oriented, so make your job description reflect that."

Involve current employees and workers in writing the job description

In many cases, job descriptions reside in a file somewhere in the HR department, unearthed only when a role is vacated; these descriptions often remain static for years and don't reflect the current skills, culture and experience needs, says John Reed, senior executive director, Robert Half Technology.

"Involving the current team will help fine-tune the description and help determine the skills necessary to do well in the role. Knowing what your team needs and the type of candidate that will be a cultural fit will be crucial for long-term success," Reed says.

This will also help rule out some non-negotiable items that may deter an applicant -- posting something like "Requires +5 years of .NET experience" will seem like an absolute, but explaining that they'll use .NET skills in a certain way will leave the door open for those who excel in that area but may have fewer years under their belt.

"The people you already have know best exactly what the job entails, and will be able to fine-tune the description and tell you what kinds of people will do best in the role -- and, if they refer candidates, it can help you find people they'll actually want to work with!" says

Create some urgency for the position

Even if you're not desperate to fill an open position, you want candidates to feel a sense of urgency and be compelled to apply, even if they're currently happily employed, says Reed. Posting specific start dates can help, as will including contact information for an individual person rather than a generic email address.

Culture, culture, culture

"Culture is everything in recruitment. Everything eventually comes back to a candidate asking themselves, 'Will I be a good fit and really enjoy working there?', so it's critical that culture is all over a job description," says Cerilli.

This is a great way to try and highlight some of the benefits, perks and workplace bonuses employees can expect, says Day. Do you have an on-site gym? Free food? Flexible schedules? Remote work opportunities? Happy hour Fridays? Shout it out in the job description.

"Cultural fit is just as much of importance to both employees and employers as technical and experience fit, if not more so. A bad hire costs money and drains productivity; a lack of culture fit and employee engagement increases turnover, so you've got to get it right," Cerilli says.

The devil's in the details

Candidates are judging your firm on the tiniest details. Make sure you spell-check, do a grammar check and proofread your job description. Then, go back and do it again.

"In addition to spelling and grammar, avoid using too much jargon or too many clichés -- just as hiring managers will judge a resume, candidates will do the same to a sloppy job posting. Be sure to pay attention to the esthetics of the posting -- try and put all of the key information at the beginning of the description and use bullets and lists so candidates can quickly and easily scan the information," Reed says.

Make the process as interactive and innovative as you can

Candidates on the job hunt spend a lot of their time poring over written job descriptions; if you have the ability to add creative or innovative touches, you can be sure of catching their eye and their interest.

"Reading hundreds, even thousands of job descriptions is so tedious. Do you have the capability to accept video cover letters? Can you add a video spot with the hiring manager or with potential colleagues where they explain the job and why they love to work for the company? This is a major differentiator, and candidates definitely take notice," Day says.

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How to Write an Effective Job Description