6 Job Description Fails

Feb 27, 2019

When struggling to retain employees, most HR professionals or talent managers start analyzing their company cultures, mentorship programs, onboarding efforts, and the like. But it often doesn’t occur to most of them that employee turnover issues could start long before team members even step foot inside the workplace as candidates. In their quest to address retention issues, they frequently neglect to consider the job description.

As the first point of contact with candidates, the job posting serves as the organization’s gatekeeper. Top-notch job descriptions attract the right candidates who can thrive at the company. Bringing such strong candidates on board increases employee engagement, reduces turnover, and optimizes productivity in the long run.

Poor job descriptions, on the other hand, can hook candidates who are unqualified or become toxic team members who will eventually leave the company (either voluntarily or involuntarily). What qualifies as a poor job posting? A job description that exhibits any of the following red flags could be unintentionally sabotaging an organization’s efforts to recruit and retain incredible employees.

Job Description Fail #1: Buttered-Up Language

When writing job descriptions, managers often use complicated language to sound more professional or to “inflate” the position in order to better appeal to candidates. But this “bait and switch” tactic can breed resentment among employees, which in turn creates a toxic office culture and leads to higher turnover.

Managers should instead stick with simple language that accurately describes the position. This doesn’t mean that the job description should read like it was written by a surfer or that managers should go out of their way to make a position sound less exciting than it really is. They simply need to avoid unnecessarily complex language and communicate their companies’ recruitment goals as clearly and effectively as possible.

For example:

Under the general direction of the department’s IT supervisor, the incumbent will be a full-stack web developer responsible for creating attractive and usable web-based interfaces for internal and world-facing tools and sites. Candidates should be comfortable communicating with sales people to develop working code on new sales software.

This job description is simple, to the point, and effective.

Job Description Fail #2: Including Everything in the Job Title

Trying to attract highly qualified job seekers by including too much title bling can have the opposite effect by deterring potential candidates who don’t understand insider lingo (or who won’t spend the time reading lengthy job posting titles). According to the engineer who runs the job search engines at Glassdoor, long job titles are not SEO-friendly and tend to perform poorly in comparison to shorter, more succinct job titles that match well with common search terms. In order words, companies should avoid extremely long job titles such as “Ninja Level Full Stack Developer Angular/JS/Python/ETC (Remote: Telecommute from Anywhere)” when a simple “Web Developer” will do just fine.


Job Description Fail #3: Shoddy Writing and Presentation

Companies that want to sound like legitimate organizations and appeal to top-notch candidates should use proper grammar and punctuation. That seems like a no-brainer, but it is stunning how many organizations don’t subject their job descriptions to proper editing before posting them. Job descriptions with misspelled words or six question marks at the end of each sentence wind up looking more like e-mail spam than legitimate job descriptions. Incorrect grammar, sloppy formatting, and bad syntax will make job seekers run away faster than a company can say, “Apply here.”

Job Description Fail #4: Trying to Find a Perfect Match

There’s a reason that recruiting professionals call the perfect candidate a “purple squirrel”: it’s very unlikely that they will ever find one. Not only is the search for a perfect candidate futile, but having unrealistically high expectations can actually prevent recruiters from seeing a great employee who may not be 100% what they’re looking for but who could become one of a company’s most loyal and capable employees.

To avoid intimidating candidates with unrealistic experience requirements, recruiters need to differentiate between what they want and what they need before they start writing up job descriptions. For example, requiring expert-level experience for a job that could probably be done by a middle manager with additional on-the-job-training likely won’t yield a viable candidate when trying to source a large candidate pool. There’s no need to have lower standards. It’s simply a matter of considering whether a job posting might needlessly rule out good applicants—and then adjusting its content and language (perhaps with inspiration from job spec templates already tailored for different job profiles and industries) to indicate an openness to promising candidates, not just perfect ones.

Job Description Fail #5: Negative Talk

Negative language in a job description—in particular, details about what candidates can and can’t do before they’re even hired—can make candidates feel as though they’re being lectured and decide to pass on a job posting. Be wary of negative words (such as “don’t,” “shouldn’t,” “unable,” and “never”) and instead use positive words (such as “can,” “succeed,” and “accomplish”). Switch out absolutes for open-ended, inviting language aimed at developing a relationship between the candidate and the company.

Job descriptions should definitely avoid using racist, sexist, elitist, or otherwise discriminatory language. Offensive language (whether intentional or unintentional) can not only be extremely harmful to the organization’s reputation, but may also be illegal depending on local laws. Aim for neutral, professional language that doesn’t color the message with any biases about gender, sex, race or politics.

Job Description Fail #6: Walls of Text

Most people who read an article or book filled with giant, unbroken paragraphs soon find their eyes glazing over as they struggle to find the important information in a wall of text. The same goes for job seekers: they want to get the key data quickly and easily! Job descriptions should get right to the point and spell out details such as the qualifications candidates should have, the pay and employee benefits, and how to apply for the position. To avoid making applicants work unnecessary or boring them to tears, keep paragraphs short and succinct to ensure that readers get to the end. In the age of tweets, most people probably prefer to read a paragraph’s worth of information in just one sentence.

As the old saying goes, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” That rings especially true in recruiting, where a job description has the power to attract—or repel—candidates. By paying closer attention to all that a job posting conveys, organizations can improve their chances of catching the eye of top talent.

Stijn de Groef, a passionate HR professional, entrepreneur, cyclist and CEO at Talmundo. Prior to starting his own HR tech company, Talmundo, in 2012, Stijn worked in senior Talent Management roles at EMEA and Global level at multinational companies like Swarovski and Goodyear. Stijn now travels the world spreading the word about Talmundo’s employee onboarding software and the strategic importance for businesses to get onboarding right.

Written by:  Stijn de Groef

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