Not getting the volume of applicants you’d anticipated? Or maybe you’re getting swamped with tons of candidates, but none are actually qualified for your open roles.
It all starts with the job description. In today’s ultra-competitive tech job market, you need to stand out in order to reach the best candidates, get the right ones to apply and cut down your time-to-fill. A good job posting can even improve retention rates, not only helping you hire top notch candidates, but keep them, too.
Think of your job posting as a cover letter to candidates, not an ad. The best ones are written with the job seeker in mind, including a high level of detail (without being boring or jargony), an honest look at life in the role and what’s in it for the candidate.
While writing a job description isn’t an exact science, there are a few strategies you should keep in mind. Below, we uncover how to write a job description (with real life job posting examples), including how to sell the opportunity, what to include (and what not to include) and how to motivate top-fit candidates to apply (and stay for the long term). Hint: Ditch the laundry list of requirements.
1. Stop looking for a “ninja,” start looking for a person
The first step is choosing the perfect job title. Using buzzwords like “ninja,” “rock star,” “guru” or “jedi” might seem like a good way to stand out, but it’ll probably make job seekers’ eyes roll—that is, if they ever find your posting.
Now’s not the time to be creative (you’ll have plenty of opportunities for that later). Keep it simple by using the most common job title for the role you’re hiring for. For example, there are more candidates searching for “DevOps engineer” roles than “development operations engineer” roles, even though they both describe the same job.
You should also avoid using internal titles, like “Software Developer III,” since candidates are likely unfamiliar with your company’s organizational structure and it might give them the impression that the job’s only open for current employees. Use a job title like “Senior Software Developer” instead.
2. Hook them with a killer intro
We all know the six-second stat about recruiters and resumes. Job seekers are the same way—they’ll probably spend just a few seconds reading your job description. If they aren’t greeted with an engaging opening, they’ll close out your job posting and look somewhere else. After all, they have a lot of options these days.
Grab candidates’ attention right away by treating the first few paragraphs as a marketing pitch for the company and role (without being too salesy). A common misconception is that you have to be quirky and weird to grab a candidate’s attention. However, here’s a great example of a job description opening from The Zebra that’s informative yet intriguing, and reflects the company’s culture:
3. Strike the right balance between too much detail and not enough
The average job seeker spends about 49 seconds reading a job posting before deciding the role isn’t right for them. That means candidates will be put off by 20-bullet-point laundry lists of requirements. However, if you don’t include enough details, it can be hard for candidates to tell if they’re overqualified, underqualified or if they’ll even like the role.
Start by connecting with the hiring manager on must-have vs. nice-to-have skills, and separate those out into two sections. Include what the candidate will do, with goals for the role, the day-to-day functions and the tech stack they’ll be working with. Then, create a section on what you’re looking for, including experience level, skills, degrees and certifications.
If you’re a Seen user, determining these must-haves vs. nice-to-haves helps us find the right matches for your open tech roles.
Pro tip: Get your job description vetted by someone who’s worked in the role before to make sure you’re only including what’s absolutely necessary.
Here’s an example of a job description from Pinterest that includes a good level of detail without overloading candidates with pages of requirements:
4. Skip the warm and fuzzy and give them the truth
Job seekers know that no job is perfect, so be real with them. Paint a realistic picture of the role, including what a typical workday or week looks like and even some of the downsides of the job (e.g., Will they regularly have to work more than 40 hours per week? Will they have required on-call hours?). These drawbacks might be deal breakers for some candidates, but it’s better to know that upfront than after they’ve been hired. However, be careful not to cross the line. Since a job description is like a cover letter, you don’t want to share all of your weaknesses. Include a few potential downsides of the role, but focus on being positive in the rest of the description.
Don’t catfish your candidates by misrepresenting the role. Remember, the goal of a job posting isn’t just to close the deal and hope the candidate will be successful, it’s to fill the role with the right person who will enjoy the day-to-day work and thrive. By being honest, you’re ensuring that candidates who make it through to the interview stage are more likely to work out in the long run.
