Tom Sanders

Your Job Description Probably Sucks

By Tom Sanders on August 24, 2016

Let’s face it; looking for a job – even casually – is a chore. Scanning the job boards, scrolling past listing after listing looking for the position or the company that inspires us to click can be numbing.

Then, once we do click, we’re often met with the same challenge time and again; trying to scan the paragraphs and bullet lists to figure out if this is something we have any interest in, or stand a chance of being considered for. So many uninspiring words that all say the same thing. And whether you admit it or not, we all think the same thing, “Oh well, back to my TPS Reports…*sigh*”

And trust me, it’s no picnic on the company side of things. Often times these postings are less recruitment marketing than they are merely checking tasks off a list. Usually posting jobs during a panic mode – either you need to quickly backfill, or you have to quickly ramp up your production capabilities – a hiring manager will dust off an old job description or cobble something together quickly and throw it at the HR team to get it posted a.s.a.p. because, “We need some applicants in the door!”

And then when they do start flowing in, recruiters spend a lot of time screening and trying to find the best candidates to move forward with – which is another set of employer branding issues I hear a lot about, from both sides.

But let’s remain focused on the first step of recruitment marketing; attracting candidates through your job postings. In my opinion, there are two primary reasons most job descriptions suck.

Too much talk about the company. Let’s be honest, the company boilerplate is really just filler on a job description. More often than not, it’s so blazingly self-promotional it creates a tone of “it’s a privilege to work here”. Perhaps it is, but that’s not what motivates most job seekers. Most of them are looking for an employer brand they can believe in.

Their belief in your employer brand will be based on opinions they form by looking at your company web site and social media profiles (And let’s face it, those channels often convey those messages in a more believable fashion anyway). Savvy job seekers will also talk to others and look at places like Glass Door to get unfiltered opinions of the company and determine whether those messages are true. Employers no longer hold all the cards. Employment is a mutual relationship.

Success is rarely defined. The attention is always placed on job requirements as opposed to outputs. Certainly every position has certain requirements, but a successful person will be the one who understands what they are working to achieve and motivated to contribute. Talk about the job challenges. Reframe requirements as strengths that contribute to success. This can be as simple as replacing the word “Requirements” with “You’re Good At”. Then put some thought into describing it. Generic terms like “Effective Communicator” and “Self-Starter” will attract generic candidates.

And while I’m on it, don’t over-emphasize experience. Sure, experience matters, but it’s not a sole indicator of success. Look for experience coupled with the right attitude and cultural fit. An “experienced” person who was successful in a cutthroat environment can quickly decimate a collaborative company culture. Likewise, someone from a team-focused background will likely fail (and certainly be miserable) in a highly competitive environment. There’s nothing wrong with either person, but if their working experience doesn’t fit within your culture, failure is imminent.

So what can we do to improve our recruitment marketing efforts? Here’s some quick, simple advice to use in your job descriptions:

  • Describe who you are, not what you’ve done. Instead of touting accolades and awards, describe the company personality, values, and culture. These are all things that will help people identify if they are a fit. Help them see themselves in the day-to-day life. Highlight things that will help them perform in their role like training, mentoring, and access to senior leadership.
  • Be consistent. If you talk about “People driving the success of the company”, don’t then talk about the “ideal candidate” or “applicants”. These are people, and more importantly, the job description should be personalized. Use the word “you”.
  • Be specific. One of my favorites is, “You’ll work with some of the best [insert role here]!” (Which makes me immediately think of the movie Elf and the “best cup of coffee” scene). Another way this takes shape is through generalized “Everyone here loves their coworkers” testimonials. Be more specific about the types of personalities that exist. Acknowledge the quirky. Instead of repeating the claims of employees being “smart” and “friendly”, talk about being geeky, gregarious, or goofy.
  • Stop talking about work/life balance. That’s not a thing any more. People (especially millennials) are looking for integration. Studies consistently show Americans work more or longer hours. It’s our society; it’s how we’re wired. People know they need to put the hours in – and the good ones will go beyond what is expected, provided they are inspired and committed. Flexibility is more important than balance.
  • Don’t oversell the perks. You run the risk of promising things that may not be real. For example, I worked for a company that touted the Ping-Pong, air hockey and foosball tables they had put in place for employees. The reality was that they were so loud and disruptive to the work environment, people were afraid to use them.

Or, you may inadvertently drive good people away. In the agency world it’s common to run into dog-friendly environments. While it’s generally well received, keep in mind that not everyone is a dog lover. Over-emphasizing this perk can create high levels of anxiety for some.

To be clear, it’s OK to talk about these things, they’re part of your culture. It’s when play them up to be bigger then they really are that you run the risks.

There’s no silver bullet solution to improving your recruitment marketing. Much like golf, there are dozens of things to concentrate on. However, focusing on too many things at once stands a better chance of frustrating your efforts than improving them. Build your employer brand and attract the right employees by doing a few simple things really well. Be the ball, Danny.

Besides, considering the money most companies spend on other marketing efforts, it just makes good business sense to invest a little bit in the HR team.

Tom Sanders is the Director of Brand Strategy at Core Creative.