Write (Way Better) Job Descriptions for Recruiting: Your Starter Guide

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How do you write a job description that sparks excitement and entices candidates to apply? This guide will answer your questions and get you started.

Close up of hands holding phone displaying a job description

Credit: Christian De Pape

A job description could draw hordes of fantastic candidates. It could attract a few unqualified applicants. Or it could get no response at all. Often, the difference is in the writing. How do you draft an attention-grabbing, excitement-sparking, application-getting job description?

This guide will explore that question with you. Together, we’ll review job description basics, look at a quick shortcut you can use to assemble a starter draft, and learn about copywriting techniques that will help you reach qualified job seekers and entice them to apply.

Contents

  1. The basics
  2. Put together a draft
  3. Make it enticing to candidates

The basics

Definition of job description

What is a job description, really?

A job description is a written statement about a specific position inside an organization. It will usually list the purpose, duties, and working conditions of the role along with the skills, background, and traits necessary to perform it.

The job description might include:

  • The job’s title
  • Who the position reports to
  • Who the position oversees
  • Skills, abilities, education, and experience required to perform the role
  • Names of departments, teams, projects, committees or regions the position is a member of or oversees
  • Work hours, availability or travel required by the position
  • A description of workplace conditions
  • A salary range, pay grade, or list of benefits the position is entitled to

How is it used?

A job description will often serve or be adapted for both internal and external purposes.

Empty desk chair

Internal

The document is used to:

  • requisition a new hire,
  • assess and select candidates, and
  • track the employee’s performance.

A job description written explicitly for internal use might also be called a job specification.

Job posting on a computer screen

External

A job description is used to:

  • advertise an opening,
  • attract applications, and
  • communicate expectations to candidates.

A job description prepared for external use might also be referred to as a job posting, job listing, or job ad.

Who writes the job description?

Often, the best person to write the initial job description is the incumbent employee. They have first-hand knowledge of the tasks, duties, and skills necessary to thrive in the position. If that is not possible, for example when a role is new, the hiring manager should write the job description. A human resources staff member may also assist.

When a job description will be posted to job boards or the organization’s careers page to advertise an opening, it is preferable to rewrite the document using marketing techniques. It should also incorporate an introduction to the organization, a depiction of the workplace culture, and a pitch for why someone would want the position. A recruitment marketing specialist or copywriter can restructure the job description, write new content, and incorporate language to make the advertisement enticing.

However, in many organizations, the task of writing and adapting job descriptions falls to recruiters.

Put together a draft

When a role opens, the first thing you want to do is find out if there is already a job description. If one exists, sit down with the hiring manager. Go through it, section by section, and make sure the details remains accurate and up to date.

If no job description exists, these four steps will help you pull together a starter draft:

Notepad

1. Start a template

Open a new document and type out the headings: Title, Role Overview, Responsibilities, Qualifications, and Details.

Search icon on computer screen

2. Search job sites

Browse websites like Indeed, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and Monster to find similar openings.

Scissors

3. Collect snippets

As you read the postings, copy useful details and paste them into your document.

Job description

4. Refine the draft

Edit the snippets to align with the role at your organization. Organize into a logical order.

Make it enticing to candidates

When you post and promote a job description, you’re using it to fulfill a recruitment marketing objective: convert qualified job seekers into applicants. The document should be rewritten for its target audience and the action you want them to take.

Often, recruiters don’t. But that’s a shortsighted mistake. It fails to recognize the connection between talent acquisition and marketing. Your opening competes with all the others ones out there. And your job description competes for attention among the limited number of qualified candidates.

These best practices and copywriting techniques will help you rework a boring business document into an appealing and persuasive read:


Compass measuring tool

Get descriptive with the job title

Avoid jargon, acronyms, and buzzwords. Don’t be cute. Instead, strive for precision. A clear, descriptive job title will rank higher in search engines. It will also earn more views; folks don’t click unless they feel they know what they’re clicking on.

Instead of this

Sales Super-Agent

Say this

Mobile Advertising Sales Agent, Western Region

Instead of this

Expert Developer

Say this

Lead iOS Application Developer

How to do it
  1. Outlaw ninjas, rockstars, superstars, gurus, etc.
  2. Incorporate important search keywords.
  3. Include objective descriptors (Either you know mobile ad sales or you don’t).
  4. Avoid subjective descriptors (How do you define an “expert”?).



Construction crane

Structure it to persuade

Good copywriting gets someone to do something. A good job description gets a qualified candidate to apply for the role. But before your reader will act, they must decide to act. Use structure to lead them through the decision-making process towards your desired outcome.

