HR & Employee Management Articles

How Writing Effective Job Descriptions Can Help You Hire the Next Generation of Talent

by Karen McCandless
Published on 31 October 2017

Writing effective job descriptions header

Grammar mistakes, demanding requirements that aren't feasible, unprofessionally written (e.g. not spell checked)- these are just a few of the complaints we received when we surveyed job seekers about what puts them off a job advert in September 2017.

Take this -we assume accidentally posted- job advert from Time Out New York as a case in point of how a bad job ad can put off top talent.

According to our survey respondents, the top factors putting them off job adverts are no salary information (36.3 percent), asking for too many skills (27.8 percent), and vague job title (20.8 percent).

Despite the more diverse ways that both candidates find jobs and HR recruits candidates, job descriptions remain a crucial part of the recruitment process.

Gartner research (available to paid clients) has this to say: "Job descriptions have been a foundational piece of HR's arsenal for decades, especially for recruitment and compensation planning to manage labor cost. And they continue to be so."

You need to rethink the way job postings are formulated and written, especially to meet the needs of the digital workplace. You need to factor in the change in working styles, such as the gig economy and the inclination to change jobs more often. This article will look at:

  • The role of job ads in the digital workplace
  • How to improve job postings to attract the best talent
  • Writing effective job descriptions for gig economy projects.

The role of job ads in the digital workplace

The digital workplace is an emerging concept that is supposed to function as an alternative to the traditional physical workspace (an office with mainly face-to-face communication). The idea is that using more consumer applications allows people to work in a much more flexible and location-independent manner.

Hiring for the digital workplace which often involves much more virtual collaboration -and emerging workstyles- requires a different approach, particularly when it comes to the type of information you might put in a job ad.

Gartner encourages companies (available to paid clients only) to hire talent as if they were leading a theatrical repertory company: "They should seek intelligence, creativity, talent and adaptability. They hire for tomorrow's roles that are not yet defined instead of yesterday's roles that had clear boundaries.

"Lorne Michaels of Saturday Night Live fame has been recognized for how he cast talented people. Such practices include recruiting great people you know will leave and creating more opportunities as alumni."

Source: Gartner

In terms of the information and technologies required to make this happens - especially within a job ad - Gartner believes that top talent is less interested in climbing the typical corporate career ladder within one company or one department. This means that software solutions that include capabilities such as algorithms need to be developed to collect and track information that can match the right person with the right company.

The research says: "Perhaps we will see a convergence of ideas from e-commerce domains with algorithmic pricing and gig economy domains where networks of independent professionals promote their own work and seek other workers to complete the work they cannot do, for the right price."

How to improve job postings to attract the best talent

As we can see from the Gartner research, a new approach to the information and technology used and supplied is needed to transform the talent acquisition process.

We asked some recruiting experts and small business owners that are working to transform their hiring efforts to share their tips on what they put in job ads to attract the best talent.

Pooja Krishna, an Entrepreneur and Co-Founder of Maroon Oak a free, digital career platform for women

Be transparent

Way too many organizations overstate the importance of the project role, leading to eventual disappointment - truthful and realistic is always better in the long run. Many people will pick good companies over fancy projects. On the other hand, if there are learning opportunities, do mention those.

Jon-Mark Sabel, Content Strategist at recruiting technology HireVue

Write candidate-centric descriptions

"Traditionally the job description is a list of demands levied on potential applicants- but job descriptions emphasizing what the position can do for the applicant (in terms of personal growth and advancement opportunities) receive generally receive more highly qualified candidates.

"Psychologists refer to this approach as "Needs-Supplies", since the candidate's needs are supplied by the organization (compared to the traditional "Demands-Abilities", where demands are placed on the candidate's abilities).

"In other words: a great job description is the one that shows the candidate what the job can offer them, not the other way around. When shown what the job can do for them, the most qualified job seekers -who generally do not have difficulty finding work- get curious and engaged.

"Some examples of what to include in the candidate-centric job description:

  • Vertical and horizontal mobility (showing what the applicant can expect in terms of career progression)
  • Mentorship and other available learning programs (showing what the applicant can expect in terms of personal growth)
  • Team-based projects and their results (showing what the applicant can expect to be a part of)."

Lynda Spiegel, Founder of Rising Star Resumes, a job search and resume service

Focus on soft skills

"Writing effective job descriptions, whether for full time employment or project-based work should focus less on specific skills than on traits like intellectual curiosity, perseverance and passion. Write a job description that describes the kind of work you do, and invite candidates to explain how they can contribute.

"You'll get the best people by inviting them to join a shared interest than you will by hanging out a laundry list of requirements."

Writing effective job descriptions for gig economy projects

While these tips apply to the general practice of writing effective job descriptions to hire the best talent, when recruiting freelancers for specific projects, a different approach is often required. Here we spoke to business owners who have experience of hiring freelancers and gig economy workers.

Diane Elizabeth, Entrepreneur and Founder of Skin Care Ox

Incorporate marketing principles

"If you are seeking someone for a technical project, be specific about what technologies are being used, the timeline for the project, exactly what work needs to be done, and the skills required to do the job. This goes back to marketing basics-concisely yet clearly answer the big five questions: What? Who? When? Why? How? If you aren't technical and don't have clear answers on any of the big five questions, then find someone in the organization who can provide more specificity."

Peter Ho, founder of MultiplyIQ.com, a marketplace for learning discovery

Use screening questions

"First, we must understand and be clear about the deliverables of the project. If we have a good understanding of the output of the project, we can be very specific in the description about the relevant experience a potential candidate needs to bring. That will help the interview process tremendously.

"We also typically ask interested candidates to respond to one or two simple questions (typically embedded in the description). This has proven to be very helpful as this screens out spam candidates and those who do not pay attention to details."

Daniel Miller, VP of Recruiting at Empowered Staffing

Be very specific about project details

"List out the project in detail enough where potential candidates can get excited. If you are seeking a software engineer or mobile developer, write in why it would be exciting for them to work on the project. For example, you will have the opportunity to build an eCommerce platform from scratch for a multi million division that has grown way past the abilities of Magento, etc."

Next steps

There are tools out there that can help you put the processes in place to help you with writing effective job descriptions to attract talent -whether that be on a long term or short term basis:


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