there’s a high likelihood that your job postings suck

Someone recently sent me this link to a job posting as an example of a company that finally got a job ad right. What’s awesome about this ad is that you can actually read it and understand what the job is all about. There’s no incomprehensible jargon, no sentences that sound like they were lifted out of a poorly-written internal processes manual at the most bureaucratic company imaginable. It’s just … someone normal talking about what the job is like, who would be good at it, and why you might like it.

In other words, it’s both everything a job ad should be and the exact opposite of what most job ads are like.

To illustrate my point, here are some real quotes from the first page of search results I pulled up on Monster for jobs in my area:

“Develop and leverage key relationships with stakeholders that enable collaboration across the enterprise”

“Coordinate with applicable business areas to define/implement remediation activities”

“Design, develop and manage proprietary Electronic Data Capture (EDC) system’s electronic Case Report Forms (CRFs) and implement Case Report Forms that adhere to company standard operating procedures”

Do these excite you?

Job descriptions like these are a sign that someone in that company has lost sight of the whole point of a job posting.

When you’re advertising for a new hire, a job posting is a marketing document. You’re trying to attract people who will be excited about the work; potential candidates shouldn’t have to wade through heavy jargon and overused buzzwords to try to figure out what the job is all about.

The great mystery of all this is that most managers can talk enthusiastically and compellingly about a role they’re hiring for, but for some reason all that life gets drained out of the job posting. Managers need to start refusing to let jobs on their team be represented by deadly dull, dense, and semi-incomprehensible job descriptions.

I’m hereby proclaiming three principles of writing job descriptions that don’t suck:

1. Stop losing sight of the fact that your job posting is a marketing document, something that needs to, you know, market the job. You want good people to imagine what it would be like to work in this role, at this organization, with these people — and to be excited about it.

2. Drop the jargon. And there are no extra points for using extra words. You should write in clear, simple language that someone outside your organization would easily understand. And it’s fine — even desirable — to be relatively informal. Don’t write “the communications manager is responsible for all communications-oriented operations for external audiences” when you can write “the communications manager runs the show when it comes to public outreach.”

3. Figure out why someone would be enthusiastic about the job, and talk about that. Maybe the position is an opportunity to change the lives of students, or a chance to be mentored by a successful leader, or an opportunity to work with cutting-edge technology. Say so or candidates won’t know.

In other words, talk like a normal person and think like the candidate you’re looking for.

{ 14 comments… read them below }

  1. Jesse Hachey

    I actually really, really like the "If you were working for us" section of the job posting. That gets straight to the point. I think there may be ways in which recruiters can extract this kind of information from their clients when it comes to shaping the requirements for a search – I'm all for finding ways to make a search for a candidate simpler, and these guys seemed to have found a total no-brainer idea that works well. Why hasn't anyone else thought of this?

  2. Mike McComb

    Here are a few things I've noticed about places that use the conversational job postings:

    Writing the cover letter was a lot easier (I have difficulty with those).
    I usually receive some notification if my application was rejected. Even if it is a form letter I appreciate the closure.
    I tend to get over my disappointment very quickly after the rejection.

    Hopefully if the job I find has a description like this one I will also find that the job is fantastic.

  3. Anonymous

    Or the posts that want a [insert job title here] rock star. What is the educational equivalent of rock start? I'm confused. Guess I am not one, so I don't apply.

  4. Kimberlee Stiens

    How refreshing! An ad for an office assistant that doesn't just say that attention to detail and a good work ethic are the main requirements for a job, and that you somehow need 5 years of experience still. "The day in the life" of is really, really helpful in determining if someone will be a good match!

  5. Kimberlee Stiens

    @ Anonymous: Lol, I've actually seen a Craigslist ad for a "rockstar busser." As in, bussing tables. I understand that there ARE bussers out there that are total rockstars at the job, but is that ad really going to find them?

  6. Mike

    What leads to such terrible ad postings, anyway? Is it really so difficult to explain exactly what you want and what the person doing the job will do? Are they afraid to discuss the menial tasks that every job entails or something?

