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Oct 20, 2017
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

About six months ago, I moved to Colorado from Tennessee. It was quite the whirlwind after selling the house in the time it took to fly to Ireland – a trip that had been planned much longer than moving in the first place. The trouble with my timing was that upon arriving home from a week overseas, I had two weeks to pack a four-bedroom house into a 6×11 trailer room. Most of the rooms were half empty anyway, how hard could it be?

The answer is very hard. Just our furniture alone likely would have filled that trailer, let alone all of the clothes, keepsakes and dog toys. Very quickly, we figured out that we would have to sell pretty much everything larger than a suitcase. That became an odd task in itself with people from Craigslist showing up driving a Honda Civic to pick up a six-foot wooden bed frame. Really.

As we rushed to sell everything, the day of the move quickly arrived.  We hired movers assuming that they would be experts at fitting the most items in this tiny space. Plus, my fiancé and I didn’t need to bicker the first morning of a three day drive them. The movers themselves were a bit of comic relief, as both arrived and informed me through gestures and pointing that they were mute. I still think that was some terrible practical joke, but I was in too big of a rush to care that morning.

Six months later, I am still looking for things that I apparently trashed. Clothes, dishes, you name it – I have asked my fiancé where it is. She, of course, remembers all of the things I so liberally tossed and has become an expert of ordering the replacement item without even talking to me. She’s pretty great like that.

I find that job descriptions are compiled with the same approach I took to packing. Too many people try to say it all, find it all and write something compelling enough to attract someone to apply without turning them off. There’s so much on our mind about the job; we start to forget about the candidate on the other side trying to dissect this job description to figure out if they want the job in the first place. So we pile in more information in hopes that they find something important. The more, the better, right? Not necessarily. Just like my packing strategy and inevitable woes now, you shouldn’t rush to say it all at the detriment of the candidate.

The reality is that one size of advice does not fit all and what’s best for one company won’t work for everyone. So what can you do to create a better job description?

  1. Ask what inspires or motivates someone who typically fills the role. See if the hiring manager has ever had the job. This is the content you will use to write the compelling introduction for your job description. Something that appeals to the person you want to hire.
  2. Ask the hiring manager to stack rank the five most important things this person will actually do. What will determine success in one year when they are writing a performance review? Use this information to describe the role rather than a laundry list of tasks.
  3. Then, when you do a partnership meeting/kickoff with a hiring manager, ask for the mandatory requirements. This is the degree, code language, etc. that is very particular to the job but ends up being a laundry list if you ask the hiring manager to create it in a silo. Have your hiring manager also stack rank these requirements from most to least important. Have them in that order on the published job description, too.
  4. Take the information you get from the hiring manager and instead of translating them into a list of qualifications, write a list of things that person will accomplish in the first year. Roles and goals change, but if you’re hiring someone, you should at least know how they can make an impact the first year. Candidates like that information, too.

And remember this golden rule that always applies: adding voice does not always add value. I’m not saying ignore the ways, but it’s just not the first thing to consider. Don’t mistake the job description that reads well and has an exciting and involving tone as best in class. As an employer branding copy writer, I’m here to tell you that’s wrong. Voice is just dynamics when you’re trying to make a decision. To me, an intriguing voice on a terrible job description is like my whining about items that are long gone: it doesn’t fix anything.


This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.