5. Banish boring
No one likes reading boilerplate content bogged down in jargon, complex sentences and stuffy, dry language. Liven up your job description by writing the way people actually talk. Explain the role’s daily responsibilities out loud as if you’re describing them to a friend and use that as inspiration.
To woo better-aligned candidates, write to them directly (i.e., use “you” instead of “the candidate”) and adopt a writing style that reflects your company’s culture and values. For a fun startup, that might mean injecting humor or even emojis. For a more formal company, like a defense contractor, that might mean being more professional, but still conversational. Bottom line: No matter the company, there’s always room to make your job descriptions more engaging.
Pro tip: Break up walls of text with paragraph breaks to make reading your job description a breeze.
6. Answer job seekers’ questions
Active, quality candidates are more likely to be looking for a position that’s a true fit, which means they’ll have a lot of questions about the role, company and what their impact will be. To help candidates qualify themselves, make sure you’re answering the following questions within your job posting:
- What will my average workday look like?
- Who will I be reporting to?
- What challenges will I be taking on?
- What is the work environment like?
- Is there potential for career growth?
- Why is the role important and how does it impact the company?
7. Show off your perks and benefits (AKA sell the position)
Now that qualified candidates are reading your job posting, it’s time to stand out against the competition and give them a reason to apply. This is the time to shout the company’s benefits from the rooftops and make candidates think, “Wow, this is a place I want to be.”
At the bottom of your posting, share your company’s unique perks and benefits (e.g., dog-friendly office, daily lunches, gym discounts, 401(k) matching). If you leave out this information, job seekers might assume you don’t offer benefits at all, which means you’re missing out on an excellent opportunity to sell the company.
What benefits appeal the most to Gen Z tech talent? Check out our infographic on how to recruit and retain this new wave of digital natives.
8. Include your hiring process and timelines, if possible
The hiring process is intimidating…and fear of the unknown might prevent candidates from applying. Will they have to go through two rounds of interviews? Five? When can they expect an offer? Two weeks? Two months? Transparency around the hiring process saves everyone time, helps prevent ghosting and leads the way to a better fit for both parties. Plus, it’s something candidates rarely see in job descriptions, which means it’s an opportunity for you to stand out.
Basecamp is a great example of this ultra-transparency in action. When the project management software company was hiring a senior programmer, it discussed the application and interview process in great detail, even including when candidates could expect to receive an offer:
We expect to take two weeks to review all applications. You’ll hear from us by July 31 about advancement to a written code review. You’ll submit some code you’re proud of, review it, and tell its story. Then on to an interview. Our interviews are one hour, all remote, with your future colleagues, on your schedule. We’ll talk through some of your code and some of ours. No gotchas, brainteasers, or whiteboard coding. We aim to make an offer by August 16 with a start date in early September
9. Talk money
Why wait until the final stages of the hiring process to talk about salary? As we’ve seen, transparency is key when it comes to writing an effective tech job description. Posting salary ranges not only prevents you from wasting time on candidates you can’t afford, but it also encourages more qualified candidates to apply. In fact, a recent study found that job postings with salary ranges receive over 30% more applicants. These candidates know exactly what to hope for, and they’re not surprised later on when offer negotiations begin.
Beyond preventing a mismatch in salary expectations, salary transparency also helps close gender and racial pay gaps, leading to more inclusivity and diversity in tech teams.
Rethinking the traditional tech job description
Finish your job description strong by adding a clear call-to-action or application instructions. Do you want candidates to write a cover letter? Should they just upload their resume? Would you like to see their portfolio or GitHub profile?
By injecting clarity, transparency, detail and a little bit of creativity into your job descriptions, you’re well on your way to enticing a broader range of qualified, engaged and innovative candidates that will love working at your company.