Job descriptions are one of the most important elements of hiring a new candidate, but too often, they’re written in a way that’s vague, confusing, or outright unappealing.

This is a massive missed opportunity for employers – job descriptions are what makes a candidate decide if they even want to apply or consider the role you’re offering. Given that many organizations have similar structures and roles, when job descriptions are too generic or vague, they won’t help a business stand out and instead will be viewed interchangeably with any other role.

After all, consider how many opportunities you can find that are all labeled with very similar titles. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum, some organizations try to be unique or quirky and this comes at the expense of clarity. While personality is important, candidates also need to actually understand what the role is: What will they be doing? What does the day-to-day look like? Who will they be reporting to?

Ultimately, an effective job description will answer the question “What does the person in this role regularly do?” for the potential candidate – but in a way that differentiates the business from its competitors. Striking the right balance is crucial when trying to stand out. 

Here’s a list of best practices for writing effective job descriptions, including what to do and what to avoid. To start, there are some standard components that should be included in every job description for it to be effective.

Job Title: This should be a brief description (typically 1-5 words) that describes the scope, purpose and main content of the role. To that end, descriptions like “Ninja” or “Rockstar” aren’t effective – they don’t help applicants envision their level or rank in the organization. Comparatively, “Marketing Coordinator” “English Teacher” and “Customer Service Representative” do. 

Other examples can include: Director of Regional Data, Data Analyst, Project Manager, Accountant.

Job Purpose: What is the broader function of this job? For example: As a data analyst, what types of data are they working with and to what end? For a Project Manager, what types of projects will they be managing and for what reason? For an English Teacher, what grade levels will they be supporting and will the curriculum be based on Grammar or Literature? In other words, why does this job exist?

Some examples can include: 

  • The Marketing Manager will supervise and lead a team of four content marketers and measure efficacy.
  • The Data Analyst will be responsible for analyzing and reporting back all customer KPIs to the Vice President.
  • The Customer Service Representative will respond in real-time to customer inquiries via phone, email, and chat.

Job or Role Duties: These are the essential functions of the role and explains what the day-to-day or recurring duties will look like. This area can include:

  • What the tasks being performed are, and how often they’re being performed
  • Where and how they’re being performed and what the outcomes are
  • Any decision-making or accountability areas
  • The nature of contact with other people
  • The frequency of given duties and responsibilities
  • Any additional responsibilities or obligations especially around compliance, legal or financial information

Level of Responsibility: Does this role act as a solo contributor or do they need to provide leadership and direction to others? Are they responsible for supervising, hiring, scheduling, assigning or performance management? Where do they fall in the organizational structure and within the context of the team or the department?

Working Conditions: Ensure that this is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Describe both the conditions and demands that are required for the role including the intensity. This can include:

  • Any essential physical effort that is required (if relevant)
  • Any travel requirements
  • The environment the role will take place in (indoors or outdoors)
  • Potential exposures to anything harmful, hazardous, etc.

Required Experience and/or Education: This should include the absolute minimum education and experience required to perform the role successfully.

Desired Experience and/or Education: This is a more flexible area that can describe the ideal amount of experience and education required.

Role Structure: What type of employment structure does this role fall under? Is it a full-time employee? Part-time employee? Consultant or contractor? Seasonal or temporary employee? Including this information is critical.

Compensation and Benefits: What payment structures does this role provide? Is it a salaried position with full benefits? Is it an hourly wage? What is the pay range? Particularly for organizations who opt for the higher-end of the payscale or offer better-than-average benefits, this section can be a differentiator and can drive more candidates to apply then if this information was excluded. Avoid vague descriptors like “Competitive” or “Commensurate with experience.”

What To Avoid

Now that we’ve covered several best practices, let’s discuss key things to avoid in your job descriptions.

Gendered or Exclusive Language: Most job descriptions should be gender-neutral. Avoid inadvertently excluding people by saying things like “She should,” or “He must.” Similarly, avoid gendering titles, e.g. “waitresses” can be referred to as “servers;” “secretaries” can be referred to as “administrative support.”

Confusing or Vague Language: Similar to how we’ve noted above, trendy words like “Hacker,” “Rockstar,” and similar can be quite vague and don’t help employees visualize where they fall within the team structure or their level of responsibility. The job title doesn’t have to be completely generic, but it doesn’t need to be gimmicky either.

Lack of Personality: Job descriptions are a great place to not only discuss what you’re looking for in a candidate, but to tell candidates about your organization. If you want to describe the company, the culture, the values, and the mission, this can be a great opportunity to do so and can help you be more attractive and memorable.

Tip: Showcasing your employer branding in your job description can help push a candidate to apply for Company A over Company B.

Language That’s Not Legally Compliant: Avoid any descriptions that can be ageist, sexist, racist or beyond. Do you need someone “youthful” or are you actually looking for someone with “high-energy” – which can be found at any age. In general, there is not typically a need to refer to specific appearance attributes, but if there are appearance standards in terms of grooming, that can be noted.

Missing Pay Information: Whether salaried, hourly, or other, including pay information generally results in more applicants – and specifically, applicants that are aligned with your organization in terms of pay. Many candidates are not interested in going through a lengthy process only to find out that the pay is half of their expectations, and top candidates will likely opt out of applying altogether if they don’t even have a sense of the general range.

Inaccurate or Missing Role Information: Particularly if turnover is an issue, consider if there’s critical information about the role that’s not being presented and is ultimately making new hires feel as if they were duped or misled into the role. Some roles, e.g. customer service intensive roles, sales intensive roles, or canvassing can be highly offputting for some personality types. It’s best to give people all of the information about the role up-front so that they can determine if it’s a good fit for their skills and interests.

Excessive or Unnecessary Requirements: It’s important to make a distinction between what you need and what’s ideal. Describing the perfect candidate but making those attributes a requirement will scare away potential candidates who would actually be well-suited for the role and could grow into the ideal candidate with a bit more training and experience.

Talent acquisition professionals should consider that by reframing job descriptions as an opportunity to shine and attract, you can completely shift the quality of talent that comes your way, and introduce yourself to a pool of highly-qualified candidates who are excited to work with your organization – rather than ones who are just sending in yet another application amongst dozens or hundreds. To that end, instead of refreshing an outdated job description that’s been the same for the past decade, brainstorm new ways of making it interesting, vibrant, and a more accurate reflection of what the role looks like.