Best Practices for Achieving Talent Success Maturity
Building Job Descriptions (and Postings!) That Sell
With insight from
Former CHRO, Professional Board Member
Libby Sartain is an independent advisor, working with companies on human resource issues. With more than 30 years of experience in human resources, she is also an author and frequent speaker, using her HR leadership and management experience at companies in technology, transportation and manufacturing. She led human resources at Yahoo! and Southwest Airlines during transformative periods. Both companies were among Fortune magazine’s “Best Places to Work” during her tenure. She is the former board chair of the Society for Human Resource Management and is on the board of Manpower Group and is the Vice Chair of the Board of AARP.
Who it’s for:
Hiring managers, HR managers, recruiters
What you’ll get:
A customizable template for creating job descriptions and postings
Why you need it:
Attract better applicants, simplify compliance issues
When it applies in the talent success process:
Before you start posting or recruiting for a new opening
Great Job Descriptions: A Tool for the Entire Employee Life Cycle
Accurate, engaging job descriptions and posts serve three equally important purposes. They help you comply with employment laws, draw more and better-qualified applicants, and are a first step toward creating a more consistent and stronger process for consistently hiring more A-players.
This article introduces an easy-to-use template that guides you through collecting and presenting the right information to accomplish these six important goals:
- Create descriptions that are compelling without omitting any legally required information.
- Motivate high-quality candidates to choose your company because your culture and brand story resonate with them.
- Include the necessary information to ensure hiring diversity.
- Include the necessary information to comply with employment laws and regulations.
- Start using templates for consistent, efficient job posting.
- Begin building a foundation for talent management across your company.
The Job Description: More Than a Hiring Tool
When used properly and written effectively, job descriptions set transparent expectations for candidates and current employees, creating value for the company and your workforce from the first day on the job to the last.
It’s important to understand an aspect of recruiting here. We address this in other facets of this paper, including “Using Goals to Improve Performance Reviews.” In short, A-players — the type of candidates you want — are usually not directly motivated by the job description or job role. They will want to better understand the type of work they can do in the role and how they can make an impact. Job descriptions may seem like a simple checklist to them; they want more from it. Still, you must begin with the job description to provide a baseline for posting the job publicly.
Accurate, effective job descriptions are also a building block for other best practices that will help you move toward greater Talent Success and more effective recruiting, onboarding, performance, and succession efforts.
Talent Success is a framework that enables HR and talent management leaders to benchmark their organizations and set a path to become a more competitive, more engaging, and more successful company. Click here to learn more.
Before You Write, Get the Answers to Seven Questions
A good job description does three things:
- Gives the candidate a clear understanding of the job, so they can decide if it’s the type of job they’re looking for
- Showcases the unique selling points of the job (and your company) that make the job special
- Satisfies the compliance requirements applicable to your company
Instead, many employers post job descriptions that contain every detail about the job in no specific order. Though there are some legal considerations, it’s not necessary — or good practice — to include every possible detail about the job. For example:
- For a warehouse job, it’s important to state that the job requires the candidate to be able to lift up to 75 pounds.
- For a sales job, however, you probably don’t need to note that the candidate will be expected to track their work in the company’s CRM system.
The idea is that job seekers are just like your customers: They’ll get bored and move on if your job description is long and full of irrelevant information or is otherwise uninteresting. This is especially true of the best performers; they know they can be choosy.
When you’re crafting job descriptions, keep in mind the idea of doing job analyses. That means interviewing employees who will work directly with the role, looking on Indeed and other job sites on how similar roles are worded, observing the team that the role will sit within, and just generally getting a sense of what this person will do every day. Oftentimes, in a rush to hire, a company will simply use the same job description they used when the position was last open — even though the role might have changed several times since then as department priorities shifted. You cannot have a job description that sells unless it is accurate about what the new hire will be doing.
A good practice for writing the best possible job description is to spend significant time with the hiring manager, peer employees, and other team members the role will work with to learn more about the role.
Ask them the following seven questions to get a clearer picture of the role.
What functional expertise does the job require? *
What specific job requirements and qualifications are desired? *
What are specific work assignments for this job? *
Have you defined performance standards? *
Have you benchmarked the job’s pay internally and externally? *
Why should a top candidate prefer this job or your company over other opportunities? *
Have managers and staff agreed on the expectations of the job? *
Complying with Hiring and Employment Laws
Accurate job descriptions are a keystone of employment law compliance. When you clearly and precisely state the essential job functions of a role, you eliminate any potential for doubt or controversy about what a candidate or employee must be able to do to meet their job requirements.
