Job Descriptions: Getting Back to Basics

job descriptions: getting back to basics

There’s a lot of advice floating around the internet about how to create job announcements that attract attention. Should you try video? (hint: yes!) Should you get rid of old boilerplate formatting? Probably. But at heart, there are four basic things that every job seeker is looking for, and a good job description must include these to attract the right job seekers and find the perfect candidate.

Job Descriptions: Getting Back to Basics

1. Who Would I Be Working For?

This is your opportunity to say who your company is and what you do, but more than that, why a candidate would want to work for you. What is your mission? What is it that sets your organization apart? What brings your employees back every day, ready to give their all? The description can be brief, but it should make candidates want to take a second look.

2. What is the Job?

A good job description is exactly that – a description of the job. In order to know what the role does, start by talking to the experts: the people doing the job right now. This is the time to ask probing questions. Don’t settle for a list of tasks. You want to get beyond that to identify the why. What is the piece of the organizational puzzle that this role fills? If each role had a mission statement, what would be the mission statement for this job?

A good description should give a sense of what the daily responsibilities look like – does the person in this role interact with customers regularly? Are they part of a team working toward the same goal, or a lone subject matter expert providing consultation to the company? No description will be exhaustive; hit the highlights. Be sure to include the things that are most common, along with parts of the job that might be less time consuming but have great importance. Be clear, though, where most time is spent.

3. Am I Qualified?

This is where you look at competencies and qualifications. Again, this involves asking probing questions of the employees doing the job and the hiring manager. If they say candidates need 3 years of experience, ask why. Maybe they think that by the time someone has been doing this job for three years, they have learned certain specific skills. If so, list those skills, rather than years of experience. If you are a hospitality organization and want a payroll specialist who understands shift work and its payroll implications, the qualification isn’t someone who has worked in hospitality, but someone who has experience with shift work and variable pay rates. Be as clear and specific as you can.

Some roles obviously require degrees: lawyers, doctors, scientists. Others may require a degree and/or experience. In both cases, the degree is specific to the role. A doctor needs a medical degree. An HR professional might be able to substitute some years of experience by having a degree in Human Resources. A degree in political science, however, doesn’t make someone more qualified for an entry level administrative job. Yet many companies require degrees even for entry level employees. Be selective with degree requirements; decide whether they are truly necessary, whether they might be a substitute for experience (or if experience can count in lieu of the degree), or if the degree requirement can be eliminated altogether. A thoughtful, well written list of competencies can often eliminate the need for a degree requirement and will bring in a more qualified pool of applicants.

4. Will I Fit In?

Finally, job seekers need to see themselves in your job description. Is the company one they want to work for? Does the job sound exciting? Are they qualified for this role? Beyond that, they want to know that they will have a place in your organization. If you have a diversity statement, make sure it’s included. A standard EEO statement tells women, candidates of color, candidates who are disabled, and others that you are following the law, but that’s it. Can they picture themselves working in that environment?

Research shows that men apply for jobs where they meet 60% of the qualifications, and women tend to apply only if they meet 100%. Be careful that your list of competencies and qualifications are not overlong, effectively barring some women from even applying. Words also matter. Do research and make sure your job descriptions aren’t gender-coded to exclude women.

There are lots of bells and whistles you can use to get job seekers to check out your announcements, and they are worth exploring. But before you do that, make sure you have the basics covered. Bells and whistles may grab attention, but solid content will help turn the right job seekers into serious candidates.

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Anne Tomkinson

Anne Tomkinson, SHRM-SCP, is an HR professional working in Washington, DC. She is passionate about diversity, equity and inclusion, and wants every HR practitioner to be an active thought partner in their organization. She blogs at HR Underground and you can connect with her on Twitter and LinkedIn.


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