Writing the Job Description
Although many people use the terms “job advertisement” and “job description” interchangeably, a job description is a component of the job advertisement. Yet it’s arguably the most important component. The job description is where you outline the duties, tasks and responsibilities for the position. Getting the details right is necessary to ensure you attract the best candidates.
Writing a job description isn’t a solo effort.
It requires talking to everyone directly affected by the job, from the current employee (if you have one) to the company president or CEO. Think of the job as a ripple in the water: The strongest impact comes from the center – the job in question – and spreads outward more gently. Frame your conversations this way, spending more time with the current employee and direct supervisor, and less time with those farther out, like department heads or the company president.
When meeting with others in the company, it’s a good idea to have a list of questions. You’ll want to find out from the current employee the tasks and goals he or she tackles on a daily, weekly, quarterly and yearly basis. Ask the employee to prioritize his or her duties from most to least essential. Ask direct supervisors these same questions, checking on any additional tasks the replacement hire would undertake, or if priorities should be weighted differently. Indirect supervisors and department heads can provide insight on current or future tasks, goals and priorities, too.
Any other employees you meet with – department heads who would have some control over the new hire or the company president, for example – should only be expected to provide basic information, not in-depth answers. The purpose of these meetings isn’t to create a new list of duties, but to single out the most important functions of the job to include in the advertisement.
After you’ve talked with everyone, use the information to write a full job description, including every task and goal mentioned. Once you’ve written a long, detailed job description, it’s time to edit. Pare down the information to the most essential and common functions of the job, double-checking that you’re including the direct supervisor’s top priorities. Try to include a few secondary daily tasks, too, to give applicants a snapshot of a typical day. Provide as many details as possible, but aim for no more than 100 words. Finally, present the edited version to direct supervisors and higher-ups to make sure it’s accurate before posting.
Your job advertisement is a list of what you need from candidates – requirements, preferences, tasks and so on – but how can you determine if applicants are right for the job? Ask them to submit the following items when they apply:
- Resume: While most candidates will already know to include this, it’s still important to ask for it in the job listing, even if you’re also having candidates fill out an application. While resumes and applications typically cover the same information, resumes can provide additional insights. For example, do candidates have good spelling and grammar? Are they able to lay out basic information in a logical, readable format? Do they pay attention to details by avoiding typos or small mistakes?
- Application: Using a standard application for every candidate will help you review all applicants equally. You’ll have the same information on everyone, presented in the same manner. Job applications also may include specific questions regarding information that isn’t usually included on resumes, like reasons for leaving previous jobs or whether candidates have applied for jobs at your company before. Applications usually include a request for permission to run background checks, too.
- Cover letter: You should always ask for a cover letter. Strong cover letters will tell you exactly why a candidate wants the job and why he or she is the best choice. Average cover letters will at least show you how good a candidate’s grammar, spelling, writing and attention to detail are.
- Samples of their work: This is more dependent on the role in question and your industry. For example, whenever you’re hiring for a creative position – like writers, designers and illustrators –ask to see samples upon application. This will save you time with interviews and help you to hone in on those who are truly talented.
Writing the Job Advertisement
By writing the job description and candidate requirements first, you save a lot of time writing the job advertisement itself. It’s not quite as simple as copy and paste, however. You also have to craft a great headline, description of your company and a few other essential pieces of information.
- The job description: The first part of the job advertisement is the actual job description. This is the information most candidates want to know first, so it should be front and center. Your job description should be around 100 words. If it’s longer, try to narrow it down to just the primary job duties and responsibilities. If it’s shorter – which it shouldn’t be – flesh out the responsibilities to supply more details or include more daily tasks.
- Candidate requirements and preferences: Next, you’ll want to include the candidate requirements and preferences. Make sure you clearly state which abilities or skills are absolutely necessary and which are only preferred. Doing so will save both you and your applicants a lot of time. If your requirements and preferences lists are peppered with personality traits, take those out. Candidates may read these and try to “perform” in interviews to convey the personality you’re looking for. It’s better to remove them and let a candidate’s natural personality shine through.
- The candidate response: The last essential part of the job advertisement is the candidate response. You need to let candidates know how to apply for the job and what to submit (application, resume, portfolio, etc.). Consider including a way for candidates to contact your business for more information or questions. For job advertisements with set deadlines, indicate the cutoff date here. If you already know you won’t send out rejection notices or letters, you should also state that only successful candidates will receive replies.
All of this information gives your job advertisement a solid foundation. Now it’s time to spice it up a bit.
