Job descriptions are the place where you will attract the vast majority of your potential candidate pool, and so it’s important that they’re effectively written. They need to be able to attract a number of candidates so that you are able to choose the best one for the position available, however, they need to be the right candidates. It’s important that the description is well written so that the candidates are well prepared for the role they might take on and are well-informed about what will be expected of them. Job descriptions also need to be detailed with up-to-date information about roles and available positions that a company has.
In this article, we will discuss some best practices to take into consideration when writing a job description – what to do and what not to do, and how to attract the right candidates with your description.
How to Structure a Job Description
A job description should answer the question ‘What does this role entail?’ Here we will go through the sections of a job description and talk about what each one needs to include, along with some examples.
There are a number of places you can download a job description template to follow, such as this one from Indeed. They also provide a video from one of their managers, explaining how to make the most of your description when posting it on sites such as Indeed. Job description templates are a good source to use if you have never structured a job description before as they provide an idea of how long each section should be and you can easily paste your requirements into each section. Try not to be too generic, however, and use the template as more of a guide, rather than a set-in-stone example to follow.
A job title is the first thing that candidates will see and usually correlates to what they have searched for. It is exactly what it sounds like – it should be just a few words to sum up the position, and helps candidates search for jobs relatable to them and their skillset. The job title should be specific, include key phrases or words specific to the job category and be clearly understandable to a candidate. Some examples may include;
- Executive Sales Manager
- Market Research Analyst
- Chief Executive Officer
- Web Designer
- Software Engineer
- Store Manager
- Building Inspector
These titles are all concise and tell the applicant exactly what the company is looking for before even having to read the job description itself. A full list of concise job titles for all industries can be found here.
Sometimes in a job title it is appropriate to use acronyms and abbreviations for certain roles that are well known. Some of the most common abbreviations used for job titles include but are not limited to;
- CEO – Chief Executive Officer
- COO – Chief Operating Officer
- CFO – Chief Financial Officer
- CIO – Chief Information Officer
- CTO – Chief Technology Officer
- CMO – Chief Marketing Officer
- CHRO – Chief Human Resources Officer
- CDO – Chief Data Officer
- CPO – Chief Product Officer
- CCO – Chief Customer Officer
It is important to note, however, that abbreviations should only be used if they are commonly used within the industry and will be widely recognised. A job description should not contain acronyms that are used just within a certain company for certain roles, as these may be misunderstood by prospective applicants and will not show up in search results. In the case that they are used within the job description, they probably shouldn’t be used in the job title and should be explained further within the general description so as to avoid confusion.
Job Purpose/Job Summary
This is a general overview and description of the job, in roughly a few sentences. The purpose of this part of the description is to let prospective candidates know essential details of the job so that they can decide if they want to read on. If they come across information in the job summary that is incompatible with their search, they can ignore the job and save time not having to read the entire description.
The summary should provide an overview of the company, and a brief description of what would be expected from an employee. This example from the BetterTeam job description template for an Accounting Associate is a good representation of how the summary can give the candidate an idea of what will be expected of them and the skills they might need to have in order to be successful;
“We are looking for an Accounting Associate to join our financial department. Your duties will include compiling and reviewing financial information, preparing financial paperwork, assisting with payroll processing, and maintaining records. You will also be required to perform general administrative tasks.”
It’s also a good idea to outline the company’s values or anything that is particularly important or intrinsic to the company, so that candidates can see if they align with these ideals. It’s important to let the applicant know what kind of environment they would be working in, as well as hooking them in with details about what makes the company unique and why they might love to be an employee there. It’s also a good idea to include information about the location of the workplace, such as in this advert on LinkedIn from Opogo;
“At Opogo we are searching for outstanding KS1 TA’s who feel passionately about making a real difference to the lives of students. Our member school, based in the inner London borough of Wandsworth, can offer great experience of working in a primary school setting which could be the platform to kick-start your career in education.”
Job Duties and Responsibilities
This section is a detailed outline of the responsibilities involved in the job. It helps candidates to analyse whether they feel they would be a good fit for the job and whether they would be able to take on the responsibilities involved.
This section should contain;
- An explanation of the essential functions and responsibilities of the job
- Day-to-day activities and usual responsibilities of the job, which might include a typical day in the office, including when meetings may happen etc.
