Effective Recruiting Starts with Compelling Job Descriptions

by James McDonough

DEI,  Hiring,  Hot Topics

The importance of writing clear, accurate, and compelling job descriptions cannot be overstated. An effective recruiting plan targets applicants with the skills and attributes necessary to achieve organizational objectives; accurately drafted job descriptions include this information to ensure  recruiting efforts are on target. In a tight job market, clear and compelling job descriptions help attract the right candidates for vacant positions and support employee retention. To maximize the effectiveness of job descriptions, employers must know what to include, mistakes to avoid, and best practices.


Job descriptions: what to include

Organize job descriptions into these essential categories to improve clarity:

  • Job identification: Provide basic information, such as job title, department, supervisor, and date prepared or revised.
  • Position purpose: Describe the general purpose of the job and how it connects to the organization’s mission to make the job description more compelling to applicants and employees.
  • Duties: Include a bulleted list of typical major duties and responsibilities of the job; it is not necessary to exhaustively list every possible duty. Essential job functions should be identified for more efficient applicant review and for managing employees in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
  • Qualifications: Outline the knowledge, skills, and abilities required to perform the job as well as the working conditions. List specific requirements for software skills, certifications, etc. Include physical requirements for possible ADA accommodation requests, such as abilities to do tasks that require lifting items of a certain weight, ability to use certain equipment, etc. 


Mistakes to avoid when creating job descriptions

Minimize unnecessary complications and legal consequences by watching out for: 

  • Imprecise language: Be concise and straightforward. Avoid statements that are open to interpretation. Imprecise expectations and requirements invite legal risks when challenged in court. 
  • Job title inflation: It may be tempting to provide creative job titles to attract applicants or to reflect workplace culture. Job title creativity invites misinterpretation that opens risks for employee disappointment and legal complications. For example, the job title “environmental care specialist” could be problematic if the duties equate to a janitor or custodian.
  • Overly detailed: Do not include every potential task that an employee may need to do. This may limit flexibility to handle emerging needs and evolving responsibilities and dissuade qualified applicants from applying. Provide a statement such as “other duties as assigned” to provide flexibility.  
  • Outdated and gendered language: Attract all qualified individuals to form a diverse applicant pool by not using gendered terms like “she” or “he.” Instead, use neutral terms such as “the employee” or “they.” For example: “In this position, the employee will be required to complete these job duties.”
  • Copycat: Descriptions drafted by another employer or third party should not be fully relied upon as they don’t accurately reflect the realities of every workplace, including culture.

Job description best practices

Enhance organizational effectiveness; put these actions on your list: 

  • Research the position to ensure accuracy: Job descriptions must describe the true nature of the job and be the product of direct observation of an employee doing the work. If this is not possible, for example, with emergent positions, a projection of job duties must be closely followed by additional efforts to verify accuracy with necessary updates to the job description. 
  • Engage those who know: The feedback of incumbent employees and their supervisors is integral to accuracy and evolving needs.
  • Simplify: A consistent format for all job descriptions, with information in a predictable pattern, helps with position analysis, compensation planning, and workforce planning. 
  • Improve recruiting: Use job descriptions in the recruiting process to define ideal candidates and show applicants what is needed to succeed in the position. Accurate job descriptions are essential for outsourced recruiting services to cost-effectively identify qualified candidates. 
  • Support supervisors: Reviewing job descriptions with employees supports a supervisor’s ability to clarify expectations for successful performance, explore job satisfaction and professional goals, and manage requests for job flexibility and reasonable accommodation. 
  • Communicate career opportunities: Job descriptions form the basis for talent development and succession planning, defining pathways that provide upward mobility based on skill development. This sends a compelling message to applicants and employees who seek career growth. 
  • Connect to mission: Identify opportunities to connect job duties with the mission of the organization. For example, a hospital custodian description could state, “Clean rooms according to standards to help patients stay safe and healthy.”
  • Leverage technology: Drafting, organizing, and updating job descriptions is an administrative challenge; use technology to streamline processes. For example, Employers Council members have access to a tool that provides sample job descriptions and templates to build customized job descriptions.
  • Evaluate and update: A full-blown job analysis is likely not necessary every year. However, periodic updates are important to account for continually evolving workplace realities. 
  • Stay aware: Periodically review other employers’ practices to stay aware of competitors and emerging trends; this may also inform reorganization and planning efforts.

Contact us to learn how membership provides guidance and expertise to develop and maintain effective, compliant, and compelling job descriptions.

About the author
James McDonough

James McDonough, HR Research Consultant, consults with Employers Council members to provide guidance and support on their organizational practices. He writes articles, conducts presentations and trainings on HR compliance, organizational effectiveness and business management topics. A graduate of the University of Colorado-Boulder, James has worked in the public and private sectors in HR and business management.