This is how you should be writing job descriptions
March 1, 2024
min read

This is how you should be writing job descriptions

Shandra Earney
Shandra Earney

Writing job descriptions that resonate

In today's competitive job market, businesses face a daunting challenge: attracting and retaining top-tier talent. The success of any organisation hinges upon its ability to engage with potential candidates, starting with the very first point of contact – the job description.

The bad news is that most job descriptions tend to leave a negative impression, failing to excite, captivate, and motivate individuals to apply.

An effective talent acquisition strategy is crucial for navigating this landscape. From understanding the fundamental components of writing a job description to leveraging nuanced strategies for maximum impact, this article equips you with the tools and insights needed to stand out in today's crowded job market.

What to include in a job description: an overview

Before we dive into the details, it’s important to note that a job description should accurately outline the tasks and responsibilities associated with the specific role. Whether you're recruiting for developer positions or any other technical domain, conducting thorough research on job ads for your industry is essential.

When well-crafted, job descriptions offer a clear understanding of the role and address the fundamental question: What does an employee in this job actually do?

But job descriptions go beyond simply outlining job duties; they form the basis for attracting, nurturing, and keeping talent and maximising productivity by clearly defining duties, desired outcomes, and performance assessments.

They also play a crucial role in establishing fair compensation practices and upholding legal standards.

Job descriptions should prioritise defining the role rather than customising it to suit a particular individual. This approach ensures that job descriptions remain 'incumbent neutral,' meaning they aren't influenced by the specific qualities of any current employee, such as performance, dedication, loyalty, years of service, etc.

Additionally, job descriptions should avoid excessive detail about work tasks to ensure their ongoing usefulness, even when minor adjustments to the role occur.

With these fundamentals in mind, let’s break down the individual components of job descriptions and explore how each can be optimised to attract your ideal candidate.

The anatomy of job descriptions: key components for attracting talent

What does a job description include?

A well-crafted job description includes key components for attracting suitable candidates and clarifying the position, including the job title, job purpose, an explanation of duties and responsibilities, required qualifications, preferred qualifications, and details regarding working conditions.

Let’s explore each of these in more detail:

Crafting Concise and Purposeful Job Titles

When writing a job title, ensure it’s concise (1-4 words), reflecting the content, purpose, and scope of the role while maintaining consistency with similar roles within the organisation.

Creating insightful job purpose statements

Here, you should provide a concise overview of the role's scope of responsibility, level, and overarching function.

It should consist of three to four sentences offering a 'bird’s eye view' of the position. Essentially, this part of your job description should succinctly answer the question: 'Why does this job exist?

Constructing comprehensive task descriptions

This section of your job description should offer an overview of the tasks and responsibilities assigned to the role, commonly referred to as the ‘essential functions,’ which describe the fundamental nature of the job.

Here are some considerations:

  • Include explanations that cover how, why, where, and how often tasks and duties are performed.
  • Emphasise the desired outcomes of tasks.
  • Highlight areas of decision-making where the employee will have an impact.
  • Clearly outline direct and indirect responsibilities.
  • Specify the level and scope of financial duties and budget management.
  • Describe how communication will occur, who will be involved, and how much the person in the role will interact with others.
  • Outline the specific tasks required for the job, ensuring they align with the job's requirements and aren't dependent on any one person's skills.
  • Clarify the supervisory responsibilities associated with the role, such as the extent of authority in hiring, disciplining, terminating, assigning work, training and evaluating subordinates.

The job's responsibilities should be arranged based on how important they are or how often they're done. Typically, they’re outlined with bullet points or numbers, comprising around 4–7 specific tasks.

It can be helpful to allocate a percentage to each task, adding up to 100%, reflecting the estimated annual time commitment for employees. Tasks requiring less than 5% of the time should be combined with other duties or excluded from the job description.

Outlining required qualifications for job success

This section outlines the necessary level of job-related expertise (including education, experience, skills, and abilities).

Importantly, this section should focus on the minimum qualifications required for an individual to achieve productivity and success in the role.

Let’s break down the different types of expertise you could include in this job description section:

1. Education

Specify the educational requirements for employees to carry out their job responsibilities effectively. Describe these qualifications in terms of relevant fields of study/specific degrees that would equip them with the necessary knowledge to succeed in the role.

2. Experience

Determine the minimum years of experience required for an employee to qualify for the job, along with specifying whether internships and undergraduate work experience are acceptable.

3. Knowledge, skills, and abilities

When detailing the required knowledge for a job, clarify the level or breadth of understanding necessary for the position. The following definitions offer useful insights:

  • Working knowledge: familiar enough with the subject to know basic terminology and principles to solve simple problems.
  • General knowledge: knowledgeable enough to handle tasks requiring an understanding of typical situations, encompassing the most significant aspects of the subject.
  • Thorough knowledge: advanced knowledge enabling a comprehensive understanding of the subject matter and an ability to address common and uncommon work challenges, offer technical guidance and serve as a knowledge source within the organisation.
  • Comprehensive knowledge: requiring a total understanding of the subject. It’s best to be selective with this term, reserving it for instances where individuals hold particularly demanding roles.

In addition to the different types of technical knowledge mentioned above, soft skills are crucial for success.

Soft skills complement technical knowledge and are essential for overall job performance and professional growth. These skills include but are not limited to:

  • Communication: The ability to convey information clearly and effectively verbally and in writing.
  • Teamwork: Collaborative skills to work effectively with others towards common goals.
  • Problem-solving: The capacity to analyse situations, identify problems, and develop effective solutions.
  • Adaptability: The ability to adjust to changing circumstances and environments.
  • Leadership: The capability to motivate, inspire, and guide others, whether in a formal leadership position or as a team member.
  • Time Management: The ability to efficiently manage one’s time and prioritise tasks to meet deadlines and achieve objectives.

