Hiring 101: How to Write an Effective Job Description

🙋‍♀️ This is a cross-post from my newsletter, Leading by Design. If you liked the post below, consider subscribing! I post one issue per month.

In the previous Hiring 101 issue, we learned about all the mise-en-place that’s needed before you start hiring. To recap, you should start by asking yourself why do you need a new hire. Then, you and your team should work together to clarify roles & responsibilities and start thinking about new member onboarding (yes, that early).

In this issue, we’re going to learn all about the dreaded job description and how it can make or break your hiring process. We’re going to consider what goes into writing a compelling story that will attract qualified and diverse candidates, as well as some common pitfalls you should avoid.

This is the second of a series of writeups on the hiring process. In the following issues, we’ll examine how to cultivate your pipeline, prepare and structure your hiring process and conduct stellar interviews.

😵 When job descriptions go wrong

Avoid copy & pasting verbatim. It can be tempting to Google for a job description template and then copy & paste it without changing a word. Here’s the problem with that: These templates are as generic as possible to match a broad range of positions, and they provide no context at all about your company. I’m not saying you should always start from scratch. You can begin by using a template for the basic structure (Workable has some great ones), but you have to make sure you make it your own. Your job description should be all about your team, culture and process.

Avoid strict education requirements. If your goal is to diversify your pipeline, requiring your candidates to attend one from a specific list of institutions will throw a wrench in your plans. Remember that not everyone has the financial means or the opportunity to join a coveted Ivy League college. Preemptively excluding whole groups of people from applying is a missed diversity opportunity.

Avoid specific domain knowledge requirements. Unless you’re hiring for something particularly specialised, requiring “X years of experience in Y” (especially if Y is a newer domain) is going to discourage people from applying to your job. It is proven that women and URMs will not apply to positions unless they feel 100% qualified. If you stress about attracting “unqualified” candidates by removing these requirements, remember that you should hire for potential, not experience.

Avoid using superlatives. This is the most hated tech job description trend and with good reason. Refrain from using hyperbolic language by asking for ninjas, Jedis, gurus or rockstars, unless you’re hiring for one. To candidates, this will look dated at best, cringeworthy at worst.

Avoid slang and inside jokes. Yes, you might have seen this meme, but what about your candidates? If your aim is diversity in lived experience, refrain from using an overly casual tone that makes the position look like part of a cult. Remember that you’re putting out language that will define your company to the eyes of candidates.

Absolutely no sexist/ableist language or stereotypes. This is a hard no. If you have a specific type of person in mind when you write your job description, this is who you’ll end up writing for. Make sure you use a tool like textio to check for harmful language and share your draft with as many people as possible to get feedback and iterate.

😌 Ways to improve your job description

Simplify the job title. Start by using the most exact job title for the position you’re hiring. Ensure that the job title doesn’t reflect your org structure since that might harm its findability, especially on job boards. For example, rename titles like Senior Software Engineer - Frontend (Seller Team) to just Senior Frontend Engineer and describe the job specifics in the description below. If you’re unsure about the industry-standard title, you can research job boards and see how other companies call similar roles.

Be specific about the role. If you’re looking for a product designer, chances are that people will already know that they need to be a “team player” that “thrives in an energetic environment”. These platitudes contain no info about the role and how it fits your company’s org chart. To help candidates, make sure to include information about who they’re reporting to and what success should look like for them when they join.

Describe the day-to-day. Try to include a paragraph or two describing what the typical workday would look like for the role. While writing this down, you’ll fill in many gaps about the structure and process of your company. Having a “day in the work” section is particularly useful for newfangled roles that are not strictly defined yet. For example, I had a good experience using this method while hiring for a UX Writer recently. The candidate I ended up hiring mentioned that they learned a lot about the position and how it matched their skills.

Make every sentence count. Don’t feel compelled to write a lengthy job description, just to fill it with generic fluff that will make your company sound like everyone else. This issue is prevalent in most “About this company” sections which often get pretty wordy and skippable. Remember that the job description is the start of a discussion with your future coworkers - it’s not only about you.

Clearly state your budget and perks. A “competitive salary” is not a perk; it’s a prerequisite to attract quality candidates. Communicating the salary and any other monetary bonuses will help you avoid misunderstandings while making an offer, when it’s too late and you’ve lost too much time already. What if your company is not in a position to offer any significant monetary perks? In that case, you can focus on benefits like remote work, generous maternity/paternity leave, flexible schedules for caregivers, neurodivergent people or people with disabilities.

Check your pronouns. This one goes specifically to non-native English speakers since I’ve seen this happening occasionally to overly gendered languages, like French or Greek. Make sure you use “they/them” or “you” instead of just “he” or “she” when talking about the person that’s going to fill the position. It’s the right thing to do.

Next up: attracting diverse candidates!

You’ve written and posted your job description on multiple job boards and social networks, but you’re not getting anything near the amount of qualified diverse candidates that you’d like. What’s left to do?

In the next LBD issue, we’ll explore ways you can cultivate and expand your pipeline by doing some (gasp!) manual work.

Stay tuned!

You might have noticed a gap in the Leading by Design schedule, and there’s a good reason for that. After nine years, I left my job as VP of Design at Workable back in April. I’m currently taking some time to rest and have some lovely conversations with other people in tech. If you want to catch up, feel free to book a convenient slot.

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Hiring 101: How to Prepare Before Your First Hiring Round
Hiring 101: How to Attract Diverse Candidates