- Where the employee might need to make decisions for a team or the company itself in an autonomous fashion
- Areas in which the employee would be responsible or accountable for other team members and the outcomes of decision making
- Supervision responsibilities
- An overview of other members of staff that the employee may have to report back to or work closely with and how this functions
- An explanation of how the job position fits into the organisation as a whole
The easiest way to present the job duties and responsibilities is to write them as bullet points or short, clear sentences as opposed to presented in a paragraph. When they’re each written separately and concisely, they are easy to read and skim through so that candidates can clearly see each one.
It’s important to remember, however, that the description of the requirements still needs to be detailed and not vague. A good way to make sure that the job duties are clear is to make sure you detail HOW the employee assists another team member or manages a section. Using ‘by’ to expand on responsibilities or following up with ‘such as’ or ‘like’ to give examples of how a responsibility would need to be carried out ensures that there is no ambiguity or vagueness surrounding the descriptions.
Good examples of how to do this include;
“Performing basic office tasks, such as filing, data entry, answering phones, processing the mail, etc.”
“Recommends new products and services by evaluating current product results; identifying needs to be filled.”
“Closes sales by building rapport with potential accounts; explaining product and service capabilities; overcoming objections; preparing contracts.”
There should also be a limit on the number of responsibilities that are listed so that it doesn’t overwhelm a potential candidate. Stick to 10 at the most, and only include the duties and activities that will be taking place most frequently. The list can be arranged in order of importance or frequency, so that duties that are more important or are carried out daily or very frequently are put first, and less essential tasks are towards the bottom of the list. This helps eliminate those which aren’t essential to include and can be talked about later on in the hiring process.
Something to keep in mind when writing the requirements section of the job description is that certain tasks a current employee in the advertised role might carry out are ones that they have taken on during their time with the company. They therefore shouldn’t necessarily be included in the job description as they may be beyond the expectations of the role itself. Where possible, the completion of these extra tasks should be assessed and handed off to any employees which can take them on. They can also be discussed with a candidate when they are further down the hiring process to see if they would be comfortable to continue these tasks, but they are not essential and should be left out of the original description.
Most jobs will require a certain amount of previous education, knowledge or experience. The amount can vary greatly between jobs and it is not always necessary to have experience in a certain field, so it’s important to be specific in this section. Including the level of expertise a candidate is expected to have will narrow down the potential candidate pool.
This section can include the level of education that a candidate will be expected to have, whether it be high school, a Bachelor’s degree or even higher. It’s also a good idea to specify what sector or field this education needs to be in. For certain jobs, candidates will need to have studied specific bits of information or have completed a course which teaches them how to carry out particular tasks. In others, employers might just be keen to see that candidates have completed a degree in any field as it has taught them generic lessons and skills that will be applicable in the workplace.
- Bachelor’s or master’s degree in marketing or a related field
- BA/BS in marketing, communications, or related field of study
- Possess an Engineering Qualification such as City and Guilds, NVQ Level 3 or equivalent
When previous experience is required for the job, it’s important to describe the level of experience that is needed, usually in years. Specify the department or industry (if any) that the candidate needs to have worked in, or explain that they must have experience in a certain situation, that could have occurred in a number of job roles. It’s also important to specify the time period that the candidate will need to have spent in a certain role or industry, usually a number of years, and to include whether the experience is necessary, preferred, or would be a bonus to include in their application. Some skills will be generic, such as ‘ability to work well under pressure’ or ‘good communication skills’ but others will be more specific to the job and may have to have been developed in a certain environment.
This example from a job description on Hiring Monster showcases how to be succinct when listing the specific experience required;
- Proven working experience in digital marketing, particularly within the industry
- Demonstrable experience leading and managing SEO/SEM, marketing database, email, social media, and/or display advertising campaigns
- Highly creative with experience in identifying target audiences and devising digital campaigns that engage, inform and motivate
- Experience in optimizing landing pages and user funnels
If there will be training provided, it’s important to specify this as some candidates will be inclined to go for a job that gives them training, whereas others won’t need it and will prefer to go for a potentially higher level job. You can also specify that the candidate must have had experience using a certain software or carrying out specific tasks if there will be no training provided.
The best way to present this information is to bullet-point the requirements, similarly to the job responsibilities section. This makes them easy to read, and applicants can skim through to ensure that they fit the entire description, without needing to read lengthy paragraphs and overly detailed descriptions. This section will be slightly shorter than the previous one, as it doesn’t require full sentences, but rather concise bullet points with key words relating to the skills required..
