Creating Job Descriptions: Tips for Small-Business Owners

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More than 40% of employers have a difficult time finding the skills they need. Furthermore, thousands of roles remain unfilled because there are too few applicants. The problem is that many job descriptions are vague or unappealing, making it hard to attract top talent. If you're planning to expand your team, make sure you (or your human resources department) know how to create a job description that stands out.

Define Your Ideal Candidate

The first step to finding the right person for the job is to determine for what you are looking. Basically, it is necessary to create a candidate profile based on the skills, qualifications and personality traits in which you're interested. This document may include must-have traits as well as nice-to-have skills depending on the role.

For example, the ideal social media manager could be someone who has in-depth knowledge of the major social networks and understands the intricacies of online content. He is familiar with the most-effective social media marketing tools, knows the ins and outs of search engine optimization and has a creative mindset.

Ideally, this professional should possess strong copywriting, leadership and communication skills. He will be up to date with the latest trends in social media and digital marketing and knows how to leverage them to increase user engagement.

Make sure you have realistic expectations. Startups often seek candidates who can wear multiple hats, but it's wiser to hire someone who is specialized in a particular field and excels in that role. A social media manager, for instance, may know a thing or two about SEO, but he won't have the technical skills of a true SEO professional. Likewise, a software developer may not have the expertise of a software engineer.

Create a Candidate Profile

Candidate profiling can reduce your time to hire and decrease your turnover rate. It also makes it easier to craft compelling job descriptions that target the right people. Follow these steps to create an ideal candidate profile:

  • Define the job duties and responsibilities.

  • Consider your company's mission and core values.

  • Check the top employees in similar positions at other organizations.

  • Make a list of hard and soft skills for which you're looking in potential candidates.

  • Determine non-negotiable requirements, such as professional qualifications or years of experience.

  • Decide how you will connect with and communicate with qualified candidates.

  • Fine-tune your recruitment process with the candidate profile in mind.

Get the input of your relevant teammates: your project manager, sales manager, information technology staff, operations manager, administrative support, accounting manager — whoever would have some relevant perspective on what qualities and qualifications would make for a representative job description.

Keep this document short and to the point. Be clear about what matters and focus on those aspects. Think about any challenges you're facing in a particular role and look for candidates who possess the skills and expertise to solve those pain points. The more specific you are, the higher your chances of finding someone who meets your needs,

Check your competitors too. See who is working for them, visit their LinkedIn profiles or do a quick online search to find out more about their background. Look for a similar skill set in those who apply for a role at your organization. This way, you will be able to approach potential candidates in a more personalized manner and improve their experience during the recruitment process.

Craft Relevant Job Titles

It's common for job seekers to apply for a role and then realize that the job title doesn't reflect what is expected from them. For example, someone may apply for an administrative assistant position. During the hiring process, she finds out that the responsibilities go beyond handling office tasks, making travel arrangements, greeting visitors and so on. The employer expects her to write and post social media updates, monitor website traffic or even seek candidates for other roles.

Sometimes, recruiters use vague job titles to attract talent. "Data guru," "data storyteller," "tax wrangler," "happiness manager" or "full-stack magician" are just a few examples. Other times, they use fancy names for simple jobs, such as "customer experience manager" for shop assistant, "access control consultant" for security guards or "media publications administrator" for newspaper-delivery agents.

These kinds of scenarios can mess up the recruitment process and make it difficult to attract the right people. As an employer, you need to make sure the job titles in your organization reflect the duties and tasks associated with that role.

Job Title vs. Job Function

The job title should summarize the position held by an employee and may reveal both the job level and responsibilities, such as head accountant or art director. The job function, on the other hand, encompasses the tasks performed by the person holding that title.

Be clear about these things when writing a job description. "Waiter," for instance, is a job title. When potential candidates read your ad, they know what to expect.

Waiters are responsible for presenting menus to customers, serving food and beverages, cleaning tables and more. These activities represent the job function.

Why Job Descriptions Matter

The average time to hire varies from one industry to another. Filling a marketing role, for example, takes longer than 30 days. Hiring a new employee in the health care industry takes about 50 days. A 2017 LinkedIn report states that 17% of companies have an average time to hire of three to four months.

Depending on the role for which you are hiring, you may not be able to afford to wait that long. If, say, you're ready to start a marketing campaign or take on a new project that requires specific skills, you may need to find the right people within a week or two. Writing compelling job descriptions and posting them on the right platforms can reduce the time to hire and allow you to get things done quicker.

A compelling job posting will help you communicate with potential candidates more effectively and develop appropriate compensation plans. Plus, you can use it to identify performance areas where training and additional skills may be needed. This document can also be used as a basis for employee performance monitoring. Furthermore, it may come in handy in the event an employee files a termination lawsuit against your business.

Key Elements of Job Descriptions

It's recommended to first define the job function and then create a candidate profile. Next, use this information to create a clear, relevant job title. Would you be able to tell what a marketing ninja does at a glance? Probably not.

