What we're talking about 

Every job you post requires a description, ie, a concise outline of what you'll expect the person you hire to do in the role. Though it'll differ depending on your sector and the level of seniority you're hiring for, it'll touch on elements like responsibilities; progression opportunities; required skills and experience; company culture; and salary and benefits.

The description is the backbone of any job ad, telling applicants everything they need to know about your business and the role you're recruiting for. It also helps them work out whether they're a good fit. Post-hiring, it plays a role in determining whether someone is fulfilling the tasks they've been hired to do and provides a benchmark against which managers can assess performance and compensation. 

Why it's important 

Firstly, the process of creating a job description has benefits in itself. It'll start with clarifying the job brief (an internal version of the job description) that will lay out exactly what you require of a new hire. Once that's agreed upon by your team, it can then be used as the basis of the external job description, which should be written by someone with a way with words. Regardless of how good a job is, how you communicate it at this early stage matters.

An excellent job description will incentivize the right kinds of people to apply, which is critical with top talent in such high demand. It will also ensure that you don't have to waste your time filtering through lots of people who aren't up to scratch. When it comes to the interview stage, you'll know exactly what you're looking for, and the candidate will have seen enough information to prepare properly. 

Things to note 

Be inclusive with your language and requirements. Diversity and inclusion in your hiring process begins at the start: with a job description that encourages applications from people of all backgrounds. Be mindful about biases you may have, and take time to triple-check that your language isn't putting off people from marginalized groups (one survey, for example, found that nearly half of women won't apply for a job if the description includes the word ‘aggressive’). There are tools available to help, such as this one from recruitment platform Applied. Likewise, think about whether any of your ‘must-haves’ would needlessly deter applicants already under-represented in your sector. An increasing number of job descriptions include the caveat that candidates shouldn't be deterred if they don't fulfill every single criterion you set out.  

It should attract as well as inform. It's really important that you, as a business, sell yourself to potential applicants by doing more than simply listing the facts. Remember: the facts will be listed in your job brief. A common error is for HR managers to just use the job brief as the description. Instead, spend time making sure that the tone, descriptions and presentation of the job description are appealing. Keep things accessible, minimizing your use of jargon. Ensure that duties and requirements themselves are fair: don't ask too much of one person or particular pay grade, and don't set unnecessarily high barriers to entry. 

Put thought into job titles. Forpeople looking for and weighing up roles, job titles really matter. They'll be searching directories and scanning newsletters for specific terms; so while you can communicate how unique your business is in the body of the description, choose a generic title that people will search. Also ensure that the role's title adequately reflects central responsibilities and how high or low within the business it sits. 

Best practice includes mentioning salary. It's fundamentally up to you whether you feel it's wise to include salary information in your job posting. That said, outlining compensation and a salary range are increasingly seen as best practice for businesses – and some job boards won't let you post without including it. It avoids wasted time for everyone involved and paves the way for a more equitable workplace. If you need help deciding on compensation, check out our guide to salary bands

Where you put them matters, too. You can write a fantastic job description, but it won't matter if you don't put it in the right places. Along with your own website and social media platforms, choose wisely when it comes to third-party platforms and directories. There are the generic options, but try looking for sector- or location-specific directories to reach the right people. Plenty of the best external sites ask for a fee for your advert so, being mindful of your budget, pick a handful that will resonate with the candidates you're trying to hire. 

How to write a good job description

1. Conduct a job analysis. A job analysis involves gathering all the background information you need to design and describe a role. Look at parallel job descriptions from businesses that are similar in size, industry and trajectory, and get to grips with the skills you'll need from candidates. You also want to look inwards at your hiring goals. Get insights from those in the department your new hire will join, particularly from the person who will manage them. There's a helpful job analysis checklist here

2. Look at a template. If you're hiring for a role you know little about, it might be hard to know what skills or requirements you need – or you might use the wrong words that don't quite resonate with the candidates. If that's the case, start by looking at a well-researched job description template for the role you need, then customize it to fit your company.  

3. Outline responsibilities. Otherwise, create your own. Using bullet points, start plotting out the body of the job description. List the key duties expected of this person, thinking about what they'll do day to day; what their deliverables and long-term objectives will be;  and how their responsibilities will change as the company grows. Remember to include decision-making and strategy responsibilities alongside actual tasks, if that's relevant. 

4. Outline candidate requirements. Now add bullet points on what it takes to be able to carry out those responsibilities. Think about education, experience, hard and soft skills, and personality traits. That might include years working in your sector, expertise using specific software or tools, or a demonstrated passion for something. If you're expecting the vacancy to be oversubscribed, or hoping to onboard someone very quickly, listing specific certifications can help you narrow the applicant pool. But, otherwise, try to only list what's absolutely necessary for the job so as not to put people off. 

5. List salary and perks. Establish a salary or salary range for your role, making sure you consider whether it will be dependent on experience. Write this down alongside the non-financial benefits that come with the job. That includes everything from health insurance and visa sponsorship to holiday allowance, upskilling opportunities, the work hours expected and flexibility.  

6. Describe your company. Give a top-line summary of why your business exists and its mission – and how the person in this role can help with that. This is especially important if you're not that well known. Give an honest account of what it's like to actually work there. This can be pretty short and succinct – but remember: you're essentially pitching to talent as to why they should join you on your journey. Give examples: what does the team look like? What are the common interests? What is the team passionate about? This is critical when thousands of companies are hiring for the same role with more or less the same generic job description. 

7. Affirm your commitment to equal opportunities. It's important to include what's termed an equal employment opportunity (EEO) statement at the bottom of your job description. They're designed to stress the importance of inclusion in the workplace, and you can find guidance on what to include and avoid here. EEO statements can be generic, but you can also personalize them to show evidence of and commitment to diverse hiring at your business. 

8. Point to the application process. What candidates have to do to apply should reflect the status of the job. Be transparent about the different stages you have to your hiring process, too. Make sure you include a closing date and any necessary links. 

9. Edit your job description. Youshould now have all the information you need in one place, but you can't just put it out there as it is. Use a template to structure it appropriately and check you haven't missed anything by accident. It's best practice to not exceed 10 bullet points under each section. Check back over to ensure the description is coherent, the language is accessible and jargon-free, and your requirements are realistic. Think about any visual aspects like photography at this point, too. 

10. Add a job title and short introduction. Time to add what your candidate will read first. Choose a suitable job title (ideally one that came up throughout your research) and write a couple of sentences summing up the description to go right at the top. 

Key takeaways 

• The job descriptions you write are a chance to pitch your company and attract talent to your business. They demand plenty of care – and following best practice.  

• Ensuring your job descriptions are inclusive, accessible and accurate to the job that the candidate will actually end up doing is essential. 

• Job descriptions, and the templates you use, will be useful after you've hired someone – for reference, assessment and new job advertisements – so keep them on hand. 

Learn more 

Perspective. From tech news site Protocol, why a modern workplace requires a modern approach to writing job descriptions

Example. Job marketing platform ONGIG has a list of good descriptions here, and Buzzfeed has some really bad ones here

Tool. Hiring platform Homerun has a bunch of 52 handy job description templates here. And software platform Recruitee has example descriptions for 20 popular jobs here

A version of this article was published in the Courier Workshop newsletter. For more deep dives into essential business concepts, sign up here.

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