Ask A Recruiter: How Do I Write An Effective Job Description?

Job Description TipsIn this edition of “Ask A Recruiter,” Caitlin shares her tips on writing an effective job description. If you have a question, leave it in the comments’ section, and be sure to sign up for our Modern Recruiter Newsletter so that you don’t miss an answer!

Caitlin Wilterdink

Caitlin joined Greenhouse in October, 2014 as employee #42. Before Greenhouse, she managed technical and product recruiting for Conductor, Inc. another high-growth, NYC-based startup. Early career included stints as an agency recruiter and paralegal. She’s tried, and failed, to learn how to code and instead spends her free time figuring out how to Greenhouse @ Greenhouse. Other free time activities include hosting bar trivia, marathon-training and conquering an acute fear of flying.

Dear Caitlin,

Are job descriptions an effective way to get good candidates? Any tips for writing good ones?


Bob Description

The short answer is yes, job descriptions can be an effective way to drive candidate interest. But the key here is the job description has to be well-written. Too many job descriptions are boring, long-winded, or contain a laundry list of skills that describe a person, not the actual job that needs to be done.  Other job descriptions are too short and miss important information about the role or use ineffective words like “rockstar” and “ninja”.

Poorly written job descriptions are a waste of your time and a waste of the candidate’s time. They also harm your employment brand and can even push candidates away from your company.

Okay, now that we’ve defined bad job descriptions,  let’s walk through what my definition of effective job descriptions are and how these can help you attract top talent. To me, a good job description is not just well written, but  also effective.

A well written and effective job description should:

  • Drive interest and awareness in your company

  • Communicate essential information about your company and the role

  • Help candidates quickly determine if they have the required skills for the role

On the flipside, a well written JD should help you and your interview team determine if the candidate’s resume is a fit and help you evaluate that candidate during interviews.

A good job description starts with a list of the role’s requirements. Make sure this list includes the knowledge, skills and abilities required to do the job. Avoid describing a person. “5+ years of experience” describes a person, it doesn’t ensure that this person can actually do the job you need done.

How do you figure out what the role’s requirements are? Work with your hiring manager to determine the tasks or problems you need to solve today. At Greenhouse, this means “manage a book of client accounts” if you are an AM or “learn Greenhouse’s code base and release a feature with your first month” if you are an engineer. Does either of these require 5+ years of experience? Not really. But “the ability to triage and prioritize multiple accounts” is a required skill for an Account Manager. And you have to have working knowledge of  Ruby, Javascript and Postgres in order to be an engineer.

Additional Guidelines:

  • Keep the job description short. If you are writing the draft in Word or Google Docs and find yourself on page three, stop and reassess the content. Few candidates, or hiring managers for that matter, will read a job description that is longer than one page

  • In the same vein, use short paragraphs and bullet points whenever possible. Your list of requirements/KSA’s should definitely be bulleted so the reader can quickly identify what he needs to know in order to do the job

  • Keep the key information ‘above the fold’, ie don’t make the candidate scroll down your website to find relevant data

  • Include details about what problems and challenges the candidate will actually be working on. What exciting technology will the candidate work with? What awesome clients will she help? These details are your “wow factor” and should be interesting, exciting and enticing

  • Watch your words. Avoid metaphors, super specific industry terms, cuss words, and nouns or adjectives that could be offensive to diverse candidates. (Most female engineers I know would not even bother reading a JD with the title “Code Ninja”)

  • Keep your title search engine friendly. If you are posting to a job aggregator site like Indeed, double-check that your title includes some common search terms. This will make your job easier to find

Once your job description is written, run it by a few additional people on the team. I like to do this because I’m terrible at copy-editing but it’s also good to get a different view-point on the role.

Good luck!

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