Even if your company is well-known, you should include some information about your business. You don’t have to provide a lot of details, since candidates should be expected to do some research on their own. Instead, share some interesting highlights. You can cover this at the bottom of the listing as an “about us” or “who we are” if you want to give candidates more than one or two sentences about your organization. If you’re hiring anonymously, try to include at least a statement describing your company so the candidate can get a feel for culture match. For example, “We’re an established software company with a relaxed vibe, looking to hire a receptionist for our New York office.”
Your job advertisement doesn’t have to read like a bestselling novel, but it shouldn’t be boring either. Remember: It’s an advertisement and you want to attract attention.
If your job description reads like a checklist, try to rework it. Consider writing it as if it were an employee describing a typical day. Add in adjectives or adverbs to give it more life.
The headline is the last step in writing a job advertisement. Your headline should always include the job title. Job seekers often receive alerts for certain job titles, so including this gets their attention. If the title is vague, incorporate the main job duty in the headline – or, better yet, reconsider the job title. Unless you’re posting to a local job board, you should also include the location in the headline.
If your company has name recognition and you’re not hiring anonymously, use the name in the headline to attract attention. On the other hand, if you’re hiring anonymously or you’re not a well-known company, consider including your industry in the title, but only if there’s enough space to do so. The job title and location should take precedence.
Avoiding Discriminatory Language in Job Advertisements
Once you’ve created a job listing you’re happy with, it’s time to review it with a fine-tooth comb for any discriminatory language.
Title VII under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 states that employers with 15 or more employees can’t discriminate or harass in the workplace on the basis of certain legally-protected characteristics, such as race, religion and sex. Over the years, the act has been amended and new laws have been drafted to cover additional protected classes. Federal discrimination laws prohibit employers from exercising any type of preference or bias based on these protected classes. If your job advertisement isn’t worded properly, you may imply bias without even realizing it. Here are some things to consider with each protected class:
- Gender: Unless you work in a single-sex institution, like a hospital or a prison, you should never state any gender preferences for the position. Make sure to use gender-neutral job titles. For example, you shouldn’t specify you’re looking for a new “salesman,” but, rather, a “sales representative.” “Waitress” would imply a preference for a female candidate whereas “wait staff” shows no gender preference. With respect to female candidates, remember that pregnancy is protected under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, so never address an applicant’s childbearing plans or current family status.
- Race: Race should practically never be mentioned in job postings. The only exception is if you’re required to comply with affirmative action requirements, in which case you should state that you participate in an affirmative action program and, if interested, applicants can fill out a voluntary identification form.
- Religion: Religion also shouldn’t be referenced in job postings unless it is absolutely necessary for the job, such as needing a chaplain. If you’re a conservative company, be extra cautious with the language you use to convey this. “Christian values” is obviously illegal, but terms like “traditional,” “wholesome,” or “family values” can be tricky, too. Remember, if it isn’t directly related to the job, it shouldn’t be included. Be mindful, too, of different rules in different religions. Saying that the job requires someone “clean shaven,” for example, could be seen as religious discrimination since some religions require men to maintain some kind of facial hair. (It also implies that you’re looking for a man, which goes back to using gender-neutral descriptions.)
- National origin: You can’t require applicants to be U.S. citizens unless it’s necessary for the job. Instead, indicate that successful applicants will be required to complete an I-9 to verify their eligibility to work in the U.S. If the job absolutely requires English language skills, try to phrase it along the lines of having an excellent command of the English language. Conversely, if the job requires speaking a different language, make sure the emphasis is on the skills. “Must speak Spanish” is okay, but “must be Hispanic” is not.
- Age: In 1974, Congress enacted the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), affecting businesses with 20 or more employees. The ADEA protects applicants 40 and older from discrimination, so avoid any age-related terms in your job listings. You can look for applicants with a “fresh outlook” or who are “energetic,” but you can’t specify “young people.” Advertise your “entry level” jobs, but don’t use the words “recent graduate.” The words “junior” and “senior” should only be used if they’re part of the job title.
- Disability: The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), which applies to businesses with 15 or more employees, protects people with disabilities from any job discrimination. It’s important to include precise job descriptions that outline only the duties that are absolutely necessary for the job. Be careful with descriptions of physical abilities, such as hearing, seeing, walking or standing. For example, instead of saying that someone “must be able to stand the entire shift,” say that the employee must “be able to stay in a stationary position” during the entire shift. Never use the terms “able-bodied,” “strong” or “healthy.” State the exact tasks required, such as needing to move up to 50 pounds or being capable of traveling to multiple locations for inspections.
- Veterans: Under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA), you can’t discriminate against veterans. If you’re part of an affirmative action program, you may indicate that you offer a voluntary identification form as part of the program.
