Building a Better Mousetrap: Writing Job Descriptions to Capture Candidates


Sometimes, making a great hire can feel like chasing a cartoon mouse that’s always out of reach.

Whether there’s a lack of qualified pros in your area, a high demand for specific skills in your area or you keep losing all of your good candidates to major brands, filling critical, high-skill positions with an “A Player” is getting harder and harder to accomplish.

It’s also getting harder to make hires quickly. According to iCIMS’ U.S. Hiring Trends Q4 2015 Report, it took businesses an average of 44 days to make a hire in 2015 and small companies took 20% longer to make a hire.

There are a few reasons why vacancies this long are really, really bad.

  • First, extended vacancies mean that a whole lot of work is being delayed, postponed and/or pushed onto people who aren’t qualified to do it.
  • Second, high quality candidates are hired within their first 10 days of job seeking, nearly a month before most jobs are filled in this country.
  • Third, extended vacancies mean more money spent on job board subscription renewals, recruiters and any other hiring resources you’re using.

To avoid these destructive vacancies, you need to write a job description that is convincing enough to get someone to quit their job and apply to your company (or at least think about it). When the application process takes this long, it is crucial to begin this process with a truly captivating job description in order to start everything on the right note. In today’s candidate driven market, you need to give top talent what they expect, and that’s a golden opportunity. Giving them this opportunity starts with writing a job description that grabs onto the reader and doesn’t let go.


Write Job Descriptions to Capture Candidate Interest

They say that you don’t get a second chance at a first impression, and this is especially true when marketing your open job.

The job description is the first contact that many candidates will have with your brand and it is the first contact that most of them will have with your job opportunity. How a candidate feels after reading your job description (if they finish reading it) will set the initial tone for the application process in terms of their expectations for the job and the effort that they’re willing to put forward to get it.

If your job description truly captures their interest, then the applicant begins the application process on a positive note and they are more likely to put additional effort into their application. However, if a candidate is not engaged or “meh,” after reading your job description, then this will set the tone for their engagement in the application process (if they even apply).

Starting things on the right foot is crucial for holding the interest of top talent. They will expect a smooth, professional application experience, and this starts with a smooth, professional job description. If you want to capture the attention of top talent, and hold it throughout the application process, then your job description needs to capture the reader’s attention and needs to be placed where top candidates will find it.


Content to Capture the Reader

Any good trap needs some good bait, and, just like anything else that you click on, people will only read your job description if it has the right title. This is the first point at which a candidate can pass on your job opportunity, when it’s sitting somewhere in a list of other job opportunities.

For your job description to catch the interest of a discerning candidates, it needs to have the appropriate job title, but it also needs to have something else to bait candidates into clicking.

Striking this balance can be tricky, so here’s some advice from an article from Lessonly, based on research from Glassdoor:

“You need to write for two targets: job prospects and search engines. This means optimizing your job listings so that both people and algorithms can find them easily. Be mindful when using abbreviations for certain positions. Sr. usually stands for senior and RN generally indicates Registered Nurse, but other abbreviations like PA could stand for a whole host of things: Physician’s Assistant, Production Assistant, Personal Assistant, or Personal Accountant.”

So, along with the correct job title (the portion of the title that search engines care about) the title of your job description needs to include something that top candidates will care about.

For instance, you’d start with the title of your job “Sr. Web Developer” and then add something to intrigue the reader like

  • “Sr. Web Developer: Re-Design our Online Marketplace” or
  • “Sr. Web Developer: Strut Your Stuff at Our Fashion Magazine” or
  • “Sr. Web Developer: Own our Website Functionality”

You want to give the reader enough information to be intrigued, but not so much that your title becomes its own, mini job description.

Once you have a snappy, searchable title, it’s time to write the body of your job description. But, before you can write a job description that captures the attention of candidates, you need to make a list of everything that make doing this job different from doing other jobs like it.

These are your selling points: the conditions that make your job different (and better) than the job that your competitor is offering. Whether it’s the tight-knit team of experts that the hire would be working with, the creative control they will have over their work or the opportunity to mentor junior employees, you need to highlight the most interesting and unique aspects of the job.

After you’ve decided on which interesting/unique aspects of the job you’re going to market, use these selling points as the frame for your job description. You will still need to describe the less interesting parts of the job, but make sure that your selling points are front and center. Some jobs are complicated and require that a good portion of your job description is devoted to listing off specific tools or techniques, but you can still compartmentalize this information, and begin your job description by demonstrating your selling points with descriptive language.

Here’s an example of a job description that’s intriguing and unique, but still manages to include all of the necessary, technical points that are required to describe the job.



Title: Lead Web Developer – Revolutionize America’s Favorite Hobby!

[COMPANY_NAME] is seeking a senior web developer near San Francisco to help develop our website and create the framework for our online community.

If you are an experienced web developer with a passion for creating web applications with a focus on building online communities then [COMPANY_NAME] is the place for you! In this newly created role you will be uniquely positioned to run with our current design schema and develop the [COMPANY_NAME] website: the first true online gardening resource center and community. Gardening is among the top hobbies in the U.S. and the [COMPANY_NAME] product is just the tipping point of a new revolution in the way people select and care for plants, share experiences, and find resources. Make a visible contribution in an exciting start-up environment where team work, flexibility, and innovation are the names of the game. Join [COMPANY_NAME] today and take your career to the next level!

