How to write a foolproof job description

How to write a foolproof job description

A job description is something we are all familiar with. But perhaps not everyone is quite as familiar with how important this tool is to attracting and retaining top talent to your company.

Say a key employee has moved on, or you’ve won a new contract, and you’re in the market for a senior manager. Attracting the right candidates for the role is critical for your business so the process needs to be treated properly – and that starts with the job description.

All too often we see job descriptions that clearly started as an internal tick-box exercise, perhaps to get a role signed off initially by the board.

Because of this, they are frequently not fit for their external purpose – a concise tool to relay the job requirements and required experience to candidates. This lets the company down right at the beginning of the process, putting off good people and potentially attracting unsuitable ones.

A good job description should have an overview, including the purpose of the role, reporting lines and location; key responsibilities and accountabilities; a reference to the roles’ internal and external contact points; and a person specification outlining what is expected of an applicant in terms of education, experience, skills and behaviours.

Furthermore, this is an opportunity to showcase the company’s brand, culture and values. First impressions count, even on paper, and a sloppy job description will do nothing to help prospective applicants buy in to the company’s ethos. A well written job description is an immediate differentiator.

Here are my five tips to writing a fail-safe job description:

  1. Get a broad range of input

It is important for HR teams to use their skills to guide a recruitment process, but there is a need for clear input from senior managers who will work directly with the employee.

As a rule, if you will be interviewing the candidates, you should help with the job description. Otherwise you will be wasting a lot of your own and other people’s time when you turn up at third interview and discount all the candidates for something no-one knew you required.

If the role will include working closely with a major client, it is wise to ask that client what kind of skills and competencies they think are important to the job.

  1. Stay up to date

Writing a good job description takes time, getting it right saves time. Candidates can tell when it’s been cobbled together by asking their HR team to take a job description for a similar role to the one in question and are vaguely asked to add a couple of things in. Or a line manager has taken a three-year-old job specification and hasn’t bothered to update it.

Either way you’re left with an inaccurate reflection of the role, and if you don’t set out with the right goal, what chance do you have of achieving it? Make sure you have a clear, up-to-date and bespoke job description written before you go to market.

  1. Avoid discrimination

The Equalities Act 2010 makes it illegal to treat people differently at work because of factors including gender, race, age, sexual orientation, marital status, pregnancy and religion.

Although most of these forms of discrimination are – thankfully – very rare in job descriptions, you must be careful with the terms you use to describe the attributes you want from candidates. Saying you want a set number of years of experience, or using adjectives such as ‘established’ or ‘mature’, can leave you open to claims of age discrimination.

Aside from the legal requisite for keeping an open mind when recruiting, there are sound business reasons for assessing a broad range of people and not ruling out potential stars because of a biased mind set.

  1. Avoid jargon

I’ve been handed job descriptions that say an employee will be expected to “provide expert advice to the MPR board on the TCO and changes to the TOM”.

It is important to stress that you are in a competitive market for people’s attention – many of whom are not even actively looking to change job. You must use the job description to sell the opportunity to work for your company – don’t turn people off using dull corporate language, that means very little to them.

Also, to attract the widest possible range of candidates, you want the job description to be understood by people from other companies, other sectors, maybe even other countries. Keep it simple.

  1.  Don’t over specify

This is a classic recruitment error. Someone asks a line manager what their ideal candidate looks like, gets a wish list that resembles a battery-powered motivational speaker and writes the job description in a way that turns away all mere mortals reading it.

Make sure you are ruthless here. Split the person specification into essential and desirable requirements, and think about what you really can’t live without.

One way we often help companies think about this is by looking at people who have excelled in the role in the past. If someone was recently promoted from the job, and didn’t have a degree, then perhaps you don’t need to list university education as an essential skill.

**This blog post is the first of seven based on Newsom Consulting’s ebook The Ultimate Guide to Hiring
Senior Managers in Transport and Infrastructure***

To get your free copy of the e-book of “The Ultimate Guide to Hiring Senior Managers in Transport & Infrastructure” please click HERE

Author: Jim Newsom

Jim Newsom

Managing Director