Beyond these federal laws, it’s important to check your own state’s laws as some states offer protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation, criminal history, political affiliations and other factors. State laws may also be stricter and affect businesses with fewer employees than federal laws. Employment laws are constantly changing, so make sure to stay up to date on the current laws at every level. Stay informed about recent court cases and rulings in these matters, too.
One last consideration: If you’re trying to diversify your employee pool, don’t use language to solicit certain groups. This could imply a preference and, in turn, land you in a legal mess. Instead, clearly state your equal opportunity employment policies, including phrases like “women and minorities are encouraged to apply.”
When in doubt, always ask yourself: Is this specification absolutely necessary for the job? If the answer is no, it doesn’t belong in the job posting.
Where to Advertise the Job
With so many options for where to advertise jobs, it’s hard to know where to start. Here’s a list of the various outlets available to employers, and why you’d want to advertise your job there.
The Internet lets us reach millions of people from around the world, but with so much going on, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Consider these options as starting points:
- Job boards: Most jobseekers will begin their search on general job boards. By advertising here, you’ll reach a very broad audience.
- Social networks: People who are interested in your company will seek you out on the Internet. Posting job listings to social networks can reach these people, who can then apply or, better yet, share these positions on their own networks, expanding your reach.
- Your company’s career page: If your company has a website, include a career page and list open jobs. Candidates who would like to work for you can check this site periodically.
- Industry sites: Certain industries have their own websites, dedicated to providing information to those working in a given field. These sites also typically list jobs.
- Local bulletins: Sites like Craigslist can help you tap into the local market, if you need someone immediately, or if your job requires knowledge of your community or town.
- Online groups: User groups for your industry, such as forums or e-mail lists, are great places to reach people who are already working within your field.
- Your company blog: Posting jobs on a blog allows you to share more information. Job postings are typically short, but in a blog, the length can be unlimited.
With the widespread use of technology, it’s easy to forget about the offline world. But if you overlook advertising a job offline, you may be missing out on a wider candidate pool.
- Internal postings: Letting current employees apply for other jobs within your company can help employee engagement and foster career growth. If no current employees fit the bill, encourage employee referrals for these positions instead.
- College fairs: Getting a booth at a college career fair is an ideal way to secure educated applicants for entry-level jobs.
- Career fairs: Other career fairs can help you fill positions with high turnover rates, such as sales and customer service positions.
- Trade magazines: Advertising a job in an industry magazine will help you reach a targeted audience. Some magazines will let you advertise online for a discounted rate, if you’ve already placed a paper ad.
- Local newspapers: Before job boards, there was the “Help Wanted” section of the newspaper, and many jobseekers still check here for local jobs.
- Staffing agencies and recruiters: If you’re too busy to wade through resumes, cover letters and telephone screenings, staffing agencies and recruiters can help you find an employee – fast. Staffing agencies are also good to use if you only need someone temporarily. Recruiters typically focus on one specific industry, while staffing agencies fill a wide range of positions in many industries.
- Industry events: Networking at industry events can help you spread the word and find talented, interested applicants. If you’re looking to fill many positions, consider getting a booth.
- Your store window: You might not want to advertise high-ranking or technical jobs with a sign, but for entry-level or service positions, a “We’re Hiring” sign will bring in applicants.
If you’re only advertising positions on job boards or working with recruiters, you’re overlooking a guaranteed talent pool: your own employees.
While there are no laws that require employers to advertise positions internally (although it may be required in union contracts or for civil service positions), you should consider doing so.
Your employees are people you’ve already hired, so, ideally, you’d hire them again.
They’ve gone through background and drug screenings, plus current managers can give you accurate references. Hiring internally can also increase employee engagement. Employees will feel motivated to stay at your company longer if they’re given opportunities to grow and advance.
Here are a few tips for advertising internally:
- State your policies in your employee handbook: Any policies you have for hiring internal applicants – like requesting manager approval prior to applying or requiring employment for a certain amount of time before switching roles – should be listed in your employee handbook. Follow these policies consistently to avoid any problems.
- Make sure all employees have access to the listing: Emailing your employees about new opportunities is a good way to spread the news, but don’t forget about employees who don’t have email access. Post physical job listings on communal boards or in break rooms where all employees can see them.
- Update the listing to target internal hires: Instead of posting the same advertisement externally and internally, change the wording to include specifics on internal applicants. For example, request that internal applicants apply in person or fill out a different application.
- Contact managers: When advertising internally, send the listing to managers, too, to share with their employees. Direct supervisors will have a better idea of what skills their employees have and may be able to convince the perfect internal candidate to apply.