Precisely how important is the job description during the hiring process? The most frequent reason new employees give for bailing soon after they’re hired is, “The job wasn’t what I expected.” The first question that needs to be asked, is: What attracted them to the job in the first place? In most cases, the answer is: The job description.
The second is: Why did they apply for the job? You may not be surprised to learn that the answer to this question (in most cases) is, again: The job description.
What’s the lesson? Job descriptions that are vague, inaccurate, brief, or deliberately ambiguous can cause you to lose quality candidates.
Poor job descriptions are costly
Businesses know the high cost of hiring the wrong candidate and poor job descriptions must account for some of the loss.
The cost in terms of lost time means:
- Reposting job ads
- Re-reviewing applicants
- Revisiting the interview process
- Re-evaluating candidates
In dollars, the hard cost of rehiring one employee ranges from $17,000 on average to $240,000, depending on the position. Multiple sources cite the U.S. Department of Labor’s estimated cost of replacing new hires at 30% of the first year of their anticipated earnings.
Based on a FlexJobs report, 75% of the demand for new employees is for replacing the ones who left a company. The average cost is $57,968.
Poor descriptions derail the hiring process
You may not think of job descriptions as a central cog in the recruiting and hiring process. After all, their purpose is just to:
- Market job openings
Managers seldom consider the job description’s role in sourcing, interviewing, and evaluating candidates.
Recruiters shouldn’t underestimate the value of job descriptions in the hiring process. They can make or break the first and last phases of the process. Namely, attracting qualified applicants with a good write-up of the job and retaining new hires after the job offer because the write-up was 100% accurate.
Hire, formerly the Recruiterbox, cites four ways that job descriptions can derail the recruiting and hiring process:
- Poorly written descriptions can attract unqualified applicants.
- Recruiters are slowed down by not having a job description.
- A vague or ambiguous description can lead to a “mishire.”
- A poor description can elevate turnover.
Knowing how a poor job description — or no description at all — can derail the recruiting process is vital in attracting qualified candidates. But knowing what applicants expect from a job description is crucial.
Applicants want content details, clear language
Job descriptions are supposed to attract applicants who have the right qualifications. The descriptions that score the highest with job seekers have as many details about a position as possible and avoid using stagnant “bizspeak” words and terms.
The first step in drafting descriptions is to look at what content to include and the language to avoid.
There are things that applicants want job descriptions to do and things they want them to contain.
Here are things applicants want descriptions to do, according to CareerBuilder’s 2017 Candidate Experience Study:
- Explain how the hiring company sets itself apart from its competitors.
- Tell the truth about the company, and do not put on a “game face.”
- Make them feel special as individuals and not that they’re just one in a crowd of applicants.
Here’s a list of items applicants want (and you should have) in a description:
- Job title
- Summary of the role’s objective
- Job responsibilities in detail
- Experience desired
- Work hours
- Miscellaneous information (remote-work options, travel requirements, etc.)
- Company description
- Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) tag
Job descriptions attract qualified candidates to relevant positions. But certain words, terms, and phrases turn them off. In fact, 50% of job seekers in a Skynova poll said they found buzzwords in descriptions annoying.
Words applicants found appealing included:
Words that turn applicants off are:
- Challenge (yes, it made both lists)
So, what do business leaders think about job descriptions? Workest asked for their opinions, and they responded.
What’s your biggest 2022 HR challenge that you’d like to resolve
Answer to see the results
Simplify benefits administration
Improve our virtual onboarding experience
Automate repetitive and time-consuming tasks
Experts weigh in on descriptions
Workest asked business executives about the importance of job descriptions, what makes them effective, and what they should include. Here’s what they said:
“When writing job descriptions, it is important to keep in mind that they are one of your most powerful tools in attracting and eventually hiring the right job applicants. By taking the time to write effective job descriptions, you can avoid bad hires and ensure that the position is accurately conveyed to potential candidates.” ~ Michelle Hague
Job description importance
W: How important do you think job descriptions are in attracting and eventually hiring the right job applicants?
Art Shaikh, Founder & CEO of CircleIt, a technology firm: I have posted plenty of job descriptions, as I handle all initial interviews myself. It is an important part of the hiring and recruitment process to outline what your needs are and communicate that clearly to candidates seeking employment. When your description isn’t written well, you end up interviewing candidates that aren’t suited for the role you need to fill, which wastes everyone’s time.
Michelle Hague, HR manager at Solar Panels Network USA: Job descriptions are extremely important in attracting the right job applicants. They provide potential candidates with a clear understanding of the duties and responsibilities of the position, as well as the required qualifications. By including this information in your job description, you can screen out candidates who are not qualified for the position and focus on those with the necessary skills and experience.