Employment laws can range from federal requirements that protect against discrimination or demand special requirements from federal contractors, to state and local regulations, and maybe even your own company’s affirmative action program.
One thing they all share is the need to include what federal employment law refers to as the “essential job functions” for every position. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says these are “the basic job duties an employee must be able to perform, with or without reasonable accommodation.” For this reason, you should carefully examine each job to determine which functions or tasks are essential to performance.
Click here for more direction with this critical part of accurate job descriptions.
When you accurately determine whether every job position is either eligible for overtime pay or meets any of the exemptions under the Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA), you reduce the risk of violations, penalties, and back pay for overtime.
In addition to the FLSA, well-written job descriptions will help you be compliant under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and if you do work for the federal government, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP).
The FLSA and similar state and local laws deal with overtime pay and the categorization of job positions as “exempt” (generally not eligible for overtime pay) or “nonexempt” (generally eligible for overtime pay).
Click here for a summary of the FLSA.
The FLSA establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, record keeping, and youth employment standards affecting employees in the private sector and in federal, state, and local governments. Covered nonexempt workers are entitled to a minimum wage of not less than $7.25 per hour effective July 24, 2009. Overtime pay at a rate not less than one-and-one-half times the regular rate of pay is required after 40 hours of work in a workweek.
The ADA and Its Amendments
The ADA states that an employer can’t discriminate against “qualified individuals with disabilities” in any part of the employee life cycle, including hiring. What makes a person “qualified” is their ability to perform the what the ADA calls the “essential functions” of the job, with or without “reasonable accommodations.”
Click here to read a summary of the ADA from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibits private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies, and labor unions from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities in job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. The ADA covers employers with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments. It also applies to employment agencies and to labor organizations. The ADA’s nondiscrimination standards also apply to federal sector employees under section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act, as amended, and its implementing rules.
The OFCCP enforces affirmative action and equal employment opportunity laws that are required of companies that do business with the federal government. The OFCCP administers and enforces four civil rights laws:
- Executive Order 11246
- Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, amended
- 38 USC 4212 — The Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974
- The ADA
Get more detailed information about the OFCCP here.
Accurate definitions of essential functions, work requirements, and other necessary qualifications not only ensure that you comply with the OFCCP and other laws. They also help you narrow your candidate pool to candidates who are viably qualified — saving everyone involved time and energy.
The Job Description: A Checklist for Better Hiring Decisions
Every job description should include several essential elements to fulfill its goals of legal compliance, better hiring, and building a foundation for moving toward Total Talent Success.
Here’s a checklist of all the “hard data” you’ll need to gather to ensure that everything is covered and that you’re in compliance with employment rules and regulations.
- Job title *
- Salary range *
- FLSA status: Exempt or nonexempt *
- Statement of purpose or objective of the position *
- Description of reporting structure *
- Objectives, tasks, duties, functions, and responsibilities of a position *
- Purpose of the work as it relates to the company’s mission and goals *
- Education, including degrees, professional certifications, and licenses truly required to perform the job *
- Qualifications and specific skills required, including years and type of experience, as well as management, decision-making, and problem-solving skills *
- Work location and conditions, physical requirements, equipment and tools used, travel required, and work schedule *
- Be sure to state that the job description is not intended to represent a complete, comprehensive list of all duties and responsibilities and that there may be unplanned activities and other duties assigned *
- If applicable, any competency-based expectations and accountabilities, beyond specific tasks, that focus on results rather than job duties *
Motivating Job Seekers: Engaging New Hires From the Start
Before you post a job, put yourself in the seat of the job seeker. Consider what they’re looking for in a job or career and what your organization has to offer. It’s also import to think about what will attract them to you, especially amid all of the other employers posting jobs today. Present your job in a way that tells your company story and engages potential A-players. And remember from above: Top talent is usually motivated by elements way beyond the job posting. For them, the job posting is often the first step in a multi-step process.
Give Extra Thought to the Job Title
According to Kevin Walker, Indeed.com’s director of employer insights, a well-written job title can increase your traffic on their site by up to 1,000 percent.
The Power of Your Job Title: One Real-world Example
A company advertised a position using the title “Marketing Coordinator 3.” When the company changed the job title to be more descriptive, its results improved dramatically.
The difference between “Marketing Coordinator 3” and “Marketing Event Coordinator” in the number of candidates who looked at the full job posting:
Source: Kevin Walker, Indeed, quoted in “Small Business Hiring: How David Can Beat Goliath at Finding the Best Employees,” on FitSmallBusiness.com.
