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Staffing Management: Make Job Descriptions Sparkle

Michael Causey  1/10/2007
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Vol. 3, No. 4

To attract the best candidates, banish the bland language in your position listings.

You crank out a quick job description with a few lines about the basic position requirements, toss in a few tasks associated with the job opening, ask for a credential or two like an undergraduate degree, attach your HR contact information at the end, and post the ad. Done?

Hardly. In today's tight market, where high-quality candidates are at a real premium, a job posting should be an engaging piece of your talent management toolkit, experts stress.

HR professionals who rely on bland want ads these days "miss an opportunity to make money and to save money," says Joe Takash, founder of Chicagobased Victory Consulting and a longtime business consultant.

But for those who make job postings dazzle by highlighting their company's strengths and the position's attractiveness, the rewards can be great. Not only do these HR professionals bring in better talent, they also enjoy reduced turnover.

Forget Vanilla

Old-style "vanilla" job postings all sound the same. Crafting a high-energy one that emphasizes why other people love working at your company and the unique value proposition of the job in question will help you attract better candidates, says Dave Sanford, executive vice president of client services at The Winter, Wyman Cos., a staffing agency with headquarters in Waltham, Mass. "Desperate job searchers will apply for the basic job descriptions because there is a salary attached," he notes. "But that top 10 percent you are after" won't come calling unless your job description pulls them in, he adds.

A good job posting will stress why and how your company is different. "It should tell why your employees love it and why your competitors fear it," Sanford says.

Rob McGovern, CEO of online job marketplace Jobfox, in Washington, D.C., agrees. "This is a job seekers' market--especially for high achievers," he says. "People want to know that your organization is a great place to work before they will read further to peruse the more descriptive sections of the job description. Remember to highlight company awards, unique benefits and personal growth opportunities."

And don't forget to adjust the job posting to the type of professional you seek, Sanford adds. For example, if it is an opening for a senior manager, a good job posting will emphasize the stability of the position, he says. But for a lower rung position, the job posting might focus more on the risk/reward proposition because that will tend to attract a less-experienced or more upward-bound pool of talent.

"Don't even think of them as job descriptions," Takash says. Instead, imagine that they are advertising copy and that your firm is spending big bucks to raise its profile in its industry, he says.

More Than Just Skills

According to McGovern, the most effective job postings tend to share the following key traits:

  • They have clearly defined and tangible skills.
  • They identify minimum requirements and expectations. Be careful here to differentiate between the "must haves" and the "nice to haves" so candidates understand the mandatory job requirements before applying.
  • They help brand the company as a "great place to work."
  • They are creative enough to stand out in a sea of dry, requirements-based job postings.


It often helps to consult several sources before writing up a job posting. Start by getting an accurate job description from the person currently in the position. Herb Greenberg, president and CEO at Princeton, N.J.-based Caliper, a management consulting firm advising 25,000 corporations and assessing 2 million applicants, suggests asking employees to write down their responsibilities and see if what they come up with matches what their managers say. This exercise can uncover incorrect procedures, duplication of work and conflicts of responsibilities-- and job descriptions can then be updated accordingly to present a true picture of the position.

Greenberg advises checking the accuracy of your job descriptions annually, especially when a company is dynamic and jobs and procedures are changing rapidly.

"A job description is more than a static document," he says. "It's a reference point that needs to be constantly updated in light of changing needs of the organization and the capabilities of the individual."

But be careful not to turn a job posting into a litany of tasks and responsibilities. Most job postings are too narrowly focused on the required skills, says Ron Selewach, founder and CEO of the Human Resource Management Center, a provider of technology for human capital strategies headquartered in Tampa, Fla. This may attract people who, on the surface, would appear to be good candidates and well-suited to the position, but who don't fit with the company culture. Perhaps they're temperamentally ill-equipped to handle an entrepreneurial environment or they find a more formal corporate structure stultifying, he says. "Another way to come up with quality information to include is to use questions as your guide," anford says, such as:

  • What might prospective employees like best about your organization? The location, people, reputation?
  • What is the company culture like? Is it team-oriented, casual, entrepreneurial?
  • What is the history/growth stage/industry? Is it established, a startup, a high-tech firm?
  • What is the best part of the benefits package? The health and dental coverage, adoption assistance, vacation time, stock option plan?
  • What are the advancement opportunities? Will the position transition to a larger role?

When crafting a job posting, think of it more as a "performance profile," says Hire With Your Head author Lou Adler. He advises emphasizing what the person needs to accomplish in the job. For example, instead of saying the person must have "five years of accounting experience and be a CPA," Adler would write that the best candidate will be able to "complete the implementation of the Sarbanes-Oxley reporting requirements by the second quarter."

Use the want ad to describe what kind of attitude you want in a hire as well, says Takash, whose new book, Results Through Relationships, is slated to be published next spring by John Wiley& Sons. "When I hire and write up job descriptions, I look for behavioral factors like enthusiasm and respect," he notes. "I want people who do what they say they will do when they say they are going to do it."

Getting Rid of Turnoffs

McGovern and other experts say the following common mistakes are likely to doom a job posting:

  • It is too lengthy. Ads that read like detailed process documents are overwhelming and intimidating for candidates.
  • It uses internal or proprietary terminology about competencies.
  • It includes soft or intangible skills that are open to interpretation and differing perceptions.

Potential applicants may also skip over an ad that is sloppy. Make sure your job postings are grammatically correct and do not have any spelling errors, Sanford advises. "If your ad is poorly written with multiple spelling errors, the candidate will not think you are professional enough to send you their resume. Always check your ad and make sure it makes sense and flows well," he says.

Too many HR professionals still "don't take job descriptions seriously enough," says Sanford. "They view it as something you've just got to do" quickly for the sake of getting it done. Instead, treat job postings as bona fide opportunities to highlight what's great about your company and then watch the best applicants make a beeline for your door.

Michael Causey is a freelance writer who has specialized in HR issues for more than six years.

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 Crafting Online


Job Postings

Online job ads are a slightly different animal, according to experts at

Employers should realize that crafting an Internet job posting is much different from writing a newspaper want ad. Monster says online job postings will be more effective if they:

  • Use keywords that qualified candidates will search for. Think about what specific skills the ideal candidate would have (e.g.,C++, Java, etc.).
  • Provide details that set forth any expectations or requirements.For example, indicate if the position requires specific education, years of experience or job skills. Job seekers benefit from such a posting because they obtain enough knowledge of the job and the company to determine if it is a good fit. Employers benefit because detailed, well-written postings tend to draw higher-level candidates.
  • Include a descriptive, thorough and creative job title. The actual content of a job posting becomes meaningless if no candidates click through the hyperlink to read the advertisement.