1. Hook

Grab their attention and make them want to discover more.

Example:

Talent acquisition can save lives.

2. Excite

Fire their interest in the role. Reveal what’s in it for them.

Example:

Find the people whose engineering brilliance will reduce emergency room deaths.

3. Qualify

Outline requirements. Help the reader self-select.

Example:

You have tech recruiting experience at a medical technology company.

4. Trigger

Identify the next step and explicitly tell them to do it.

Example:

The application isn’t long. Just send us your LinkedIn profile.

How to do it:

Start by talking about your target audience: give a strong statement or ask a bold question.

Next, communicate your employer value proposition: make your biggest promises.

Only then should you start talking about the role or company.

Incorporate testimonials from employees, your culture video, and photos of the team.

Right before the call to action, take away the reader’s excuses to say “no.” Address a common concern, share an impressive data point, or reaffirm your values and mission.



Talking head

Write it as you’d say it

Be relaxed and friendly. Imagine you’re telling a colleague about the job. How would you describe it? What would you say? Write that.

Instead of this

The ideal candidate excels in a fast-paced work environment.

Say this

You love it when things get busy.

How to do it
  1. Say it out loud. Write down what you say, word for word.
  2. Read it out loud. Does it sound natural?
  3. Use contractions, broken syntax, and other casual stuff that shows up in conversation.



Two smiley faces shaking hands

Talk about “you” not “we”

Don’t focus on the company. Focus on the relevance of the role to the reader. Do this by talking about “you,” the candidate, not “we,” the employer.

Instead of this

Our recruiters use social media to find passive talent and get them excited about our clients’ roles.

Say this

You’ll use social media sourcing techniques to find passive talent and get them excited about working for innovative, fast-growing companies.

How to do it
  1. Write the job description in the second person: “you,” “you’ll,” and “your.”
  2. Use five “you’s” for every “we.”
  3. Write it with every sentence starting with “you.”



Magic wand

Turn features into benefits

A feature is what the job offers or entails. A benefit is how that feature will improve the employee’s life. Features describe, benefits sell. Focus on the latter.

Instead of this

The talent acquisition specialist will work with the applicant tracking system to import resumes, sort candidate data, and generate reports.⠀

Say this

You’ll spend less time managing software. Our new ATS lets you import resumes with one click, quickly find data from an intuitive dashboard, and effortlessly generate reports (no more spreadsheets!).⠀

How to do it

For each statement you write, imagine a skeptical candidate, brow furrowed and fists planted on hips, saying “So what?”

Answer them:

“We offer a remote work program.”
“Yeah, so what?”
“You’ll spend less time commuting and more time with your family.”



Reading glasses

Format for breezy reading

The easier it is to skim, the more likely it will be read!

Instead of this

Qualifications include two years experience in a talent acquisition capacity, familiarity with introductory social media and internet-based candidate sourcing methodologies, experience utilizing enterprise-level applicant tracking systems, and a committed team player mentality.

Say this

ABOUT YOU
2 years experience in talent acquisition. Know the social-media sourcing basics. Can find your way around an enterprise ATS.

Most important: You’re a team player.

How to do it
  1. Choose simple words and omit needless ones.
  2. Write short sentences and paragraphs.
  3. Break up text with subheadings.
  4. Limit bulleted lists to five points.



Bullseye

Make the next step easy

Word your call to action to minimize the effort needed and maximize its appeal. The easier the action, the more likely candidates will do it.

Instead of this

Apply now!

Say this

Start your application!

Instead of this

Submit a general application for future consideration.

Say this

Hear about future openings: Add your name to our list.

How to do it
  1. Identify the candidate action you want.
  2. Can you reduce the effort?
  3. Can you increase the appeal?



Hand making the peace sign

Ask a variety of people for feedback

You don’t want to exclude anybody you don’t have to. But gendered terms, coded words, unnecessarily restrictive qualifications, cultural references, and other forms of unconscious bias can be tough to spot on your own. Invite people from various backgrounds, identities, and communities to review your job description.

Ask for frank feedback:

  • Would they apply for the job?
  • Do any parts of the description turn them off, or make them feel excluded?
  • Could you change the wording to appeal to a more inclusive audience?

You may also want to check out software engineer Kat Matfield’s Gender Decoder tool and the resources on writing inclusive job descriptions from re:Work and Project Include.


Explore more resources



Christian De Pape, Recruiting Social’s Head of Marketing and Content
About the author

Christian De Pape is the head of brand experience at Recruiting Social. Connect with him on LinkedIn.


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