    Companies wonder about retention issues when they aren't willing (or never realize more likely) to tell folks what they're going to be in for. The comment that came to mind was, "You should consider yourself a pro this is not a job for first timers or designers/programmers who are looking to work their way into another job at 37signals." What a great way for folks who are trying to find a way to have the wrong folks self select themselves out if they aren't right for the job.

  7. Phideaux

    I love this style of job posting, but my frustration has been that my conventional styled HR department doesn't think that a less formal posting is "professional".

    In my relatively short tenure as a manager at this company, I've had to hire several people, and I wanted to try this with some of the more skilled positions, but it was shot down. I eventually found some good people through an extensive series of interviews, but I feel that I could have weeded out a lot of the candidates if I had been able to use a posting that was a little less stiff. I had always said that the person who responded to my posting would be the right type of person for the job.

    Short of side-stepping HR and posting my own job (which would be a major no-no) how do I convince conventional, old-school HR pros to try this?

  8. Ask a Manager

    Mike, regarding what leads to this kind of posting: Thinking it has to be done the way they see other companies doing it. Lack of critical thinking/imagination/willingness to experiment. Inability to recognize something good if it's different than the usual. And in some cases (like Phideaux's), bureaucracy that says "we do it this way and that's that."

    Phideaux: If they think it conflicts with the company's branding, there might be nothing that will trump that. But otherwise, you could try asking them to let you try it as a one-time experiment and see if it works. You could talk to YOUR manager and explain that HR is getting in your way and ask for help in overruling them. But it's possible none of that will work. Anyone have other ideas?

  9. lorrwill

    I get that some of the jargon is to attract industry specific candidates. The down side is you weed out people with easily transferable skills. And some of the superfluous language (used I suppose to attract the brightest applicants) ends up reading like gibberish and makes the writer look unintelligent.

    And while we are talking about rock and roll offices and rock stars of this and that: good freaking grief do people still say that? I thought that 80's crap died out about 1991.

    So keeping your language clean, clear AND contemporary is a good thing.

    That "got it right" makes me wish I lived in that area and could have applied. Yes, it is rather casual in tone but, it also very clearly describes the successful candidate.

  10. Ruby

    So, follow up question if I may: Should an applicant point out the typo and suggest if they were in the job last week, they would have caught it before the ad went live? :)

    "# Recommended restaurants and activities for our of town guests.
    # Booked two hotel rooms and two flights for out of towners."

    Should be "our out of town guests", or both should say "out of towners".

    And I really should have proof read my own comment before posting it!

  11. Jamie

    I love this – and I echo the sentiments wondering why something so simple isn't the standard.

    There are so many jobs where the title can mean radically different things in different companies – this is such a clever way to snapshot a day in the life of the position.

    Bonus – It is inviting. Makes me want to work with the person who wrote the ad.

    I bookmarked this and will absolutely hijack this style the next time I need to provide a job description for a posting.

  12. Anonymous

    Could (or should) this same logic of informal job postings be applied to slightly less formal resume submissions as well? Back to the communications manager example, would it be a bad idea to use "Ran the show when it came to public outreach" when more traditionally it would be written as "Responsible for all communications-oriented operations for external audiences" on a resume?

  13. Ask a Manager

    Anonymous, for use on a resume, I think in this particular example, the answer is somewhere in the middle. "Responsible for all communications-oriented operations for external audiences" is way too jargony, but "runs the show" would sound a little full of oneself. I think just very straightforward is the way to go — "manages all public outreach," for instance.

    In general, though, the less jargon on a resume and the more straightforward the writing, the better. (There are some industries that are an exception to this and truly expect jargon — but for the rest of us, normal conversational English is the way to go.) Good writing tends not to be stiff and formal.

  14. Michael

    A math teacher of mine once said "If you can explain it to a five year-old, then you truly understand it". I think that that general attitude (modified for necessity) would go a long way in improving the job search process, at least in terms of writing postings.

Comments are closed.