How to write a great job description

800+ leading employers have had roles featured on movemeon. All told that’s many thousands of job descriptions. Needless to say, we see a lot of them.

But we get to see the other side too. That is, we get to see how high calibre candidates – remember 53% of the movemeon membership has a McKinsey, Bain or BCG background – react to the job descriptions. Our platform tracks & displays how many people view each job and how many apply. We also see how many members click on jobs featured in emails.

All this data, combined with listening to members we meet at events and chat with over email / coffee / the phone, gives us a really strong sense of what a great job description needs to include. Simply put, what converts high calibre readers into high calibre enthusiastic applicants you can go on to hire. Here’s a summary of what the data and conversations reveal:

You need to think of a job description as a piece of marketing. If you remember 1 thing from this article, it should be that. Often job descriptions start life as an internally focussed document. They clarify exactly what that person will be doing (responsibilities), what they will need to do the job (skills) and who their key relationships will be with. This is very sensible. Organisations should never enter into a hiring process without this clarity. These documents also help to get internal alignment and sign off. But they are rarely the most interesting or exciting documents. And therefore they are ineffective at engaging the best candidates. You are trying to do a piece of consumer marketing, just like you read / see / watch every day in the paper / on the tv / out and about. So even if you start writing your external copy by editing this document, you need to significantly tailor it to get the best results.

Here are some of the areas you should consider covering off in your external copy:

Sell the company. The best candidates want to join a company that’s going places. Or at the very least, has a firm vision for their growth over the next 5 years. So talk about the company’s main recent achievements and be clear what the vision is for the next few years and why that’s an exciting thing to be part of.

Talk about the team. We spend half of our life at work. And working life is spent with our team. So applicants will benefit from a description of the team. How many people are in it? How quickly has it grown? What is the structure? How do successful people progress through / out of the team? What are common features in the backgrounds of the team – if you’re trying to attract a candidate with a similar background to team members, this will be a very reassuring piece of info for potential applicants.

Talk about the boss. Ambitious candidates want to know who they’ll be working for and they’ll want to know their reporting line to their ultimate boss and their ultimate boss’s reporting line up to the CEO.

Talk about impact. People want to know that the team they’re joining / the role they’re taking on is impactful. So talk about the impact that the team / incumbent has had. And talk about the potential for this person to positively impact the business in this role.

Talk about progression. High flying candidates need to know that strong results and hard work are rewarded. Lay out some possible options as to where a candidate’s career could go if they’re successful in this role. Try to use examples of people who’ve done the role in the past and moved on up the company.

Talk about working life. Give candidates an insight into the values of the company and the atmosphere in the office. Describe work-life balance and describe attitudes to flexible working / working from home (remember often candidates are considering leaving consulting to improve their work-life balance). Talk about gender and outline maternity / paternity policies. Include quirky things about the office and cool benefits such as gym membership or free coffee. Talk about the amount of travel required in the role.

Make the title exciting. If the official (internal) job title is somewhat dull, try to avoid using it in your external copy. You can clarify the job title with the candidate during the interview process. You don’t want to put people off before they’ve applied. So try to think of something catchy.

Don’t forget the practical bits. The most commonly missed off but important pieces of info are:

  1. Is there a deadline for applications?
  2. Do applications require a cover letter?
  3. Will you sponsor working visas for candidates who don’t have full working rights? Will you take over sponsorship provided by a current employer?
  4. What is the ideal start date?
  5. Where is the office (location)?
  6. What basic salary range will you pay?
  7. Are there any other significant benefits that should be considered? What’s a typical bonus?

Now, some companies will say that they don’t advertise salary. They put ‘on experience’ or ‘competitive’. That is fine, but it’s important to understand the consequences. Especially since age discrimination rules mean that you shouldn’t specify the age or exact number of years experience that the right candidates will have.

Firstly, you must be prepared for a wider range of applicant types / seniorities. Salary is the main steer to a prospective applicant on the level of the job. So you will receive interest from people you think of as too expensive and from others you consider too junior.

Secondly, you risk that the right candidates perceive the role as too junior / too senior – i.e, not right for them. So also be prepared to miss out on some applicants who would have been good. (Note, that the best way to minimise this risk is to describe the team set up really well and be clear about other aspects that indicate level i.e, is this person managing people / processes? Do they have direct reports? Clear job titles also help.)

Don’t include detailed responsibilities. Internal job descriptions tend to have a very long responsibilities section. This is perfect for internal alignment. But it’s not engaging content from a marketeers point of view. It’s also the type of detail you can cover off during the interview process. So try to write a summary of the most important bits.

Avoid using company jargon and acronyms. So many job descriptions include stuff that can only be understood by those who have an intimate knowledge of your company. That nearly always means people who work / have worked at your company. And these are not the people you’re trying to engage! Words that candidates can’t understand will always put them off.

We hope that helps you create job descriptions for movemeon (and any other external source) that is truly engaging and markets your company, team and opportunity in a way which is most likely to convert high calibre readers to high calibre applicants.

If you’re an organisation that hires freelance / contract consultants or hires permanent employees who have consulting in their backgrounds, then you should discover more about posting on movemeon. Hopefully you’ll join the +500 other leading employers who have benefited from the site. By Rich.


Photo Sarah Scicluna, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

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