The point is to think about the job title that potential candidates will search for, rather than the exact title of the role you have to offer. For example, people will not be searching for “Web Designer II.” If you’re trying to attract a high-level applicant, “Senior Web Designer” is much clearer to applicants.
Make It Mobile-friendly
An estimated 1 in 4 job seekers use their smartphones exclusively to search and apply for jobs. They’re part of the mobile generation and expect employers to be the same. Don’t limit your job pool or tarnish you company brand by making it impossible for people to apply from their phones.
Keep your titles short and sweet.
Imagine You’re Talking Face to Face
Remember that you’re attracting people, not just names on resumes.
- Present the job in a personable manner, while being sure to be accurate and specific.
- Describe the job in writing the same way you would in person or to an internal candidate; use words that are meaningful, engaging, and clear.
- Don’t use jargon or industry buzzwords. On the other hand, don’t be so casual that you betray your company culture or stray from being legally compliant.
As with the job title, don’t be afraid to speak to the candidate “in their own language,” particularly for high-demand jobs, such as engineering. (This is also a great way to quickly weed out candidates who don’t have the knowledge, inquisitiveness, or persistence the job requires.)
Sell the Opportunity First, Then Present the More Mundane Items
Job seekers are looking for an opportunity to change their lives. While it’s essential to include small details, there isn’t a law saying job ads need to start with the “fine print.” Start off with the best qualities your company and the opening have to offer to excite top talent and inspire them to apply.
Use Headers to Simplify the View and Keep Sections Concise
According to research, recruiters spend an average of “six seconds before they make the initial ‘fit or no fit’ decision” on candidates. A resume that used headers to break up the copy and presented information more concisely and clearly was read more thoroughly.
Logic tells us the same is true for job applicants: They will spend more time reviewing a job posting that has the information presented clearly, cleanly, and concisely.
Traditionally business (and HR) has thought of its relationship with its workforce as “employees” doing “jobs” and defined those positions in a written internal document carrying specific responsibilities, task, expectations, and rewards. Later ADA requirements and nondiscrimination components were added, making this document part of labor law compliance.
As business has evolved, traditional jobs are less permanent and traditional workers began to demand more flexibility. So now, I think it is more about work than jobs. Work is composed of incremental activities that must be completed for the business to meet its goals and obligations. Work is more focused on output than input. More and more work and workers are aligned around projects versus specific roles. And, an entire segment of the workforce across the world is what is known today as “giggers” or nontraditional workers, who sign on to deliver specific results, perhaps within a defined time frame.
The workplace is opening up and business now must increasingly compete in this new open marketplace where the power is shifting gradually to the worker. So, while an advertisement for a job using a trimmed down job description used to be a tried-and-true way to attract a motivated worker, this may not be the best way to do it in the future. I mean, who can really get that excited about a job description?
It is time for HR to stop thinking about filling jobs and start thinking about finding talent pipelines inside and outside of the business that can meet the business needs for work output. Workers are quickly becoming consumers when it comes to selecting a place to work. A strong employer brand and a flexible offering of work arrangements will become the norm.
So today, perhaps we still need job descriptions for compliance purposes, but maybe not in the future. The job description is not the best marketing tool to entice the best candidates. This requires thinking about an employer brand that will attract the right employees.
— Libby Sartain, Former CHRO, Professional Board Member
Winning Job Descriptions for Your Company Culture
Winning job descriptions share a handful of common characteristics. We’ll review those briefly and then show how they work in a template that you can modify to meet your company culture and different jobs.
In short, we agree with a 2014 article on LinkedIn’s Talent Blog that says the best job descriptions are:
How to do it:
- Cut the long paragraph about your company to two great sentences; use your careers page or LinkedIn company page for more detail.
- Ruthlessly delete buzzwords.
- Write simple sentences.
- Use bullet lists.
- Put any legal requirements at the end.
How to do it:
- Write like you’re speaking to the candidate.
- Replace “the ideal candidate” with “you.”
- Be direct and personal.
- Read it out loud: If you wouldn’t say the words, don’t use them.
- Replace dull subheadings with engaging ones (e.g., “Skill Requirements” vs. “What You’re Good At”).
3. Packed with personality
How to do it:
- Describe a day in the life with the nitty-gritty details; help candidates self-select, saving everyone time.
- Talk about problems and projects, and don’t sugarcoat the not-so-fun parts of the job. Great candidates want to make an impact and don’t shy away from challenges.
A Winning Job Description Template