Sooner or later, every company needs to hire. People leave and need to be replaced, business grows and you need to expand, requirements change and you need new skills and experience. Hiring is a science, but it’s also an art. There’s no one formula you can use to plug in your data and receive viable candidates. You need to craft, to sculpt, to create the perfect job descriptions to attract the candidates you want.
To help with this task, we’ve put together this guide. No one gets job descriptions right the first time they try, but you can start at a more advantageous position and work to optimize from there. Start with ideas, tips, and tricks that can help you put together a job description that suits your needs. Move to templates, shells of descriptions you can use as a starting place, to customize to fit your business. Then, examine some of the best job descriptions out there, see why they work, and pull elements you can use in your sourcing.
Ideas for Compelling Job Descriptions
What are the qualities of a good job description, and how can you include those elements in your job description?
The specific elements vary depending on who you ask, but what we’ve observed is that every good description has the following:
- A summary of what makes the position unique. Why will they enjoy working for you? How does this position help the company, both internally and externally? What makes your company unique? This is a good way to capture the candidate’s attention and make your listing stand out.
- A compelling job title. This title should convey the role and relative authority level of the position while doing what it can to glamorize the position to make it more attractive to applicants.
- A summary of responsibilities and expectations. This is a short, high-level overview of the position and its responsibilities. Is it managerial, is it technical, is it manual labor? This answers simple questions and helps applicants self-filter for roles they don’t want.
- A detailed description of the role and its responsibilities. This is a deeper and more detailed rundown of the open position. It lists the responsibilities and duties of the role in more detail. Tip: one of the biggest mistakes companies make here is trying to cover everything the role could potentially entail. Try to limit this section to the most important duties and avoid over-explaining.
- Details about the job environment. Is the position considered office work? Outdoor work? Is it located in one place or at several different offices? Is travel required? Should the applicant own a vehicle, or are they required to have any other resources?
- A granular list of specific responsibilities. This is your traditional list of what the job will entail, usually in a bulleted list format. There will be a lot of overlap with the longer description, but this section is where you get more specific responsibilities. Again, avoid listing everything the role could possibly do; just stick to the most important day to day responsibilities.
- A list of must-have requirements. Education level, experience in a similar role, familiarity with specific industry tools and programs; any requirement that is 100% mandatory to succeed in the role should be listed here. These are your non-negotiable, non-trainable skills, experiences, and knowledge the applicant must have to be considered.
- A list of nice-to-have attributes. Anything that would help the candidate succeed in the role but is not 100% necessary can go on this list. If an applicant has some of these qualities, it puts them in the running ahead of someone who does not. These can be attributes like extended experience and familiarity with programs and systems, experience with specific kinds of work, or things you normally train employees to do.
- Salary information (optional). There are pros and cons of including salary information in your job descriptions; see this article for more details.
If your job description covers all of these categories – even if you cover some of them in the same section – you’re in a good place.
One of the most crucial tips we can give you is to avoid using too much superlative language. We’ve all seen job descriptions looking for that “rock star developer” or the “tech guru”, but that kind of language could potentially turn off some of your best candidates.
It could also hurt diversity. NCWIT, the National Center for Women & Information Technology, has found that over-the-top language like “rock star”, “guru”, “ninja”, “world-class”, and “best of the best” tend to turn off some male applicants, and even more women and minorities. Chris Nicholson, CEO of artificial intelligence company Skymind, says:
“Obviously what makes someone a stellar employee at one company isn’t necessarily going to translate to every other company… you’re looking for specific skills, traits, expertise that will fill in where you are lacking. The problem is, most companies are using the wrong ones, and that’s not only hurting them generally, but it also contributes to the lack of diversity and inclusion”
Above all, however, your job description needs to be unique for the role. As Marissa Peretz says:
“Job descriptions tend to be one size fits all, bland overviews written from the company’s point of view. This approach can be satisfactory for entry-level jobs, but it will not hook passive job seekers at a higher level. For that, a hiring manager and HR partner should spend time together to really understand the business needs so they can write a job description that goes beyond lists of characteristics and requirements. ‘Checkbox’ approaches – which are far too common – lack sizzle. More importantly, they don’t work.”
With all of that in mind, it’s important to highlight the reasons that the position you’re offering is exciting and can make a difference, as long as you’re not going too far over the top. This will help you attract qualified individuals who are excited to work for you without obsessing too much over culture fit.
Let’s take a look at some examples in this next section.
Templates for Great Job Descriptions
Templates are a tool, but you need to be very careful in using them. They’re good for getting ideas and for taking the format of existing job descriptions, but you should make sure to fully customize them as much as possible. Taking a template and using it wholesale, with just a few key terms changed to suit your company, is a great way to have your job listing ignored by the best candidates. After all, if you’re not putting in much effort to list your role, what else are you skimping on?
To that end, rather than provide you with a few hand-picked templates, we’re going to give you a list of lists; dozens of templates you can browse through to get an idea of what a job description should look like. Take elements of different job descriptions you like, make note of specific turns of phrase that caught your attention, but don’t copy and paste the entire template to use.
A Simple Job Description Template from Betterteam – This template is barely a template, but it serves one good purpose: it works as a checklist for specific kinds of information you might want to include. For job requirements, for example, if you have particular physical, certification, or licensure requirements, this checklist can help prevent you from forgetting to list them.