When crafting your job description, list specific abilities and/or skills necessary for the individual to excel in the position and any required certifications or licences.

Highlighting preferred qualifications for enhanced job performance

Unlike required qualifications, preferred qualifications are desirable but not crucial for daily tasks. When included, preferred qualifications can focus on aspects such as experience, education, skills, knowledge, and abilities.

Detailing work conditions and physical demands

Outline the specific working conditions and physical requirements necessary for the job. Include information on the nature of physical tasks, their frequency, duration, and intensity.

Some considerations include:

  • Environment, encompassing indoor settings like offices and outdoor locations.
  • Exposure possibilities, including encountering dangerous substances and enduring high noise levels or extreme temperatures.
  • Physical demands, such as standing, bending, or keyboard use.
  • Lifting requirements, categorised as sedentary, light, medium, or heavy.
  • Weekend and night shift requirements or being on-call as part of the employee’s regular duties.

Mastering job description writing: tips for crafting compelling and clear job ads

Now that we've covered how to write a job description, let's explore some extra tips for crafting accurate job ads that appeal to candidates:

  • Opt for a direct and concise writing style.
  • Always choose simple words over complex ones and maintain straightforward sentence structures. This approach reduces unnecessary words, shortens explanations, and improves comprehension.
  • Use vivid present-tense verbs (e.g. operates, writes, performs) to depict actions.
  • Steer clear of abbreviations and acronyms since others may not be acquainted with them. If their use is unavoidable, ensure they’re clearly defined upon first mention.
  • Refrain from using ambiguous terms. If terms like ‘assists,’ ‘handles,’ or "performs" are used, specify the precise actions or processes involved. For example, using the word ‘by,’ followed up with a clear description of the task helps to remove ambiguity.
  • Refrain from gender-specific language, such as ‘she oversees’ and ‘he is responsible for.’
  • Don’t mention specific employees' names. Instead, refer to their job titles or departments.
  • Only include the duties applicable at the time of writing. Omit potential future duties and remove any duties that are no longer necessary.

When recruiting, it's also crucial to spotlight your company without going overboard. Balancing showcasing your company's values and culture with the job specifics is key.

Here are some pointers:

  1. Be authentic: Genuine company values resonate more with candidates.
  2. Check online reviews: Ensure consistency between your job description and employee feedback on platforms like Glassdoor.
  3. Highlight unique perks: Skip the clichés and focus on distinctive benefits to stand out and avoid being seen as generic.

You also need the right expectations to attract the right talent. For instance, if your budget is $55k, expect someone with less than five years of experience.

 Here are some tips to ensure clarity and fairness in your job descriptions:

  1. Match pay with expertise: Offer an appropriate amount of money for the experience you seek.
  2. Define the role clearly: Clearly outline whether you're seeking someone to establish foundational processes or someone who can execute tasks swiftly.
  3. Stay open-minded: New graduates bring fresh perspectives, while seasoned professionals offer deep knowledge. Refrain from rigidly sticking to experience requirements.

Remember, investing more in candidates often yields better results. This could involve offering non-monetary benefits like remote work options, travel opportunities, leadership roles, or other valuable perks.

Additionally, companies should aim to attract both actively job-seeking and passive candidates (talented professionals who are satisfied in their current roles but open to better opportunities). A well-articulated, succinct job description can capture their attention too.

Candidate-friendly job ads: tips to avoid annoying potential applicants

In the world of recruitment, it's important to steer clear of pitfalls that could deter potential applicants.

Here are some tips to ensure you don't deter potential job applicants:

1. Avoid cliché job titles

Skip the 'wizard' and ‘superstar’ labels in your job ads. They can appear cheesy and push away serious pros seeking meaningful roles. Stick to simple, clear job titles that truly describe the role and the required skills. This way, you show you're serious and respectful of the talents candidates bring to the table.

2. Beware of deceptive job descriptions

Craft job advertisements that faithfully mirror the position. Beware of exaggerated or deceptive portrayals, which can breed discontent, undermine confidence in your organisation, and trigger premature departures.

Precise job descriptions convey transparency and signal professionalism, demonstrating your company’s focused purpose. This clarity fosters contented and committed team members.

3. Don't promise what you can’t deliver

Transparency is crucial when discussing job responsibilities and company offerings. Overpromising can lead to disillusionment and higher turnover rates, whether related to the role, work environment, or career advancement. Moreover, disenchanted employees are less productive, affecting the entire team.

Financially, overpromising has several implications. Recruitment cycles incur costs (advertising, agency fees, interview logistics, etc.), and a high turnover due to unmet expectations amplifies these expenses. Additionally, training programs, workshops, and mentorship require financial investment. When employees leave prematurely, these costs become sunk expenses.

High turnover rates due to broken promises also tarnish the company’s reputation, leading to negative reviews that can deter potential candidates and clients.

4. Avoid treating candidates as one homogeneous group

As recruiters, it’s essential to recognise that every employee is distinct. They hold their own aspirations, abilities, and preferences. Acknowledging these differences is not only respectful but also essential for effective employment.

By embracing a personalised approach where possible, the recruitment process becomes more than a transaction. Candidates feel valued, seen, and understood. In essence, avoiding a one-size-fits-all mentality leads to better outcomes and a more inclusive environment.

Maximise hiring success with dedicated platforms

Incorporating the tips and tricks discussed in this article into your recruitment playbook is a solid beginning, but if you're navigating the tech world, why not consider the advantages of tapping into a specialised tech recruitment platform?

At WeAreDevelopers, we offer a unique platform that simplifies finding the right software developer for your team.

Post a job ad on our IT Job Board today to attract your perfect candidate.


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