Why Job Descriptions Are Useless

I wonder if companies ever wonder why the hell they get so many crappy resumes for the jobs they post. Part of it may have to do with job hunters simply taking a shotgun approach to their job search and throwing resumes out to see what sticks. For sure, I’ve done that in the past, but over time, I’ve learned to dig into the job descriptions, which leads me to the crux of this article. I’m not sure if classes are given on writing job descriptions, but especially in my recent experience, most that I’ve seen have been rubbish.

A lot of this probably has to do with the recruiter of the company being left to write the job description, and they don’t have the innate knowledge nor perspective of the role that one who is in or managing the position has. But frankly speaking, it’s not the recruiter’s job to come up with the job description. It’s the hiring manager’s. Then perhaps, we have another quandary, and that is that the hiring manager hasn’t been very clear nor precise in what he or she is after. Either way, the end result of a bad or inadequate job description is that companies get a lot of misaligned resumes, and waste a ton of time having to sift through them to find the gems.

I realize that many companies have methods and procedures for publishing job descriptions, and it usually starts with the hiring manager writing something up, then turning it into recruiting. But how many job descriptions are actually proofread for more than grammatical or spelling errors? Considering the plethora of what this author feels are crappy job descriptions, probably not much.

That said though, it’s not difficult to write an effective job description. One simply has to keep a couple of things in mind:

  1. First and foremost, a job description is sales collateral. Your buyers are your candidates. Instead discussing this point at length, let me ask a question to get your gears turning: If you were trying to sell a high-value, luxury product, would you package it in newspaper? So the job description should have some polish and have language that evokes a positive emotional response that will compel job hunters to dig deeper into the details of the job.
  2. The job description is also like an invitation to an exclusive club in which certain criteria have to be met. I’ll get into this point in detail below, but clarity and precision are key because you want to attract the right individuals and make it clear that only those who don’t meet the criteria don’t bother to apply; respectfully, of course.

The first point is pretty easy to accomplish, though I have found that you have to be careful about not coming off as too “snobby” in the job description. That’ll turn people off. The trick is to word the job description such that people will feel as if it would be a privilege to work at your company, but then balance it with points that will make them excited. A phrase such as,

We take great UI seriously, from visual and interaction design to engineering, and the people we have working on our UI are as equally passionate. We’re looking for people who share that passion, and want to be part of a team that creates “kick-ass” UI.

…is extremely effective in not only stating the value of working at the company, but appealing to people’s sense of ownership and passion.

Point 2 is all about focusing your requirements. Most job descriptions lump all the requirements together into a single section. I have preferred those that tell me the must-haves in one section, then the nice-to-haves in another section. Also, don’t list things that are NOT part of the job. For instance, most UI folks know very little about Java, but lots of job descriptions for UI list Java programming as a requirement; something along the lines of “3-5 years Java experience.” Don’t know how many times I’ve seen that, and when I inquired about it, the hiring manager says it’s really not that important. What would have been more accurate would be something like this: “3-5 years experience writing UI on top of a Java platform,” which is typically what that “3-5 years Java experience really means.”

In a case such as the Java experience, not only will scare off potentially great UI talent, you’ll attract the wrong people who may be great in Java but simply mediocre in UI. So with your requirements, you need to have laser-like focus with your must-haves, and don’t be afraid to say something to the effect of:

Only candidates who fulfill the following requirements will be considered…

This won’t prevent what I call resume spammers from sending you a resume, but it will help to reduce the glut.