How to Write the Ultimate Job DescriptionA job description has to be strategic; it serves as an engaging, inclusive, descriptive acquisition tool. Spending time crafting and iterating on your job descriptions is critical to hiring success.
Writing an inclusive and effective job description is both a science and an art. A job description is an ad for your company, complete with a call to action asking candidates to become a part. And yet, only 47% of workers trust that job descriptions accurately depict job responsibilities. A killer job description needs to be realistic, convincing, and compelling.
Counterintuitively, most startups don’t put a lot of time and effort into the JD. Instead, they just slap it up on LinkedIn or AngelList and hope for the best. But a job description has to be strategic. It serves as an engaging, inclusive, descriptive acquisition tool. With that in mind, getting job descriptions right is the critical first step in hiring terrific talent. And the key to generating a candidate acquisition machine is about acing these JD fundamentals in three steps.
Analyze your needs
In the ideal scenario, hiring managers provide their counterparts一the talent acquisition team一perfectly crafted and concise job descriptions. However, for most companies, new hire initiatives are driven mostly by talent acquisition teams. Understanding the fundamental requirements for a new opening requires deeper vision beyond the few items or tasks needing to be completed today.
Job descriptions need to paint an accurate picture of the job requirements to attract the right candidates, and it’s difficult to do so without chatting with the team. Here are some ideas of how to gather the information necessary for a JD:
- Sit in on internal team calls - This is an excellent way to observe what employees are doing and how they interact, giving you information for both the main tasks the new employee will eventually be performing and what the team dynamic is like.
- Read the team’s internal documentation(s) - While this might be boring, it’ll give you insight as to the type of work candidates might be doing day-in and day-out.
- Survey team members - Find out what competencies they’d like to see most in a new member of the team and use their answers to structure the desired skills portion of the JD.
- Review long-term roadmaps - Your company’s internal strategy should align to the skill sets on new job descriptions.
- Ask the right questions - Will additional headcount potentially slow down the existing team? Will this trigger the need for additional management?
8 elements of a killer job description
How do you ensure the JD makes sense to the candidate, let alone entices them to apply? Have no fear; there’s a formula you can follow. Below, we dive into each component of a typical job description and what it should contain.
1. Job Title
The truth is that people judge books by their cover. The same goes for job descriptions – the title matters. You want your JD to come up when candidates do a particular search and you want to give them an impression of their responsibilities right off the bat. Often this leads to pretty generic titles, like “Senior Digital Marketing Manager” or “Head of Customer Success.” If applicable, consider adding specific focuses of the role or a particular feature they might be working on within your job title, like “Senior iOS Software Engineer, Payments.”
While these titles may seem dull, it’s more important to be clear than fun at this point. Some companies try to jazz up their titles by adding “ninja” or “guru” at the end. Not only are these terms culturally insensitive, but they are also not descriptive. What do those words mean in a job context? No one knows. And just think for a moment about the type of talent these words speak to. Do you really want them to apply? On to the next.
2. Company summary
The candidate might be looking at the exact same role at another organization, so it’s important to set your company apart from the beginning. Give them a glimpse of your culture before diving into the meat of the JD. This section doesn’t have to be long一keep it four to five sentences一but make it impactful. What are your core values and mission? Why do they matter? What does this mean for potential employees? Look at this description as an opportunity to highlight what makes your company unique.
3. Responsibilities and duties
Let’s be honest, most candidates skim JDs and laser-focus on the bulleted list of requirements and responsibilities. But you still want to give a couple-sentence overview of the job’s main function and how it fits into the larger company strategy. Connect this back to your mission and vision, too. Candidates won’t get excited if they’re just going to be a cog in the wheel. Instead, make them feel like they’ll be doing something of value.
Now it’s time for the bullets. These have a tendency to get really long, but candidates don’t need to know about the minutia of what their position is like day-to-day. They can ask about that in their interview. So stick to 5 - 7 main responsibilities, ordered by importance. Consider grouping 2 - 3 bullets under categories like, “Leadership Skills,” or “Technical Expertise.”
Whichever way you structure your bullets, it should be crystal clear how each one relates to team performance or overall business strategy. Keep them short and specific, including what KPIs or direct reports this person may manage. And whatever you do, do not include gendered language; it unintentionally discourages outstanding candidates from applying. Replace gendered terms like “guys,” “salesman,” and “wife” with “folks,” “salesperson,” and “spouse”. You might also consider using products like Textio to help you steer clear of non-inclusive terms.
4. Qualifications and skills
After you’ve explained what someone in this role would be doing every day, it’s time to outline the qualities of an ideal candidate. First, list the must-haves. Do they need a certain level of proficiency with a certain software? Maybe they need a graduate degree or particular certification. Get specific, but not so much that you list years of experience. That automatically limits who applies. Use terms like “working knowledge of,” “demonstrated mastery of,” or “expert in.” And don’t forget about soft-skill non-negotiables, either. This role may require someone who has extreme attention to detail or is comfortable talking to strangers or has led a team successfully before.
Then, add preferred qualifications or nice-to-haves. Think about what it would take for someone to go above and beyond. Hint: these could be must-haves for different roles. For example, a fantastic machine learning engineer might have all the ML skills plus an eye for design. Again, these can be technical or soft skills.
Some companies shy away from listing salaries on their job descriptions because they are afraid they’ll exclude standout candidates. But LinkedIn conducted a study in 2018 asking applicants which parts of the job description were most helpful. Do you know what won out? Salary range. Getting everyone on the same page about compensation actually saves you time. You’ll know that applicants are willing to accept (or maybe negotiate slightly beyond) the salary range you list on your JD. You can also use this section to talk about your bonus structure and review cycle.
6. Benefits and perks
Perks can help you stand out from the crowd, so proudly display them. Here are some examples we’ve seen:
- Beer on tap
- Dog-friendly office
- Summer Fridays
- Remote desk setup
- Free weekly team lunches
- Learning and development budget
- 401k match or other financial incentives
- Pawternity leave
- Free meditation apps
- Daycare stipend
- Discounted or free licenses to software for friends and family
7. Use great copy to your advantage
We’ve all read our fair share of super boring job descriptions. Think of a job description as an advertisement for working at your company. We’re not saying you should be overly sales-y, but don’t make your job description as dull as the average startup next door. You want the company culture to jump off the page and get the candidate excited to apply. If you’re struggling, run a draft by your content team to see if they have any pointers for jazzing it up a little.
8. Call to action
This should go without saying, but make it obvious where people should apply. Reduce friction here as much as possible. If candidates read the JD until the end, they are probably interested, so don’t screw this part up!
Finalize and publish
Don’t consider your JD done until the hiring manager has signed off on it. Ask other colleagues to read the JD as well. Getting additional perspectives on how well you described the role and how you framed the company can be very helpful. Run the JD through a spelling and grammar check to clear up any mistakes. And do a final pass to check for anything that might alienate based on gender, veteran status, the LGBTQ+ community, or people of color.
One bonus pro-tip is to use something like Hemingway App to help determine the readability of your JD. Simpler the better!
Make the most of your job descriptions
Once you’ve solidified your JDs, it’s time to leverage them to their fullest extent. That means using them in cold outreach, bringing them up in conversations with passive candidates, screening candidates, and funneling the best applicants through the interview process. There are very few recruitment tools on the market that do all three, but Chatkick is mastering them all, with multi-touch outreach, ATS integrations, fully interactive video, and more. Sign up for early access to learn more about the Chatkick platform.