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Time To Rethink Your Job Descriptions? Here’s How

"Rather than thinking about job descriptions from a recruiter viewpoint, instead think about them as a candidate." Written by Tunde Makinde, Talent Lead at Talentful (London).

I know what you must be thinking. “Surely not another article about job descriptions?” How much have job descriptions changed over the last five to ten years to warrant such a wealth of material? There are amazingly 3,320,000,000 different search results on Google at a recent count when the phrase “Job Description” is searched for.

What could possibly be said that hasn’t already been said hundreds or thousands of times before? Well, rather than thinking about job descriptions from a recruiter viewpoint, instead think about them as a candidate. 

When searching online for a job, what things are you looking for the most? The key things you are looking for will depend partly on what type of job you are most interested in. For example, if you are a Developer, then the Tech stack would be super important. But for the purpose of this article, let’s assume you are looking for a Talent Acquisition role. I know, a bit of a stretch!

Ok, so let’s take a look at the key things you want to know as a candidate:

  • Salary
  • Can I do the job?
  • Opportunities for career progression
  • Sense of company culture
  • What exactly does the company do?

Salary

It goes without saying that the salary is probably the number one thing a candidate will want to know. However, companies are still, on the whole, reasonably hesitant in sharing this information, possibly because they think it will give their competitors a competitive advantage.

Only 12% of employers list the salary range when advertising in the U.S. But certainly, from a candidate perspective, this saves a lot of time if the salary bracket is known from the outset and you can self-select yourself in or out on that basis. 

Some would even argue that a total lack of information about salaries risks you not receiving applications from different demographics in the marketplace. Other company benefits are also significant, and thankfully, most job descriptions now include a short section detailing what these are.

Can I Do The Job?

A good job profile should indicate what experience the successful candidate should have. There is no point applying for a job if it’s one that you can’t do or you are not qualified to do. However, that doesn’t stop many candidates from sending an unsuitable application. 

In some ways, this is one of the disadvantages of modern application processes – it has become too easy! Back in the day, to apply for a job, one would need to request an application form either in person or by phone, fill in the tedious 10-page form and then send it in the post and hope it gets seen by the right person. These days it’s often a one or two-click process, and there lies the problem. Now recruiters have to wade through tens and hundreds of CV’s before finding relevant profiles.

Instead of writing “the candidate must have five years sourcing experience,” you could rephrase it as “the ideal candidate could have five years of sourcing experience”. This leaves the decision in the hands of the applicant as to whether they are suitable or not.

To make the requirements even more inclusive, you can separate the mandatory requirements from the desirable requirements. It has been said that certain demographics will only apply for a role if they are sure they fulfil all the requirements. Separating and prioritising the requirements may encourage applicants that would have otherwise hesitated to apply.

Opportunity For Career Progression

For more mature companies, mapping out available career paths is realistic and something that will go down well. For example, if the role is a “Junior Graphic Designer”, you could mention that the role will develop into becoming a Graphic Designer after one year once they have developed and delivered in their position. 

This sense of certainty and a clear process is not always possible for startups and less established businesses, so instead, you can reference the fact that employees create their own career paths, and there are infinite opportunities as the business continues to grow.

Sense Of Culture 

This is an interesting one. Sometimes you can get a sense of this in the way the job description is written and not necessarily what is included in the content of the job description. Is it written less informally with a sense of humor, or is the tone of voice pretty conservative and corporate?

Use the right tone for your company. An informal, conversational tone may not be suitable for everyone. It may turn off candidates at a high-powered investment bank. However, this is just the kind of thing you would associate with a fast-growth tech startup and may help attract the right kind of candidates to this type of setup. So, it depends on the type of company you are working for.

What The Company Does

As a recruiter, you will want to include a short description of what the company does, particularly if the company is a startup and is not well known. 48% of candidates may see your advert and have no previous knowledge of the company. One does not need to go overboard with detail here as there is always the option to include a link to the company website if the candidate wants to find out more. 

However, a candidate does not merely want to find out what a company does. They also want to know what makes that company different and why people are attracted to go and work for them.

A Content Manager at LinkedIn did some research three years ago, which showed a heatmap of a standard job description and what sections candidates found the most useful. Unsurprisingly, the compensation section was a clear winner in terms of what candidates want to find out the most, which is ironic as this is often the one thing that is the most difficult to obtain from employers on their job descriptions.

Other Considerations

There are thought leaders who will tell you passionately to cut out all bullet points. However, I think it’s a personal preference. Some people prefer prose, and others prefer to get straight to the salient points in bullet point form. I don’t think there is one rule for all.

In terms of design, you may want to use images and embed videos, but while this may work on the company website, the links may not work in the ATS or job boards like LinkedIn. To make sure the advert performs as well as it can you’ll want to ensure the first paragraph includes several keywords. 

For example, if you are looking for an AWS Developer, then making sure keywords like “AWS” and/or “developer” and/or “coding” appear in the first paragraph is really important. Having a clear job title is also related to this. Job boards use search engine optimization (SEO) techniques, so if your job cannot be searched for easily, it can’t be applied to.

According to Glassdoor, over half of job seekers are now coming from mobile, so make sure your job description is mobile friendly by perhaps having less text in the copy, so that copy sections show up less bulky on a phone screen. 

The ideal length is often said to be 200 to 500 words. Hold on (I hear you say), so I’ve got to do all the above but make sure it’s no longer than 500 words? 

That’s according to an analysis of the best performing job descriptions by job portal Builtin. So, if there is anything else you thought about including, perhaps hold this back, keep the advert concise, and reveal the extra information when you get the opportunity to speak with the candidate.

Lastly, don’t forget that call to action to spur the candidate to apply.

Even though technology has dramatically changed over the last twenty years, the job description itself hasn’t changed as much as we sometimes think. It remains an integral part of the job application process, so it’s essential to get it right because, as the saying goes, you don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression!

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