Roles and Qualifications

As our Lead Web Developer, based in our BART and CalTrain friendly San Francisco office, your primary objective will be to develop our website and robust customer portal, making it an industry leading online experience. Recent experience developing websites and web-based applications utilizing PHP and MySQL paired with knowledge of frameworks such as Symfony, Ruby on Rails or a similar MVC framework will allow you to hit the ground running. You should be well versed in web application optimization and test automation (functional, unit, load) and have an expert knowledge of HTML and CSS. Utilize your AJAX and object oriented JavaScript expertise to create elegant and highly functional web pages while making an immediate impact on website usability. Leverage your XML experience to facilitate our affiliate marketing efforts. Familiarity with social networking sites, online community applications, and Web APIs will further demonstrate your technical acumen and lead to your continued success in this role as you develop the first true gardening community website. You will interact with a broad group of professionals at [COMPANY_NAME], from web development management to product mangers and graphic designers to botanists and PhDs, therefore your ability to work collaboratively and communicate effectively will be paramount in this role. Do not miss out on this opportunity to grow with an intelligent and talented group of professionals who value community and customer satisfaction. Apply today and plant your seed of success!


The beginning of this job description focuses on the big picture and the unique aspects of the job. Instead of plain old web development, this job description offers candidates the chance to build from the ground up and make a huge impact at this company. The only thing that could make this job description better would be re-formatting it to not be two giant paragraphs of text.

Here’s a question, would you rather do some job, or Make a visible contribution in an exciting start-up environment where team work, flexibility, and innovation are the names of the game”?

This is the sort of phrase that captures the attention of the reader and doesn’t let go. Considering that most top candidates already have jobs, you need to write job descriptions that make them want to move on to your opportunity. Additionally, your job description needs to be memorable enough to stick in their minds after they’ve read it. If you can balance these descriptive elements with the content that has to be in your job description, then you have a job description that is ready to capture the attention of some high quality candidates.


The Right Location to Capture Candidates

Much like a mousetrap placed in the toilet bowl, your job description will never capture the attention of top talent if it isn’t where top talent is looking.

Now, top candidates don’t go to major job boards as often as active job seekers for several reasons:

  • They are frequently contacted by recruiters (daily in some cases).
  • They have specific, detailed career plans including desired employers.
  • They already have a job and don’t have the time to search for new work on top of everything else.

Though it is harder to get the attention of top candidates, your captivating job description can still do the trick if it is in the right place to do its job. Remember, everyone has bad days at work, and you want your job description to be there when a talented candidate is looking for the next step in their career.

You should still distribute your job description to major job boards, but you should also use these targeted candidate sources to get your job description into the hands of talented candidates.

Niche Job Boards

Niche job boards are just like the job boards you’re used to using, except they cater to specific industries, skills or even specific jobs. One of the most well-known niche job boards is Dice, which is specific to tech professionals.

This post from the Proven Blog has an entire catalogue of niche job boards that you can use to target the talent pools that you want to tap into for your next hire. From creative to construction and from technology to sales, this list can help you reach the candidates that you want to reach.

Always choose the job boards you’re going to use based on the position you’re hiring for. Niche job boards are actively explored by top talent, so tap into these emerging talent sources to reach the best minds in your industry.


Referrals are another way to break through the spam that top candidates are used to receiving. The reason referrals are so effective at getting top talent to notice your job opportunity, is that it’s coming from a trusted source.

Instead of coming across your job on some website, it’s delivered to them through social media, email, text or even a phone call, depending on their relationship to the employee referring them. When your job description is delivered to a top candidate through their former colleague, it automatically holds more weight than some job they happened to see online. Additionally, being referred means that a candidate already knows that someone who they trust enjoys working for you.

This personal touch can be the deciding factor in getting a top candidate to join your company. We all want to work with people who we like, so don’t miss the opportunity to leverage the connections of your best and brightest employees.

Social Media

Social media can be a wonderful tool for getting your job description into the right hands. By promoting your open jobs through your company’s social media profiles, you can expand your job distribution to reach fans of your company and the social sphere at large.

Posting a simple message on Twitter and including a link to your job description is a great way to generate interest in your job and gives your open job the chance to go viral.

“Ever wanted to _______? Our ____department is hiring a ­­­(your job) ! #Yourcompanycareers # Yourcompany #(yourjob)”

Having your job opportunities on social media allows for your employees to share these opportunities more easily and gives fans of your brand the chance to spread the word on your job opening. Additionally, top candidates expect their employers to be active on most major platforms, so don’t disappoint them.

Social media is a great tool for expanding the reach of your referral program and spreading the word about your open job. Top brands have all of their social media bases covered, so competing with them for talent will require your company to do the same.



In today’s multi-tasking, attention-splitting atmosphere, it has never been more important to write job descriptions that capture the attention of the reader. If you want to make great hires, then you need a job description to grabs onto your target audience and doesn’t let go.

To close, here are some more tips from Lessonly on writing great job descriptions:

  • Make it easy to understand: For both people and search engines
  • Tell them why the position matters: Or else it won’t matter to them.
  • Focus on the Title: This is the first point where you can lose the reader.
  • Don’t Mislead People: Just don’t.
  • Make it short and sweet: Make sure you can read it on your phone in the time it takes to check out at the grocery store.