How to Write a Job Description: The Ultimate Checklist
You’re ready to hire a new team member to take things to the next level in your organization. You know who you’re looking for, and you know this person is out there—all that stands between him or her and this new position, kicking ass in your company, is your ability to reach the right candidate and compel him or her to step up the plate.
Your most important tool in achieving that is a great job description—one that will make the right candidates stop dead in their tracks and think: I was made for this role.
But that’s easier said than done. Winging your JD is one of the most damaging mistakes you can make as you begin your search. To create an accurate, compelling, and authentic job description that attracts high-quality candidates, you need to be strategic and thorough in your approach.
Here are the main ingredients of a great job description.
A (Brief!) Background of Your Company
In two concise—but strong—paragraphs, cover the basics of your company. To really grab your reader’s attention, think about the kind of language that your ideal candidates would use. Consider the level of formality, your tone, and any jargon you might use; and emphasize the parts that a candidate for that particular role would care about. This section should include:
- Your mission, why you do what you do, and how long you’ve been at it
- What you do in concrete, clear terms. Show it to a couple of people who aren’t familiar with your company, and have them explain it back to you. Do they get it?
- Your traction, achievements, or progress to date—use specific numbers!
- Awards, media features, and buzz—included with a tone of humility
The Overview of the Role
In one short paragraph, cover the basics of the role, including:
- An accurate and compelling job title
- The primary mission or “commander’s intent” of the role
- The 2-3 main functions of the role, with a brief explanation
- The supervisor and team the role works with
Follow that up with one or two more paragraphs that go into detail about what this person will be doing every day. To make it sound as compelling as possible, remember what your career counselor taught you about writing resumes: Use the active voice and focus on actions and outcomes. Use words like “leading,” “overseeing,” “creating,” “developing,” “engaging,” or one of these great power verbs. Finally, keep in mind what top performers care about most in a job (learning, having autonomy, and making an impact), and emphasize those aspects of the role whenever possible.
- The job responsibilities
- Key tasks and projects
- The working environment and team culture
Ideal Candidate Profile
Now, it’s time for you to talk a little bit about what you’re looking for. Try to cover the following points in two or three paragraphs, or in sections of five to 10 bulleted items. You might have one list for core traits you’re looking for, and another list for traits that are ideal but not necessary.
- Skills and competencies
- Strengths and talents
- Style and approach
- Experiences and accomplishments
- Background (academic or otherwise)
- Bonus points if…
There is a lot of debate on what to include in this section, but my advice is to list a realistic range, and perhaps a note that experience and competencies will dictate where in the range someone might fall. Especially if the title is senior but the pay is not really commensurate (e.g., a director of marketing who you want to pay $75K), listing the range will save you time from talking to folks who want double that.
- Career development (skills they’ll learn, networks they’ll have access to, mentorship opportunities)
- Other perks
Finally, don’t forget the details! Make it easy for candidates to get you their materials by including:
- How to apply (clear and detailed instructions)
- What to expect in the process, including dates
- Where to send questions or inquiries
Once each of these items is bulleted out and refined, make sure to get buy-in from your hiring team. When you have all the elements ironed out, it should look a lot like one of these. To be really sure that you’ve struck the right chords, run the job description by someone who you consider to be a great candidate so you can hear his or her feedback on how it might be improved.
With your killer job description in hand, you’re now ready to undertake the difficult part of hiring: making sure that as many well-qualified candidates as possible see the job ad from trusted sources. Knowing that you have the perfect job description means that as the posting makes its way through your networks and into the world, you can feel confident that no one who’d be a great fit will overlook it.
Photo of person writing courtesy of Shutterstock.
About The Author
Nathaniel is co-founder and CEO of ReWork, a mission-driven talent firm that connects professionals to hiring managers at companies making social, environmental, and cultural progress. Nathaniel is a 2011 Unreasonable fellow.