Monster’s List of Sample Job Descriptions – This is a list of dozens of templates for job descriptions for specific roles. Monster has processed millions of job descriptions per year and has distilled many of them down to the core qualities each possesses, making this a good resource to see how specific roles might be formatted and what information is typically included.
47 Job Description Templates from TemplateLab – This list of templates is a series of document templates for MS Word or PDF displays. They’re useful to show you how you can format and organize information in your job descriptions, though the specifics of them can vary depending on where you’re posting a job listing.
700+ Free Job Description Templates from Workable – Much like the list from Monster above, this list includes a single basic job description template for over 700 different roles. You can find the specific role – or a similar role – to what you’re hiring for, and review their template to get ideas for what you should be including in your description.
Samples of Excellent Job Descriptions
Now you have a wealth of templates for different roles, and a broad overview of how to compose a job description including specifics. Now let’s take a look at some real-world examples of good, compelling job descriptions, and what they do right.
We chose a simple example of an administrative assistant role from CVS for this link, but most of their job descriptions follow the same pattern. They list crucial role information at the top, like the job title and location. Then they cover the simple job description, before digging into the bulleted lists of requirements, responsibilities, and qualifications.
What we like: The description is relatively short and sweet. It gets to the point without the fluff. For this part-time role, they also list the approximate weekly hours an applicant can expect. Their overview area does a good job highlighting who CVS is as a company and their dedication to inclusivity. Splitting qualifications into two categories, “Required” and “Preferred”, was also a nice touch and something that you don’t see very often.
What we don’t like: There are not any benefits or perks listed, even for the higher-paying engineering and managerial positions. The requirements were clearly stated, but the only benefit of working at CVS that we can find from these listings are “staying up to date” with product trends and improving consumer loyalty. They could have done a better job of making these listings a bit more enticing.
Aptiv is a company making primarily automotive parts with a tech focus on adaptive systems ranging from self-driving vehicles and AI control to safety and security systems. Their careers page recruits for roles around the world, but is available to applicants from anywhere, as long as they’re willing to relocate.
What we like: They do a great job at a high-level overview of what a role is and what it does, followed by more granular descriptions of what a candidate should know, what their experience level should be, and what requirements they should meet. They also did a good job at making their job listing sound exciting and at the cutting edge of technology.
What we don’t like: The listings could have done a little better outlining what each specific position would entail. They listed some job duties, but these were a little vague and not as exciting as their mission statement. Working with a team, collaborating, developing, documenting – we would have liked more detail here on the day to day operations and what to expect.
RGP is a consulting firm that hires extremely talented individuals to consult with their clients to achieve a wide range of goals using high-level analysis, overview, and process changes to improve those client companies. Their hiring portal is focused on different categories of consultants they’re trying to attract, with gateway pages to overview each category before digging into specific open roles.
What we like: The self-filtering process helps candidates figure out where they would fit within the organization before they get to specific roles, and gives RGP an opportunity to give a high-level overview of entire categories of open role without cluttering up specific openings with redundant information. Their specific requirements and responsibilities lists for individual roles are also well formulated, with a minimum of extraneous bullet points. Their core values also give us a good idea of what they come to expect out of their new hires.
What we don’t like: The initial filtering process does mean that some qualified candidates will click through to find open positions, only to find no available roles, even if similar roles are open in different categories. There were also part-time positions mixed in with consultant and full-time positions with no way to filter these. This is more of a concern with their careers portal than the listings themselves, but it’s worth mentioning nevertheless.
General Mills, the cereal company, has a wide range of available positions from production line staff to administrative to retailer outreach and beyond. Their careers page is immediate and allows searching through open roles with several advanced fields.
What we like: Their job description pages are up-front about the most important requirements by putting them in bold. The “who we are” section is separated from the role section, so you can tell it’s a general element of all roles for the company rather than specific openings. They also use a tabbed layout to separate the description and responsibilities from the qualifications, making it easy to identify which is which. Also, each role has a dedicated “hero image” to showcase an example of what working in a given role would be like, though as an outsider it’s difficult to say exactly how representative those images are.
What we don’t like: Some of their job descriptions vary wildly in quality. An opening for a factory technician has 400 words of description, while one for a full stack developer has a single 70-word paragraph, much of which isn’t relevant. It appears as though each individual factory, office, and location General Mills hires for has their own person in charge of writing job listings. We would have liked to see more detail on these shorter listings, especially for listings that require a deeply technical background.
Writing a compelling job description is a matter of artistry and experience as much as it is knowledge and resources. Using templates can give you a place to start, but you really need intimate knowledge of the company, the role, the culture, and the kinds of people you want to attract if you want to craft the best possible descriptions.
That said, we know different companies have different approaches to job listings.
Has your company tried any experiments with job listings, or have you as an applicant seen any yourself? How did they work? Let us know your experiences below.
Andrew Greenberg’s roots in recruiting date back to 1996. He has experience both on the agency-side and corporate-side of the staffing business, with a focus in the financial services space at companies like Bloomberg and UBS. He also has core experience with information technology staffing, and has worked for major software companies such as SAP Business Objects and IBM/Informix Software. To get in touch with Andrew, you can reach him by email or by phone at (800) 797-6160.