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writing job descriptions

Building a Better Mousetrap: Writing Job Descriptions to Capture Candidates

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Writing job descriptions that attract top talent is kind of like building the perfect mousetrap. If your mousetrap stinks, then making a great hire can feel like chasing a cartoon mouse that’s always out of reach.

Whether it comes down to a lack of qualified pros in your area, a high demand for specific skills in your industry, or you keep losing all of your best candidates to competitors, filling critical, high-skill positions with top talent is getting harder and harder to accomplish.

And it’s not just a matter of making the best hires, filling open positions quickly is getting harder too. According to DHI Hiring Indicators, the average time-to-fill was 28.9 working days (not including weekends) in June 2017. If your organization has over 5000 employees, average time-to-fill nearly doubles.

Long term job vacancies hurt business in a variety of ways:

  • Extended periods of vacancy mean that a whole lot of work is being delayed, postponed, and/or pushed onto people who aren’t qualified to do it.
  • If other employees are picking up the slack caused by vacant positions, they’re either working more to do both jobs, or letting some of their own work slide.
  • Since high quality candidates are hired within their first 10 days of job seeking (nearly a month before most jobs are filled in this country), taking too long to hire means you lose these candidates.
  • Third, extended vacancies mean more money spent on job board subscription renewals, recruiters, and any other hiring resources you’re using.

If you want to avoid long term vacancies that create these kinds of problems, you need to focus on writing job descriptions that are convincing enough to get someone to quit their job and apply to your company (or at least think about it). That means your open position needs to look truly irresistible.

You need to create the perfect mousetrap.

Writing Job Descriptions That Capture Candidate Interest

They say that you don’t get a second chance at a first impression, and this is especially true when practicing recruitment 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. On the other hand, if a candidate is not engaged or completely “meh,” after reading your job description, then this will also set the tone for their engagement in the application process… If they bother to apply at all.

Starting things on the right foot is critical if you want to get interest from top talent. High quality candidates expect a smooth, professional application experience, and that starts with a professional, compelling 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 be easy to find and must capture the candidate’s attention.

Candidate Capturing Title

Any good mousetrap needs good bait. Just like anything else readers click on, candidates will only read job descriptions with compelling titles. The title is the first point at which a candidate can either get excited about your job opportunity, or pass it over for another opportunity.

For your job description to catch the interest of discerning candidates, it needs to have not only an appropriate job title, but also needs to have something else to bait candidates into clicking.

Striking this balance can be tricky. You need to write for two targets:

  • Job prospects
  • Search Engines

That means that you’ll need to optimize your job listings so that both people and search engines can find them easily. That’s something that we’ve already talked a lot about with regards to job description keywords, but it’s worth mentioning here as well.

You should also be mindful when using abbreviations for certain positions. The abbreviation “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
  • Personal Accountant

If you choose to use an abbreviation, be sure that it won’t be misunderstood by candidates.

In addition to using 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 also 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.

Tell Them About The Job

Once you have a snappy, searchable title, it’s time to write the body of your job description. When writing job descriptions, you need to make a list of every positive attribute of the open position. What makes this job different from similar jobs?

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, techniques, or skills, 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 text is even broken up into smaller pieces to make it easier to read.

Here’s a question: Would you be more excited to apply for a plain job in your field 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. Tell them what’s in it for them to work for your organization. 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.

There’s one last thing. In your effort writing job descriptions that are exciting and candidate-capturing, be sure that you aren’t misleading. Nothing hurts your organization’s credibility more than posting misleading job descriptions.

The Right Location to Capture Candidates

Just like a mousetrap placed at the bottom of a lake, your job description will never capture the attention of top talent if it isn’t where top talent is looking.

Top candidates don’t generally 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 a new position.

Though it is harder to get the attention of top candidates, your captivating job description can still do the trick if it is placed correctly.

After all, everyone has a bad day at work and takes a peak at what else might be out there. You want your job description to be front and center when a talented candidate is looking for the next step in their career. That means that you should still distribute your job description to major job boards, but you should also use the targeted candidate sources below to get your job description into the hands of talented candidates who may not be actively looking.

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. What’s really nice about niche job boards is that they are actively sought out by top talent. That means tapping into these types of boards can allow you to reach some of the best minds in whichever industry your industry.

One of the most well-known niche job boards is Dice, which is specific to tech professionals, but there is also a really nice list from Proven Blog. It 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.

Referrals

Referrals are another great 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 about your job opening. Additionally, top candidates expect their employers to be active on most social media platforms, so it reflects poorly of your organization if you’re not.

Social media is a great tool for expanding the reach of your referral program and spreading the word about your open position.

Conclusion

Before we close, let’s do a quick re-cap.

  • Write for both people and search engines.
  • Use a candidate-capturing title.
  • Make sure abbreviations are clear, if you use them.
  • Make the description interesting and tell them why it’s the best job opening available. Tell them what’s in it for them to work in your organization.
  • Don’t mislead people. Just don’t.
  • Include keywords: Search engines need them to find your job description.

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

 

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