Crafting the perfect job description can be deceptively tricky, especially when it comes to the skills, experience, and responsibilities sections. Skimp on details here and you’ll cast your net too wide, attracting unqualified applicants. Get too specific and you might scare away your best talent. Sure, that CPA with Big 5 experience who knows three programming languages, speaks fluent Japanese and can juggle blindfolded exists somewhere, but she’s harder to find than a needle in a haystack.

Vague or verbose job descriptions can set your hiring search up for failure. Here’s how to find the right balance by correcting common mistakes:

Mistake 1: Failing to reach internal consensus before writing the job description. Confusion or internal disagreement over the new hire’s role within your team, department and company can make it difficult to write an effective job description. Get everyone on the same page by asking these questions:

  • What is the main problem this hire will solve?
  • What skills will the hire need to solve this problem?
  • Are any of these skills we can teach?

Ideally, every stakeholder who will be involved in the hiring decision will also be involved in this conversation. Hash out the details before you start interviewing! Establishing clear expectation for the role makes it easier to describe the position correctly, yielding qualified applicants from day one.

Mistake 2: Skipping the essentials.

Once you’ve reached internal consensus on the role, concisely communicate the essentials:

  • State the 2-3 main functions with a one-sentence explanation of each.
  • Include the management structure, the supervisor, and the place of the role within the team.
  • List example of possible tasks and projects to spur imagination and conversation for interviews.

Mistake 3: Listing too many required skills.

The thinking goes something like this, “The more specific I get with my skill list, the better the candidate, so I’ll just list as many skills as possible.” Unfortunately, long skill lists often backfire. They deter qualified candidates who worry they aren’t the “perfect” fit and actually increase the number of unqualified candidates who apply. These unqualified candidates recognize one or two items and think, “I can do that!”

If you find yourself with a laundry list of skills, consider differentiating between skills that are “required” and “preferred.” A “required” skill is one that is vital to a new hire’s success in this role. A “preferred” skill is one that is nice to have, but not vital. These skills contribute to success but are not essential or can be taught.

Mistake 4: Overusing buzzwords.

The words you choose to describe the role should excite and engage applicants. The right words will inject a bit of personality into your description and convey why your company is unique. Resist the temptation to fall back on cliched terms like “out-of-the-box thinker,” “industry disruptor,” “problem solver” or “rock star” that have lost their impact through common use. Replace these phrases with thoughtful language that speaks to the role in more genuine terms.

Next Steps: Culture, Purpose and Career Pathway

A job description is more than just essential responsibilities and requirements. It should also paint a clear picture of where your company is going. Top talent wants to know about your company’s future plans. What opportunities lie ahead? Why is now an exciting time to join your team? Address culture, purpose and career pathway and you’ve got yourself a winning job description.


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