Rethinking Job Descriptions: The Secret to Reaching More Candidates

job descriptions
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job descriptions

Right now, unemployment is the lowest it’s been in over a decade. In fact, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 3.9 percent of Americans were out of work at the end of 2018 and those record lows have maintained through the first quarter of 2019. While this is great news for employees, employers are having an incredibly hard time finding qualified candidates.

Many employers are failing to attract talent right from the beginning of their hiring process. They’re not paying enough attention to their job descriptions. And as a result, job seekers are ignoring the company’s available opportunities.

Having great job descriptions means more than updating the information about the role. You also need to craft them in a way that gains skilled job seekers’ interest and trust. If you want to successfully attract talent, it’s time to learn more about how job seekers interpret job descriptions and what are their expectations.

Here are four secrets to making your job descriptions more appealing to candidates:

Focus on being relatable and welcoming

Job listings are like first impressions. Using biased or exclusionary wording is one of the quickest ways to make job seekers self-select out of your hiring process.

But, it’s not just overtly offensive words and phrases you need to remove from job descriptions. Every word has a unique connotation that paints a picture of the type of candidate you’re looking for. If candidates can’t see themselves fulfilling this description, they won’t apply.

For example, despite their literal meaning, there are adjectives that are seen as masculine or feminine. Words like competitive and strong are more likely to be used to describe a man than a woman. Conversely, understanding and intuitive are seen as feminine adjectives.

If your job descriptions use gendered language, you’ll automatically exclude half the population. In fact, a 2016 report from ZipRecruiter found that job ads with gender-neutral wording received 42 percent more applicants.
It’s vital to your hiring success that you learn the difference between gendered and neutral descriptors. For example, an ad with masculine wording would say “We’re looking for an assertive candidate.” The gender-neutral alternative would be to say “a go-getter, motivated, or goal-oriented.”

Another type of biased language is jargon. When struggling to find talent, many employers look outside their industry for candidates with transferable skills. But these job seekers won’t understand how they actually qualify for a job if it’s described with complex industry jargon. Instead, explain jobs and necessary skills in familiar terms. Once you find the right candidate, they can learn industry-specific vocabulary on the job.

Break up with deal-breaker requirements

Naturally, every job requires certain skills for an employee to be successful. Job descriptions are the first step in getting you and candidates on the same page with these expectations. Where many employers get into trouble is listing too many “deal-breaker” requirements.

If a job seeker reads your company’s job ad and sees they don’t have the right major or they’re slightly short on previous work experience, they won’t apply. The catch is, they could be a really great candidate who would excel in the role.

Don’t risk losing high-quality candidates because you’re hyper-focused on irrelevant requirements. This doesn’t mean you need to lower your standards. Rather, look at the skills you’re asking for and carefully consider whether they are actually “must haves.”

Try to limit yourself to five absolute requirements. If you’re having trouble narrowing down your list, ask employees who will work closely with the new hire for help. Tell them to pick the skills or traits the employee would need from day one in order to succeed.
For example, while it’s always nice to find employees with leadership experience, those skills are not necessary for an entry-level job. Your hiring team can still look for signs of leadership potential in candidates during an interview, but they shouldn’t be required just to apply.

Review ads through the correct lens

Often, hiring managers or HR personnel are the only ones who review job descriptions before they’re posted. But since these people don’t see all the day-to-day details, the job descriptions they write aren’t 100 percent accurate. Job seekers will be hesitant to apply for a job when they don’t think they have all the information.

Put together a team of current employees who thoroughly understand the position. It’s good to have at least one co-worker and one individual who has held the role in the past. Before showing them the initial draft of the job description, have them describe the role in their own words. Pay attention to their language and see if it aligns with what’s used in the job description.

Take special note of any details they mention that weren’t already included. Then show them the current version of the job description. Discuss differences in wording and how variations impact the reader’s impression of the position.

Also, have your review team add any details or perks that will intrigue candidates. The more the description reflects the reality of the position as a whole, the better. For example, if the team the candidate would be joining has potlucks every month, put it in the job ad. This will show job seekers they could work with a close group of co-workers who enjoy each other’s company outside of work as well.

Reenvision how you share job ads

Writing and editing job descriptions aren’t the only steps that can limit the number and quality of your candidates. Where your company posts them can also hurt your chances of finding a great employee. For example, some job boards list so many vacancies, yours will get lost in the shuffle. Instead of relying only on traditional job sites, find other unique ways to share your carefully crafted job descriptions.

One good option is passing information about openings to your freelancers. Right now, many companies use contracted employees to augment their workforce. Just because an individual is freelancing doesn’t mean they aren’t open to full-time employment. Since you’re familiar with their work, you can also be confident these candidates will have the skills you need.

Social media can also be a great place to share job descriptions. Your followers are already interested and invested in your organization. If they find a position that meets their professional needs, there’s a good chance that they’ll be a cultural fit and align with the company’s values.

If your social media following is smaller, find relevant professional groups on LinkedIn or Facebook and share your opportunities there. These communities support each other in finding employment, so even if a member isn’t qualified for the position, they will likely pass it on to anyone they know who would be interested.

Job descriptions have been the foundation of talent acquisition for decades. But this doesn’t mean you can’t improve on how your organization advertises your open position. By rethinking these four aspects of job descriptions, you can ensure you find more candidates and hire quality new employees.

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Val Matta
Val Matta
Val Matta is the co-owner and leader of business development at CareerShift, a comprehensive job hunting and career management solution for companies, outplacement firms, job seekers and university career centers. You can connect with her and the CareerShift team on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, LinkedIn.