Six steps for writing a job description that works.

Companies often come to me when they aren’t having success hiring on their own. While there are many reasons that could be the case, you might be surprised that the problem is often the job description. People who might be a great fit for the role self-select out of applying because the job description has led them to believe they would not be a good fit or they are not interested in the role itself.

How do you avoid this trap? Follow my step-by-step guide:

Step 1: Reverse engineer your job criteria

When writing a job description, consider the real need. Ask yourself, “What does our team accomplish for the business? What tasks does this person need to be able to accomplish to help our team fulfill its role? What skills do those tasks require?”

Then think about the dynamic of your team and what qualities suit that dynamic. If other people have been in that role, make two lists – one of what characteristics made people successful in that role and one of what characteristics were counterproductive.

You should see a profile of your ideal candidate start to emerge.

Step 2: Sizzle

Start writing with what I like to call the “sizzle.” The sizzle is what makes your company an exciting organization to be a part of. Hiring great talent is a two-way street. What makes people want to work there? Keep it tight. You just need to pique their interest and they will go to the company website to learn more.

Step 3: Capture the candidate’s attention

Follow the sizzle with 3 to 5 sentences about what you’re looking for. I like to structure the first sentence like this: We are looking for an ADJECTIVE TITLE to CALL TO ACTION. For example, “We are looking for a creative Mobile Applications Developer to collaboratively create new and enhance existing applications.” Pick an adjective that speaks to a key trait the job requires but is general enough that many candidates will feel it applies to them. The call to action should use a strong, active verb and demonstrate the impact they can expect to have in the role. Use the following sentences to expand upon that.

Step 4: Fire up the candidate

People that are truly game changers for organizations buy into the big purpose of the organization and the team. They will run through a wall in their day-to-day work to get the job done. In your next paragraph, get prospective candidates fired up by painting a picture of what success in the role looks like.

Step 5: Keep the criteria tight

Now move onto your bulleted list of criteria. One of the biggest mistakes I see is a bloated list of “required” skills. In IT, the industry I work in, you see some organizations list every possible piece of technology that exists in their landscape in an effort to be broad. What you end up with is a watered down message that I’ve seen deter over 50% of qualified candidates while increasing the number of unqualified candidates that apply. They recognize one or two items and think, “I can do that!”

A “required” skill is one that you can’t be successful in the role without. A “preferred” skill is one that could contribute to success in the role. Take the list of criteria you developed during your initial brainstorm and carefully separate them. Finally, take a look at your “preferred” list and consider whether each item would really influence your hiring decision. If not, take them off the list entirely. You can ask a candidate with your required skills about bonus skills in an interview. You cannot ask them if they do not apply.

Step 6: Edit, edit, edit

Edit out jargon and overused terms like “out-of-the-box thinker” that have lost some of their impact through common use. Replace these things with thoughtful language that speaks to the role in more genuine terms. Get multiple eyes on it to make sure you haven’t missed anything.

Finally, make sure it passes the ultimate test. Ask yourself how you would respond as a potential candidate.

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