Reeling in the Employees You Need – How to Write a Job Description

When MediaBistro's Nancy Hwang surveys the thousands of new job descriptions posted to the media jobs Web site each day, she makes mental criticisms: Too bland. Too vague. Too many typos.

As associate director of MediaBistro's job board, Hwang helps employers write a pitch broad enough to attract a large candidate pool, but narrow enough so the ideal candidate doesn't overlook it.

With unemployment at 4.4 percent nationwide, it's a job candidate's market. Even companies with killer name recognition and hip reputations need to work the marketplace hard to find the right people. Smaller, lesser or unknown businesses may have to work that much harder to attract workers.

"Sell your company,” Hwang says. “Even with all we know about the perks of working at Google, Google still turns a job description into a sales pitch.”

How Google Does It

In its April issue, Fortune magazine named Google “The Best Place” to work based on employee interviews conducted at 100 companies. The search engine giant offers employees free on-duty doctors and a swimming spa – for starters.

The company touts its perks and benefits in its job descriptions, mentioning free childcare, comprehensive healthcare benefits and lots of vacation days. If that’s not enticing enough, Google pulls ahead of the progressive pack with maternity and paternity leave, and a hybrid car incentive program.

But that’s not all. Did Google mention its free gourmet cafeteria food, interoffice Ping-Pong tournaments and annual ski trips? Yes, it did. And that’s why its gets 100,000 job applications a month.

Google’s ads make working at the company sound like summer camp, which is the point, says Judy Gilbert, director of people and programs at the company’s Silicon Valley headquarters.

“We expect the type of innovative people we want to work here to want more from a job than a cubicle and a computer,” she says.

Be Who You Are

After enticing a job candidate with lively language and a list of perks, a job description should explain what qualities a company wants in an employee, says Tracy Tran, a human resources assistant at the non-profit Counterpart International, in Washington, D.C.

"Just writing a two- or three-liner about the job requirements is not enough anymore," Tran says. "Tailor it to the company.”

Counterpart recruits candidates from all over the world. Its job descriptions specify that a successful candidate must be comfortable in a multicultural, cooperative environment.

Such descriptions say a lot about a company’s culture.

“If you’re Patagonia, and your brand basically means relaxed and cool, you’ll be writing a far different description than, say, a more stiff-collared place like Deutsche Bank,” Hwang says. “The T-shirt and sneakers set might be put off by sterile, corporate language, while introverted types might not like the idea of a companywide ski trip.”

Be Clear and Upfront About Expectations

The disparity between expectation and reality is a big reason why as many as one-fourth of all new hires in the U.S. leave within the first year, says a recent Human Resources News survey of more than 2,000 HR and training execs.

In addition to a realistic portrayal of what a job requires, the description should also mention any unusual circumstances an applicant will have to handle in order to perform.

Someone accustomed to a desk job should not have to wait until the interview to find out that the position requires outdoors labor under the hot sun. It may seem obvious, but in fact, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 requires that employers list any environmental or physical hazards posed by the job.

"You don't want to upset your new employee with something coming out of left field," Tran says. "Use the job description to explain responsibilities and expectations. And save yourself the headache of working it out later."

All job descriptions should include at least:

  • Clear, concise, grammatically correct sentences.
  • A detailed description of job responsibilities and opportunities.
  • Minimum requirements and working conditions.
  • Compensation, healthcare and vacation benefits.
  • Language that reflects the company’s culture.

And take a tip from Google. If your company’s got it, flaunt it.

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