The Anatomy of a Great Job Posting

Time to Read: 4.7 minutes

Updated: August 1, 2022

“Are you a self-starting individual who can work alone and in a team?”

How often have job seekers seen these very words, or something similar, when scouring job boards? As Pascal Finette at The Heretic writes, it almost seems as if every company’s listing on a job board has been copied from somewhere else.

It’s understandable. Those responsible for writing job adverts might not know how to make a description pop, so they err on the side of what’s been done before. However, copy/pasting want ads render the descriptions meaningless.

Don’t make this mistake. When you have a vacancy you need to fill with a truly talented person, you need a thoughtful job posting that will attract the right people and set the right expectations. Here is how to write one.

The First Lines: Get Them Hooked

Job candidates are reading plenty of job descriptions. This means you have to grab their attention with the very first line to stand out, Julie Strickland at Inc. says.

Think about your favorite novelists. They have tens of thousands of words they want people to read. Hooking readers with the first sentence is vital. A fine example comes from Iain M. Banks’ book The Crow Road:

“It was the day my grandmother exploded.”

Some of the practices of writing enthralling stories can be applied to the task of writing effective job descriptions. They both need a big hook at the beginning, concise meaning in the middle, and a rousing finish. If you can get the reader’s attention in the first line, you can shepherd them through the rest of the advertisement.

Strickland says the person responsible for writing the job ad should spend time imagining the ideal candidate for the role. What are the most important aspects of the job itself, the company, and the team that will appeal to this person? “Use targeted questions or statements,” Strickland writes. Her example: “Want to work for a dynamic company that makes the world a greener place?”

The line will only work for a certain type of person and, most likely, a particular role. And that’s the point. Understanding how to tailor your appeal in your opening line can mean the difference between finding an ideal candidate and getting a boilerplate cover letter.

Then, take your vision of that ideal candidate and write out exactly what that person would be doing for your organization, Whitney Johnson writes at Rework. Johnson says that all too often companies spend too much energy on being attractive to candidates. Instead, she says being upfront and direct about the role does a better job of finding the right fit. That’s what the middle of your ad is for.

The Middle: Define the Role

Brevity is powerful.

In fact, the team at the Engage blog says you should consider shortening the job title, at least for the purposes of the ad. Trimming the fat from the title makes it easier to zero in on must-have skills rather than preferred skills.

Still, you want the role to have enough flexibility that someone can grow into it. The Small Business Administration says that applicants are more attracted to roles that have a little wiggle room than they are jobs with rigid assignments. Setting too stringent conditions early on may dissuade great candidates who to blossom.

Don’t be timid about being blunt in the way you write this description, either. For example, Eric Jorgenson from the Evergreen Library reports a fivefold increase in quality applicants by organizing his job ad with subheads such as “Why this job is important” and “What you will learn on this job.”

Avoid Cliches to Create a Clearer Job Description

Your next step is to define the role with so much precision that there is no room left for ambiguity. After reading your listing, potential applications will understand exactly what the role calls for.

To get language that precise, try speaking with existing employees in similar roles or those who work on the team the candidate would join. Tadhg O’Leary says tapping into the knowledge of existing employees provides valuable resources. After all, they are living the daily tasks the job requires. They understand aspects of the job that are appealing and important.

Getting insight from people on the job will also prevent you from falling back on buzzwords in your description. For example, O’Leary warns against phrases such as “energetic team-player” who want to work for “fast-moving” and “innovative” companies. These words tend to convey the opposite meaning intended in their use.

Don’t get too bogged down in the impersonal language of responsibilities and skills, either, Josh Tolan at the Huffington Post writes. Instead, connect the role as you’ve described it to end goals; show applicants how they can earn recognition and esteem in the role.

The End

Finally, give any potential applicants clear next steps. Tolan says to be explicit about this, whether that next step is to submit a resume and cover letter, or some other action.

Also, applicants want a contact number. Tolan cites CareerBuilder research that shows 81 percent of job seekers want to know the contact information of the person who posted the job in case they have additional questions.

There are a lot of tired job descriptions out there, which is a shame when the role is especially exciting or when the company is doing great work. Follow the steps above to ensure the opportunities your company provides are being met. After all, snappy, informative and provocative descriptions can mean the difference between star hire or someone dire.

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Shanil Kaderali

Shanil Kaderali is a strategic talent acquisition leader with global experience. He's managed and led recruitment functions at companies like Cisco Systems, Symantec, WellPoint, as well as having worked for several Baker's Dozen RPO winners.

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