3 Tricks to Writing an Effective Job Description

If you’re trying to fill an open job position, chances are you know what that position is. But just because you know the job title doesn’t mean you have a firm grasp on the day-to-day duties of a role. Furthermore, when you look at the list of things the new employee will be expected to do, does it make the role seem enticing or dull? Does it stand out from the crowd? Will it attract the right types of qualified candidates you’re looking for? Suddenly, writing a job description seems a lot more complicated, doesn’t it?

effective job descriptions
tomertu / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Although there are plenty of job description templates floating around online (and that can be a good place to start!), writing a job description isn’t really something you can simply plug and publish. In fact, it may be one of the lengthier parts of the hiring process.

Your employees are going to be one of your most competitive advantages when it comes to your company. Strategy is essential, and finances are important, but having the right people on your team can truly make or break your company’s success. That’s what makes the hiring process so important, and the job description is the very first step in that process.

Writing an effective job description is essential when it comes to filling the role well. It’s one of the first steps in your applicant pipeline, and it should immediately repel the wrong candidates and attract the right one. By the time an employee makes it to the interview stage, you’ll want to have already weeded out candidates, and the very first step in the pipeline is writing a job description that only entices the kind of candidate who would be a good fit for the role.

If you don’t get the job description right, you’ll end up spending a lot of time, energy, and resources dealing with applicants who didn’t fully understand the role or, worse, hiring and training someone who isn’t a good fit. An employee who doesn’t quite click with the role or company culture will be a drain on your work’s effectiveness.

Here are three tricks to writing an effective job description in order to find the perfect employee for your open role.

Ask the Past Employee to Write a Draft

First things first: If the previous employee is leaving on good terms or has been promoted, then you probably still have a good working relationship. Ask him or her to write a job description as a final project to wrap up the person’s final weeks. The person who most recently held the role will be the most important expert when it comes to what the role requires.

You may think social media management was a huge part of the marketing assistant’s role, but maybe he or she only spent one morning a week checking in on the social media pages and really spent the majority of his or her time planning and promoting company sales events. This is important to get straight from the source. The employee also may have done smaller tasks you were unaware of that are still incredibly essential to the role—something a new candidate would need to know. You’ll surely have to take the description and polish it, but by having the former title-holder take the first crack at it, you’ll have a good understanding of what the role requires.

If the job is a completely new position, consult the people who will be working the closest with that person or the employee who will be the new person’s manager. This person should have a good understanding of the jobs that need to be completed by this new employee. You could simply ask him or her what job roles he or she thinks are the most important, but by having someone else attempt the first draft, you’ll get a holistic view of the role to be filled. 

Focus on Clarity Instead of Cleverness

Clarity beats cleverness every time when writing but especially when it comes to job descriptions. It may be tempting to name the role something like “sales ninja” or “financial rock star,” but providing job descriptions that are clear and concise will help potential employees find them. You want your job titles to be search engine optimization-friendly so potential candidates can find them with a quick Google search.

Yes, giving off a feel for your company culture can be helpful, but it’s better to do that within the job description because people are more likely to search for “financial services jobs Cincinnati Ohio” than “finance wunderkind jobs.” Candidates should have a firm understanding of what the role is. Clearly written bullet points may feel old school, but there’s a reason—they’re the most effective at getting your point across. Similarly, superlatives should be left off. Asking for only “the most amazing tech guru out there” is going to feel way too intimidating to perfectly acceptable candidates, and it’s simply superfluous—that’s obviously a subjective descriptor, not something measurable or productive.

Highlight Company Benefits

When people look for a new job, they often look beyond salary. Particularly these days, many people are prioritizing flexibility above things like comprehensive disability insurance packages. If your company offers things like a work-from-home option, highlight it! Do you give access to a company gym, discounts on company products, or entertaining company happy hours? These are all things that can go into a person’s decision to apply for a job.

Although clarity in the actual title is essential, as written above, the job description is the place to emphasize the feel and vibe of your business and what you’re aiming for. Whether you’re more buttoned up or the kind of office that has Ping-Pong tournaments, the job description serves as the first step of making that known.

Make sure the people applying for the job have an understanding of your company culture. By hiring someone who doesn’t align with your culture, you’ll end up dealing with a lot of employee churn.