The description could also be split into two sections; ‘Qualifications and skills’ and ‘Education and experience’ such as in the example below, which is still short and concise but is able to include both general skills, and ones specific to the job itself.
Computer Operator Qualifications/ Skills:
- Data processing
- Communication skills
- Reporting skills
- Documentation skills
- Equipment maintenance
- Problem solving
- Understanding of computer networks (LAN, WAN, and computer networking)
- Ability to create and update documentation
Education and Experience Requirements:
- Associate degree (or another 2-year degree) in data processing technology or a related field
- Data center experience
- Experience in an information technology environment
In order to entice prospective candidates and convince them that your company is the right one for them, you could include the benefits or work perks that they will receive as an employee in your company. It could be things such as the healthcare program that they’ll receive, shares in the company stocks they might be entitled to hold as a member of the company or things that the company provides within the workplace that will make their job more exciting.
It’s thought that 48% of people actively searching for jobs take into account the work perks or benefits of a company they are looking to apply to, and so including these things in your job description is a great way to attract more applicants. 78% of people are more likely to apply for a job if the advert mentions the benefits that they offer, however less than half of current job adverts actually include them. You can also showcase them on social media or on your website to ensure that they are known and this might attract even more passive candidates to apply.
Some descriptions may not include these perks however, as they may end up attracting the wrong candidates or a larger number of applicants than may be wanted or needed. Having to sift through too many candidates is time consuming, and leaving out work perks and benefits from the description means that you’re ensuring candidates are applying for the right reasons. Unlike the other sections, which are an essential part of a job description, including benefits is not compulsory and it’s entirely up to the company and the person hiring as to whether they want to include benefits in the description.
This is also the section to include a salary, if you choose to. Sometimes, including a salary can be an encouragement for certain applicants, whereas it might be less than another candidate might be expecting. If you choose not to include the exact salary, it can be described as ‘competitive’, or you can choose to suggest that employees will receive bonuses or be eligible for promotions in a number of years time.
If you do choose to include them, however, they can be included as bullet points such as previous sections;
- Competitive salary
- Equity in a late stage startup backed by top tier VCs (Google Capital, Tiger Global, Benchmark, battery Ventures, Sutter Hill Ventures, DAG Ventures Dragoneer Investment Group and others)
- 100% company paid medical/dental/vision/life coverage, with 90% dependent coverage
Bullet points are great for keeping each sentence separate and easy to read quickly, however you may choose to write a small paragraph at the end of the description detailing them instead;
“The successful applicant for this position will receive a car and travel allowance of up to $300 a month, as well as free lunches when in the office and flexible holiday time. It comes with a competitive salary, which can also be negotiated as the employee gains experience and the employee has the chance to move up within the company.”
To sum up, we’ve put together an essential list of ‘dos and don’ts’ that apply to all sections to remember when writing your job description.
- Make sure that you use clear and simple language and avoid fancy words or sentences that are too long which mean that candidates lose interest, don’t understand aspects of the description or become confused about their exact responsibilities.
- Be as accurate and detailed as possible in the description of the responsibilities that an employee will have to do in their role so that the candidate is aware of what their position entails and won’t feel overwhelmed or misled when they start
- Always avoid gender specific language when talking about the employees role. Things such as ‘he manages’ or ‘she assists the manager with’ can be off-putting for prospective candidates of the opposite sex and often stereotype.
- Try to include the current employee (when possible) in writing the new description as they will be able to add detail that an HR manager may not know. They will be more knowledgeable about the specific requirements that the job entails and any extra jobs that they may have picked up that may need to be included or discussed with a prospective candidate.
- Use confusing acronyms, slang or jargon that may not be understood completely by a candidate. Widely recognised and understandable acronyms can be used where necessary, and any acronyms that need to be used should be fully explained within the description.
- Downplay or overstate the needs of the position. Future employees may be put off if there is too much responsibility, or they may feel overwhelmed if they were unprepared for the amount of work they are having to do. It is a good idea to go through potential extra responsibilities with a candidate if they seem appropriate when they are invited to interview to see if they would be comfortable taking these on.
- Use a lot of adjectives or descriptive language to write about the job – it’s not necessary and will only take up space and reading time for the applicant. It’s better for some parts of the description to be concise and short in order to get the points across in a way that’s quick and easy to understand.
- Try to include every single detail about the company and the position – make sure to focus only on the essential details in order to keep the description short enough to remain interesting. Any further details can be discussed with applications further down the line of the hiring process if necessary.