Once you have decided on a job title and defined the job function, write everything down. List the requirements, responsibilities, duties and skills required for the job. Highlight the most important ones and include them in the opening paragraph. Create a bulleted list to summarize the following:

  • Job duties and tasks (specific activities that your new employee is expected to perform)

  • Roles and responsibilities

  • Educational requirements and professional qualifications

  • Physical requirements (if any)

  • Required skills, abilities and expertise

  • Brief description of the working environment and conditions

  • Employee performance metrics and targets

  • Reporting structure (to whom your new employee is subordinate)

  • Work schedule

The job description may also include a salary range for the role. For example, you may list a starting salary for employees with one or two years of experience, a mid-range salary for those with three to five years of experience and a maximum salary for candidates with more than five years of experience in a similar position. This section should be updated regularly to reflect changing pay scales.

Writing a Job Description Summary

Along with the job title, the job description summary is the first thing candidates see when reading your ad. Therefore, it should be relevant and catchy. Generally, this section consists of one to three paragraphs that summarize the key activities, responsibilities, experience and educational requirements associated with a specific role. If the job requires night shifts or frequent travel, be sure to mention it.

A job description summary for a graphic designer role may look like this:

"(Your company's name) is looking for a graphic designer to create logos, illustrations, slideshows and other visual materials for online and print media. The ideal candidate should have a bachelor's degree in design or graphic arts and three to five years of experience in a similar position. Candidates with in-depth knowledge of Adobe Photoshop and other graphic design software are highly preferred. "

Next, list any office perks, flexible work arrangements, career advancement opportunities and training programs you're offering. Make sure this section is appealing, concise and easy to read. Ideally, it should reflect your brand personality so that it attracts qualified candidates who fit the company's culture. Avoid vague terms like, "must be willing to go above and beyond," "must be willing to wear multiple hats," "self-starter" or "passionate."

Common Job Description Mistakes

Using vague or misleading terms in job descriptions is a common mistake. Also, be aware that certain words and phrases, such as "caring," "nurturing," "physically strong" or "dominant," may come off as too feminine or masculine. To put it simply, refrain from using gender-biased language, as it may scare off potential candidates.

While it's true that job descriptions should be compelling and detailed, you need to get to the point quickly. Start with the most important requirements and use bold font to highlight essential points. You only have a few seconds to impress potential candidates, so keep the content concise and avoid fluff. Avoid using negative words like "strict," "always," "never," "under any circumstances" and so on.

Another common mistake is using jargon. Sure, you want to attract qualified professionals, but too much jargon and corporate lingo can affect your chances of finding the right person for the job. It not only scares off candidates but also hurts your SEO efforts, making it difficult for them to find your ad online. Use short paragraphs, bullet points and simple words and include a strong call to action.

According to a report by Appcast, job descriptions that were either too long (1,100 words) or too short (100 words) achieved a call to action ratio of 3.4% to 3.9%. Those containing 300 to 800 words (one to two pages) had up to five times higher click-through rates. Job titles containing one to three words got about 40% more clicks than other title lengths.

How to Advertise Job Openings

Knowing where to advertise your job openings is just as important as writing the job description. A quality listing will be pretty much useless if you post it on the wrong platform.

If, say, you're looking for a copywriter, it doesn't make sense to post your ad on a platform targeting software developers and other IT professionals. Local ads, for example, may work better than global job boards for a small company seeking construction workers. Again, it's important to research your target audience and consider the type of job for which you're hiring. A few examples of job boards you may use include:

  • Glassdoor
  • Indeed
  • Jobcase (for hourly workers)
  • ZipRecruiter
  • Monster
  • CareerBuilder
  • Stack Overflow (for tech talent)
  • Dice (for candidates with a technical background)
  • Angel.co (tech and startup jobs)
  • LinkedIn
  • Idealist (for volunteer and internship positions)
  • College Recruiter (for internships, seasonal, part-time and entry-level jobs)

Most platforms feature job description templates, so you may need to adjust your listing for each website. Some are free, while others charge monthly or annual fees. Choosing one depends on your business needs. You may advertise job openings on your website and social media pages or in local newspapers.

Consider setting up a Career section on your company's website and encourage potential candidates to submit unsolicited applications even if you're not hiring right now. This way, you will have a database of resumes that you may use later.

References

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About the Author

Andra Picincu is a digital marketing consultant with over 10 years of experience. She works closely with small businesses and large organizations alike to help them grow and increase brand awareness. She holds a BA in Marketing and International Business and a BA in Psychology. Over the past decade, she has turned her passion for marketing and writing into a successful business with an international audience. Current and former clients include The HOTH, Bisnode Sverige, Nutracelle, CLICK - The Coffee Lover's Protein Drink, InstaCuppa, Marketgoo, GoHarvey, Internet Brands, and more. In her daily life, Ms. Picincu provides digital marketing consulting and copywriting services. Her goal is to help businesses understand and reach their target audience in new, creative ways.