HR and Recruiting

Write job descriptions to attract the best candidates

Written by Kate Lopaze

There’s a definite art to crafting application materials, like your resume or cover letter. But think about the flip side of that equation. What about when you’re the recruiter or HR person in charge of writing the job description that will bring in all the best candidates? If you’ve ever seen those job descriptions that are so full of jargon that no one understands what the job is, or the job description that is so long and detailed that maybe one person out of a thousand would feel qualified enough to apply, you know that there’s a balance needed.

As a hiring professional, you know that if you want to fill a position well, you have to get the best possible candidates to apply (or you’ll find yourself staring down this same job description a few months from now). So how do you write a solid job description that will attract the right people? Let’s look at some writing tips and strategies.

Skip the buzzwords.

When you see buzzwords or other language that’s clearly trying to cater to a young, hip, start-up-style crowd, it can come off as more like a parent trying to sound cool. And no one (especially the uncool parent) wants to be seen that way. It feels awkward to read a job description looking for a “code ninja” or “marketing superstar.” Remember: people are coming to your job description because they’re looking for an opportunity. You don’t have to be flashy to get attention. It’s better to focus on providing a clear, accurate job description than trying to sound edgy or innovative.

Ditching the buzzwords can also help your searchability factor. Job seekers aren’t searching for terms like “guru” or “rockstar.” They’re searching for “specialist” or “supervisor.” And if your job description isn’t coming up in keyword searches, you’ll risk losing out on potentially great candidates who are searching for more targeted terms. Accurate information is more important than charm here.

Be detailed.

You may think it’s obvious what a Data Analyst does, and that people searching for jobs in this area probably have at least a passing idea. But you don’t want to take for granted that potential applicants will magically know what the job entails. It’s important to give a clear, detailed synopsis of the work involved in this role. A detailed job description should include:

  • A specific job title. This may seem like a no-brainer, but the job title is going to set the tone for both the job description and the kinds of applicants you get. If you just say “coordinator,” you could get a whole range of people who may or may not be suited for the open role. If you say “data analysis coordinator,” you get a winnowed-down pool of applicants looking specifically for that kind of job.
  • A general overview of the role. How does this job fit in with the organization? Are there direct reports? Who will this person be reporting to themselves? No personal details, of course, but this quick one- or two- sentence overview would let the reader know that, say, the marketing coordinator position reports to the VP of marketing, or that the coordinator is responsible for managing interns.
  • The day-to-day responsibilities of the job. You don’t need to provide a minute-by-minute breakdown, of course, but you can choose some highlights that cover the most important aspects of the job. If you know percentages, those are great to include here. (For example: 50% client service, 40% business development, 10% sales analysis.) By including this information, candidates know what to expect and are better able to match up their own skills and experience before applying.
  • A salary range. This one isn’t necessary, but it can help avoid wasted time with candidates who are qualified but are seeking a higher salary. It can also set reasonable expectations, if an entry-level employee is somehow thinking about executive-level compensation.
  • Desired level of experience. If you’re hiring someone for a mid-career role, it’s important to note that a certain level of experience is necessary. If it’s more of an entry-level role, specify that as well. This can help weed out applicants that are either overqualified or under-qualified for the job.
  • Benefits and perks. Part of attracting candidates is showing what your company offers outside of the day-to-day work. A general overview of the benefits an employee could expect is a good way to flesh out a job description. For example, types of insurance offered, HSA savings plans, retirement savings, flexible hours, education reimbursement. A quick benefit list (nothing too detailed) is a way to add some quick selling points to the job description. Phrases like “competitive benefits” are not very useful; they don’t tell the reader anything, and don’t showcase what your company has to offer candidates.

Use strong action words.

Like in a resume, you want to keep the reader’s interest. Keywords are not only important in online and database searches, but also for regular readers as well. By nature, we look for words that stand out, and help us scan effectively. Just like your own eyes would glaze over at the fifth use of “responsibilities” on an applicant resume, a job seeker would similarly tune out the word used multiple times in a job listing as well. For example, a word like “oversee” or “administer” may stand out better than “manage.”

Find the right length.

Somewhere between 700 and 1,200 words is the sweet spot for job descriptions. It’s substantive enough that potential applicants are likely to understand the most important tasks and qualifications, but shorter than Moby Dick.

Focus on where the company is going.

Is your company award-winning? That’s great. But if you give a laundry list of all the great things your company has done in the past, it can be hard for a job seeker to relate. Credentials are impressive, but your job description should also give a sense of what the company is hoping to accomplish with this role or in general. If your company values creativity and innovation, emphasize that. If there’s a mission statement, include that in your job description. If you want the best applicants to see themselves joining your team, you have to let them in on (the general version of) your vision and goals.

Be realistic.

This might be the most important part of crafting an effective job description. And it’s most applicable if this is a new position. Ask yourself: is this job realistic for one person? Or is it more like several jobs merged into one? You may think that the role should only be filled by someone who’s trilingual, with a Ph.D. in modern dance and 10 years’ experience in office management, but…how many of those people are a) out there; and b) likely to come across your job posting? If you have some wiggle room on the qualifications, try not to be so specific. A reality check can be as easy as having the job description reviewed by someone who’s already done the job, or people who will be working directly with the new person.

There’s no great mystery to writing a job description that will attract the people you’d want to hire for the position. When you offer clearly presented details, combined with company highlights, you’re targeting your job description effectively. There’s no guarantee that the perfect applicant will walk through the door, but when you put care and a good amount of careful editing into the job description, you’re helping to ensure that you’ll get some high quality interest.

About the author

Kate Lopaze

Kate Lopaze is a writer, editor, and digital publishing professional based in New York City. A graduate of the University of Connecticut and Emerson College with degrees in English and publishing, she is passionate about books, baseball, and pop culture (though not necessarily in that order), and lives in Brooklyn with her dog.