Within the talent world, people love to hate job descriptions. They’re tough to write, it can be like pulling teeth to get hiring managers to share their input, and the final product doesn’t always attract the type of candidates we have in mind.
But there’s no getting around it – they’re a necessary evil. But with the right frame of mind that’s not always the case, and maybe they’re not even necessary, after all.
Starcircle recently gathered a group of talent professionals to discuss some common challenges and limitations of job descriptions. Read on for their tips and advice, and prepare to consider whether you even need job descriptions at all.
Before even writing a job description, get clear on what you really want
One of the biggest mistakes talent leaders see is when people are too prescriptive and limited in their perspective. Make sure you work with hiring managers to define the skills that will help someone be successful in the role. Things like “8 years of experience” or “has worked at Google, Amazon, or Meta” don’t actually tell you if someone will do the job well. They also exclude a huge number of talented people who might actually be a great fit.
Instead, get as clear as you can on how you’re defining success and what that looks like in terms of skills or traits. Are you looking for someone who can be decisive even with ambiguous or incomplete information? Someone who inspires their team to be innovative? Someone who can consistently deliver projects under tight timelines?
Job descriptions are there to catch candidates’ attention
Remember that a job description is essentially an advertisement. Your goal is to capture enough of a candidate’s attention that they’re willing to engage further. The real work happens later, when you begin an email exchange or get them on the phone. That’s when you can address their questions or concerns and go into much more detail. So don’t feel like you have to include everything in a job description. Stick to the essentials and you can gradually layer in more detail as candidates begin to engage with you.
Put job descriptions in terms candidates care about
Too many recruiters and hiring managers write job descriptions as a laundry list of things that they want. This is a surefire way to discourage candidates or lose their attention (see the previous bullet point!). Whenever you’re writing a job description, put yourself in the candidate’s shoes. Ask yourself: “What’s in it for me?” This approach will help you phrase your job descriptions in terms of the contributions and impact someone will be able to make in this role rather than things like which coding languages they know.
Keep it short and sweet
We’re living in a “swipe right, swipe left” world where people are used to making split-second decisions. One of the easiest ways to lose candidates’ attention right away is by overwhelming them with too much text. Remember that the majority of candidates are viewing job descriptions on their phones, so you need to keep the word count down and fit everything essential before they have to start scrolling.
Consider whether you even need a job description at all
Some talent leaders are experimenting with removing job descriptions from their application process altogether. Instead, they have a general interest form and ask interested candidates to submit it along with a cover letter. While this is an extreme example that might not work for everyone, it can help you think about how you might push the boundaries of what’s expected. If you have the leeway to do so, maybe it’s worth exploring how your application process might work if you eliminated or drastically changed the way you approach job descriptions?
A final reminder for recruiters: Your real role is as an advisor
Whether you’re working on job descriptions, role requirements, or even salary expectations, remember that you are likely to have a lot more information and expertise than hiring managers. Don’t be afraid to take on the role of advisor and share your data and stories from the field with them. In the case of job descriptions, for example, you might bring some examples from other companies that are a similar size or industry to get inspiration—or ideas on what not to do. Taking this approach makes it much easier to challenge the status quo and rethink anything considered a necessary evil.
Want to explore this topic in more detail? Starcircle’s Innovation Program Manager Patrick Kelly recently shared his tips on updating your job description template.