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Tip of the Month – Job Descriptions

by: Dan Gathof, Partner – Olympia Solutions

Things that make me smh…

When I read job descriptions that don’t accurately highlight the key requirements, or success factors, of the open role.


I’ve recently looked at a number of job descriptions (JDs) and suspect that the formula for writing one goes something like this:

  • Recruiter (or person writing the description) pulls a recently used job description or competitor posting that closely resembles the new need. 
  • Recruiter updates the skills and profile based on a few bullets in an email from the hiring executive. 
  • Recruiter forwards the revised JD to the executive for sign-off and, upon approval, begins the process of posting and sending to candidates.

Chances are that the approved JD has the following attributes: 

  • The document is 2-3 pages long.
  • The bulk of the document is a “laundry list” of requirements in bullet point format.
  • There is little to no messaging in terms of what’s in it for the candidate and what success looks like in the role.

I typically try and review the draft version of a JD before meeting with a client to discuss their need in detail. What is most surprising to me is that after I speak with an executive about the opening, rarely does the written job description align with the requirements and opportunity that was described to me.

This is a problem, a big problem. Candidates (however senior or junior) apply for roles that align with their skill set, their short and long-term career goals, and their culture preferences. 

So it follows that if a company can not accurately describe their needs and value proposition to future employees by way of a written description, the company will probably attract the wrong candidates and will ultimately struggle to fill the role with the desire profile.

Here is an idea to consider…

Start the process of writing a job description by describing what success looks like in the role.

There are loads of resources available in the marketplace to help you and your team write more accurate and compelling job descriptions. The key starting point is to recognize that you need messaging that clearly captures your most important requirements as well as the short and long-term benefits to the future employee.

Start changing the process with these few steps:

  1. Get personally involved in writing the new JD.
  2. Define what success looks like in the role:
    1. Think 1-2 years out, what has the successful hire accomplished?
    2. Describe the major hurdles the person must overcome to achieve success.
  3. Consider if you can reduce the requirements to 2-3 main competencies:
    1. Ask yourself what you can and can’t train or develop in a new hire. Focus on those attributes that require some baseline experience. 
    2. Think about your star performers and their skills/attributes – what unique competencies do they possess?
    3. Would you hire the person if they were exceptional in 2-3 areas but lacked skills in other areas?
  4. Start developing a new job description that contains the following:
    1. A drastically reduced section on requirements – focus on the 2-3 most critical items.
    2. A summary of what success looks like.
    3. A forecast of career benefits for the successful employee in the role – what can you offer in terms of skill development and progression that far exceed what your competitors can offer.

In many cases, a job description is the first introduction a person has to your company. While a candidate may have heard about your brand, they may not have seen how or what you communicate about your business.

If your brand hires top talent, your writing style should be professional, reflect a strong attention to detail, and be concise. If your brand is more laid back, you can consider a casual writing style that injects fun or humor into the description.

I’m certain that your brand attributes don’t include words like “boring”, “generic”, and “inefficient” but your current JDs may suggest otherwise.

By beginning the process of improving your job descriptions, you should start seeing candidates who align better against the need.