Dannie Lynn Fountain, senior software engineer sourcer at Google: Job descriptions set the tone for the applicant’s experience with the company. Not just in “does the job description meet the actual role expectations,” but also in:
- Community building
- And more
Job descriptions are many applicants’ first interaction with an organization. All this is to say the descriptions are critical.
Scott Dettman, CEO at Avenica, an employment platform: In our experience, job descriptions are often filled with a laundry list of required qualifications, when in reality, those “requirements” are often skills that can be easily taught. The description is the candidate’s first impression of your company. If the role isn’t defined clearly or has too many details, it will send the wrong message.
Job description content
W: What should a well-written, effective job description include?
Shaikh: The right description should always include the role’s day-to-day responsibilities and an outline of the company culture. For us, we know that while everyone seeking a role should have a baseline of skills, if they aren’t a fit for the culture, then it’s a no-go.
Another important item, but only more recently, is the work model. Because we rely heavily on in-person collaboration, we have a hybrid model. Be sure to state your work model upfront to avoid any confusion.
Hague: An effective job description should include:
- A brief overview of the company
- The position’s title and responsibilities
- The required qualifications
- Any other relevant information
Additionally, it is important to make sure that your descriptions are clear, concise, and free of any grammar or spelling errors.
Fountain: Well-written job descriptions should not only include:
- Clear and specific expectations for the role
- A list of only necessary job skills (no “nice to haves”)
- Notes on accommodations
But they should also include:
- Salary range
- Emphasize a commitment to DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion)
They should not have corporate jargon or unnecessarily flowery job titles like “ninja” or “rockstar.” They also should avoid gender-coded language, like “handyman,” etc.
Dettman: I highly recommend H.R. teams lean on people who are actively working in the roles they’re hiring for to help write the job descriptions. We often see things like Tableau listed as a requirement on job descriptions. But in reality, all the person needs to know is how to open a file and copy some graphs within Tableau.
At Avenica, we know people’s lived experience gives a much clearer picture of the impact they could have on an organization.
Role focus: current responsibilities only or future possibilities, too?
W: Should you write job descriptions to include only the tasks and responsibilities that the current opening needs, or should you include possible or future tasks to allow flexibility in the position?
Shaikh: In a tech startup, every role has some cross-functionality to it. It is best to make sure this is understood by potential candidates, so leaving room for flexibility in the description is ideal.
Hague: It can depend. If you are looking to fill a specific role that has well-defined tasks and responsibilities, then it is best to include only those things in your job description. However, if you are looking for a candidate who can grow with the company and take on additional responsibilities over time, then it is best to include possible future tasks in your description. This will give you a pool of candidates who are qualified for the position and have the potential to grow with the company.
Fountain: The job description (J.D.) should reflect the specifics of the “current” role. All individuals expect to grow in their career — any expectations listed in a J.D. can be things that an employee is technically required to do. So don’t include responsibilities that the individual is not yet ready to be expected to complete.
By achieving all the above, not only are the J.D.s better quality, but they’re also more inclusive and more encouraging for those of all backgrounds to apply.
Dettman: I would be cautious about listing any skills that aren’t currently needed as a requirement in the job description. Many skills can be easily taught, so if it’s a future need, you could likely train whomever you hire.
“I highly recommend H.R. teams lean on people who are actively working in the roles they’re hiring for to help write the job descriptions.” ~ Scott Dettman
Elizabeth Sandler, career strategist at Juliette Works, a virtual platform for women, told Workest: “Job descriptions have not evolved; there has been no innovation in decades.
Employers focus on:
- Reporting lines
What people want to know is:
- What value will they create
- How do they contribute to the firm’s purpose and mission
- Who will they be interacting with on a daily basis.”
Sandler also said that descriptions and the artificial intelligence (A.I.) tools used to screen C.V.s against descriptions look for keywords to maximize the chance that a candidate will be able to do the job. Still, these tools aren’t focused on whether the candidate wants to do the job.
Job descriptions need to clearly communicate the role’s value
“The most successful applicants aren’t necessarily the ones who did that job elsewhere, [they’re] the ones who want to learn, grow, and have an impact,” said Sandler. “So, job descriptions should cover those topics.”
Dettman noted, “The main goal of the job description should be to get people in the door. A person’s potential can’t be measured by the number of required skills they check off a list. The job description should be detailed enough to weed out less serious candidates but not overly complicated so that it causes high-potential candidates to pass over the role.
Job descriptions must include certain requirements according to federal law. Even so, leaders can make the information as robust and valuable as they need it to be to find the best candidates. A strong job description will bring strong candidates, which will translate to a stronger company.