11 Top Mistakes to Avoid When Writing Job Descriptions3 min read.
You could have the perfect culture, benefits and a stunning talent attraction campaign, but it’s meaningless if your job descriptions are sending candidates running for the hills.
So your job postings are live and you've promoted them on social media. The result? Dustballs.
If your open positions aren't garnering enough interest, there is a good chance you need to optimise them with some simple tweaks.
Truthfully, there are a lot of mediocre job descriptions out there. Bad news for applicants; great news for you, as a relatively low bar gives you a solid opportunity to stand out from the crowd. By avoiding these common mistakes, you'll set your job descriptions up for success and compel top talent from the first line to the last.
Top Job Description Mistakes
1. Gender biased language
Data confirms it: job listings with gender neutral wording get more applicants than those with gender bias.
When crafting your descriptions, be cautious with masculine-coded words such as ‘leader,’ ‘ambitious’ and ‘aggressive’ to avoid putting off less confident candidates. And remember, job descriptions can have a female bias too, so use terms like ‘nurture,’ ‘connection’ and ‘support’ sparingly.
2. Bad grammar
Would you hire someone whose CV was full of errors? Well, it works both ways. Top talent know their worth and will see mistakes in your job descriptions as a billowing red flag.
Don’t skip out on the proofreading step before sending your work out into cyberspace. Get another pair of eyes on it. Have the office grammar enthusiast (we all know one) comb through for any mistakes that might have slipped through the net.
Don't be this guy...
3. Cringey titles
Ah, to ninja or not to ninja? That is the question.
Whether writing quirky job titles like 'Customer Service Ninja' is useful for talent attraction has been (we assume) hotly debated by recruiters, but in general, we’d advise you to steer clear.
While a sprinkle of humour can go a long way to grab attention and subvert readers' expectations in job descriptions, this kind of wordplay can be confusing and off-putting to candidates.
Not to mention that it hurts your SEO and discoverability because Bob the Data Analyst isn't searching for 'Data Wizard' listings.
So, you shouldn’t be advertising for gurus, evangelists, wizards, warriors or rockstars of any kind.
4. Being Impersonal
‘The ideal candidate will bring a...’ Oh, they're asleep.
Candidates are human beings and the key to connecting with them is to speak to them as such. Add a personal touch to your writing. Be direct and write as though you are speaking to one person, a 'you' figure.
Many companies still use the dull, traditional ‘The role’ and ‘Skills’ subheadings, so there's great opportunity for differentiation here. Look at how forward-thinking companies are adding a personal touch to the traditional 'Responsibilities' section.
HubSpot's language highlights opportunity:
"In this role, you’ll get to..."
Starbucks lets you know what you need to thrive:
“You’d make a great barista if you…”
Fiverr puts itself in your shoes
“What am I going to do?”
5. Not Using a Grading Tool
Today, there are many factors at play that will affect the success of your job postings, inside and outside of what you write. Even if you are astute, you're bound to miss certain things, like the techy stuff you don’t want to think about.
Using a free Page Grading tool will provide an extra level of analysis to give you an edge over competitors.
In just seconds, grading tools measure your job page against extensive criteria to see how optimised it is. It’ll help you to detect any jargon, discriminatory or negative language, as well as scanning your load speeds and other critical elements.
Try the Job Page Grader; it’s completely free. Just copy and paste your job post url to get started.
6. Telling half the story
It's tempting to lean heavily on the perks and benefits of a job when you're trying to sell it to strangers. After all, you want them to apply.
But candidates today aren't naive. They crave authenticity and transparency from employers that goes beyond lists of daily duties. They want to know if they could thrive at your organisation, what kind of challenges they'll be up against; they want the full story.
Will they be part of a close-knit team? Will they be supported in their development? Are there great opportunities for promotion? Tell them.
Will they work long hours? Are clients demanding? Are there moments of high pressure? Tell them that, too.
Even if avoiding harsh truths gets you more applicants, there's no guarantee that:
A. They are quality talent.
B. You will be able to retain them.
At Ph. we talk about the 'Give and Get' of your organisation. It's a value-exchange that goes deeper than the traditional transaction of skills for benefits. Include the 'Give' side of your job descriptions. Suitable candidates will value the transparency, unsuitable ones will self-select out of the process.
7. Using Filler Words
This can be tricky, but it’s important you don’t get bogged down with intensifiers. Words like ‘really’, ‘just’, ‘very’, 'extremely' and ‘so’ don’t enhance your sentiment; they dilute it.
If you find yourself continually tempted by filler words, it’s a good sign you need to make stronger word choices, by switching up your verbs, for example. Take a look at these examples.
Example A – We’re looking for someone who can really understand prospects’ business goals.
Example B – We’re looking for someone who can dissect and qualify prospects’ business goals.
B sounds better, right?
Ditch the filler.
8. Sleeping on video content
Words are great. But your average candidate is scanning thousands of them while job hunting. Video content, on the other hand, is an innovative way to break up text and grab any scroller’s attention.
A great place to look for video inspiration is your top competitors’ careers sites. The best part is you don’t need budget or frills to make an impact; candidates want authenticity. Your video concept could be as simple as an employee in a similar role talking through their perception of the working experience.
Pro Tip: Don’t forget to ask the employee to talk through their greatest challenge, as well as a top benefit.
Watch this HubSpot video for inspiration:
9. Being coy about the process
No one likes to end a great second round of interviews by finding out they have four more to go.
Make sure you respect your candidates’ time by including a section which clearly shows how many stages they can expect to go through before they are hired.
10. Leaving it open-ended
The purpose of a job description is to inform the candidate of three key things: what they’re applying for, how to apply, and when to do it by.
By not including a date by which candidates should apply to your job post, you’re inviting them to close their laptop, put their feet up and (if you’re lucky) revisit your post another time.
If you give a specific deadline however, you can create a sense of urgency in the reader and give them a nudge in the right direction.
We’ve all seen lists on job descriptions that we thought would never end. Who wouldn’t be intimidated by a string of duties and skills as long as the Magna Carta? Not to mention, a little bored.
The human brain can only process so much at a time, so don’t flood candidates with unnecessary information.
Do them a favour and keep lists concise. Pare them back to the most important and relevant skills.
If you must use a lot of bullet points, try splitting them up under separate subheadings to create some whitespace.
And another thing...
It's worth remembering that candidates might not be familiar with your Employer Brand. For most, the first glimpse they will get of your company is when they read your job post and decide whether or not they are going to apply.
The best job descriptions do the legwork for you, attracting and converting the right talent for your business.
No two companies are exactly alike, so don't be afraid to embrace the uniqueness of your organisation and adapt these tips to suit. Experiment with different lengths, formats and tones and find what works best and watch the quality applications roll in.