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Jantje Bartels


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Time to say goodbye to boring job descriptions?


As of March 29th, I am hosting a virtual summit to help companies grow faster by hiring amazing people. It’s a series of interviews with well-known talent sourcing experts like Katrina Collier, Jo Dodds and Tris Revill. Check out all the speakers here. If you want to follow them live or through the re-watch option afterwards, there is a special 10% discount available for the HRZone community with the coupon ‘hrzone’ when checking out.

Imagine you’d go to a job platform and look at the first five search results you’d get for the job you are hiring for. What would make you read all of them from top to bottom?

Maybe because they are from your ‘competitors’ and you simply just want to see what they write? Maybe there are elements for your next job description that you could copy and use? Maybe it’s just boring and they all sound kind of the same?

One of my favourite job descriptions that I’ve seen is from a burger bar in New Zealand. They are looking for someone who flips burgers around. Now, this doesn’t sound like an exciting job to promote and yet, this is one very compelling job description (you can check it out here on flickr).

Maybe strategically or unwillingly they have applied the key principles of what I call the inside-out job advert. It’s not just a document focused on detailing key requirements for the job. It doesn’t include a list of perks. In fact it’s all written text without any bullet points. (No images either.) Yet, it went somewhat viral.

Now, when you sit down and write a job description where do you start? What do you include? How do you make it interesting to read? For me, the key objective is always to portray an honest picture of the position using every day language. It’s for me the only way to attract people to the job that actually want it.

And while that objective is nice, it wasn’t super easy to realise it at first, until I came up with the inside-out method which helps me to write compelling job descriptions that speaks to the audience I am looking for.

Start with Why

The inside-out method is based upon the ‘Start with Why’ model from Simon Sinek who gave a TED talk back in 2009 explaining why Apple (as an example) sold so many iPods back in the days. In his eyes, it wasn’t about what they sold and how they sold them, it was about why people would want to buy from them. (If you want to see his whole talk, go here.)

When applying Simon Sinek’s work to the creation of a job description, it would boil down to this:

  1. Why are you actually looking for someone?
  2. How do you go about creating one?
  3. What do you actually put in it?

1. Why?

Now, it might be logic that you need someone to complete a role in your company to actually keep the cogs running smoothly. Kind of a no-brainer. However, is it the only reason you look for someone? Before you start writing your next job description, I’d encourage you to sit down with the hiring manager and jot down three to four points as to why this person would be welcome in your company. Are you looking for someone to complete the job or helping your business grow?

If this question is answered out loud and discussed, and even if it’s ‘just’ to make it clear for everyone, this often sets the tone for the whole hiring process for the position (or for several). Who doesn’t want more clarity as to:

  • Why you are recruiting for this job?
  • Why you are doing what you are doing?
  • What the colleagues’ roles are who are involved in the process?

2. How?

Once the Why is clearer, the How is often more easily addressed, as the engagement level of the people involved is more confirmed and clearer. So, how to go about writing it and craft it authentically? For me, there is only one way.

Talk to the people who either have a similar job or would work with that person, whether a direct colleague or their boss. Maybe at first they don’t know what to say and how to articulate what they are looking for. If that’s the case, how about you ask them about their everyday work life? Their daily stories? Situations they face? How they go about dealing with them? People they interact with? Tools they use? What they do during break time?

The more everyday scenarios you have, the more real your job description gets.

3. What?

Now that you hopefully have a concrete idea of what this job is about with the stories from the colleagues in every day common language, it’s a matter of putting this on paper.

What kind of structure?

Well, that honestly depends on what you’ve got as input. There is no one-way approach to this. You can be totally creative with it, if that’s what it’s all about for the job and your company.

If a structured approach is preferred, you can follow the structure of an inside-out job description below that I tend to use:

  1. Job title
  2. Introduction: Teaser (I often like to include questions here).
  3. What you can expect: Description of the job.
  4. What you bring along: Qualifications needed.
  5. How we work together: Sneak peek into the collaboration aspect.
  6. Who we are: Company background.
  7. Application details: Mentioning an actual person’s name is always a plus.

Feel free to play around with this structure, a lot of companies like to put the « who we are » part on top, for example.

What tone?

That’s easy, I’d keep it as real as possible and use the words that I’ve received from the conversations, so that we’ll also reach a similar audience of potential candidates who talk that kind of language. You can include a sense of humour like in the ad for the Burger Bar mentioned above, if that’s what’s common in your company. If it’s not, leave it out. Be real.

Final touches

Once the first version of the job description is done, I always ask myself (and others) the following questions:

  • Do my head and heart agree with this text? If not, what would I change?
  • Would I apply for this job?
  • Would you apply for this job? (ask the colleagues involved and/or an outside friend)

This always helps me to round a job description up, because if the others as well as I am not happy to put it up on the homepage like it is, it’s worthwhile to go back and twist it here and there.

Your turn

I’ve shown you above how I commonly write a job posting from scratch to really reach the people our company is looking for. Now, it’s your turn to take this for a test drive.

And when you do, just keep these three things in mind:

  • Start with Why.
  • Involve your colleagues.
  • Compelling and authentic stories make the difference.

When you apply them, your job description will not only stick out, it’ll also attract the people you are looking for!

Questions? If you have some, please comment below!

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Jantje Bartels


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