Ask These Questions Before You Write Another Job Description

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Apr 30, 2019

Over the years, almost every aspect of work has transformed. We went from cubicles to open office floorplans (back to cubicles again). The rapid advancement of technology changed how and where work gets done. Conversations shifted from, “How can we get more time out of employees?” to, “How can we ensure their health and wellbeing?”

Yet, the job descriptions we rely on to attract talent remain relatively unaffected by these changes. Today, just as years ago, the hiring manager and recruiter discuss the work to be done, which is translated into a description of the role with duties, requirements and (often arbitrary) qualifications.

With 83% of employers struggling to recruit suitable candidates, according to a new research study by SHRM, how have we not reinvented (or at least remodeled) the approach to writing job descriptions?

I work at a recruiting firm that helps companies of all shapes and sizes hire hundreds of candidates a year. Our experience has shown us:

  • The importance of asking the right questions of all stakeholders prior to hiring.
  • The difference a compelling job description can make in attracting top-tier talent.

To address these two points, I surveyed our team to learn the questions they wish hiring managers would ask before completing a job description. Here’s what they said:

1. What will this person have achieved one year later?

“Most hiring problems can be eliminated by making one fundamental and simple change – replacing job descriptions with a list of performance objectives the new hire is expected to achieve,” said Lou Adler in The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired. “Given only one choice, would you rather hire the person with all of the skills and experiences or the one who can deliver the desired results?”

Think about the long-term objectives of a role instead of skill sets. For example, let’s say you’re hiring a director of marketing. For experience and skills, you’ve listed the below:

  • 5+ years of experience in marketing enterprise SaaS products.
  • Good communication skills.

But, what does this really say about what they’ll be doing? Not much. Instead, try framing the description in achievements such as:

  • Develop a multi-faceted marketing strategy leveraging digital distribution channels to increase customer acquisition 20% by Q4 2020.
  • Compose website copy, articles, social media posts and research reports that clearly articulate the unique selling proposition to our target personas.

If somebody can execute on the deliverable, does it really matter if they only have 4 years of marketing experience? In the same light, just because an individual has 5+ years of experience doesn’t mean they can achieve those goals.

Asking what this person will have achieved one year later forces meaningful conversations around what truly matters in a role, the results.

2. Are each these requirements absolutely necessary?

Who doesn’t want an employee who can juggle, backflip, fly and harmonize at the same time – in a business sense? But, the truth is that more stringent requirements lead to fewer qualified candidates.

Consider that over 70% of developers are at least partially self-taught, according to the 2018 Developer Skills Report. Even though two-thirds of developers have a computer science degree, listing it as a required qualification would have eliminated the Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniaks of the world.

You might say, “Well I’d still consider a candidate like that if they applied.” But, a laundry list of requirements is likely to scare away even the best of candidates.

As John W. Gardner said, “When hiring key employees, there are only two qualities to look for: judgment and taste. Almost everything else can be bought by the yard,” and he was a U.S. cabinet secretary and the founder of Common Cause.

Before you finalize your job description, ask yourself, “Are each of these requirements absolutely necessary? Does a degree from Harvard matter as much as a solid portfolio or unique experience?” If the answer is “no,” take it out.

3. Why would a candidate choose us and this job over other opportunities in the market?

Everyone has been asked at some point during an interview, “Why should we choose you over other candidates?” But, have you ever stopped to ask why a candidate should choose your company?

Since April 2018, there are more job openings than unemployed. It’s a candidate’s market where selling the company, the culture and the opportunity is critical to hiring top-tier talent. Use the job description to sell the opportunity and focus on what candidates value most.

A 2016 Fractl survey revealed the most appealing benefits to job seekers. Do you offer flexible hours, unlimited vacation or work-from-home options? Do some research to understand what candidates care about most in a company and an opportunity to highlight the benefits that matter. Remember, candidates invest in you just as much as you invest in them.

“The competition to hire the best will increase in the years ahead. Companies that give extra flexibility to their employees will have the edge in this area.” – Bill Gates

4. What’s the market price for someone with these skills?

We often speak with hiring managers who want to hire a unicorn but pay the lowest salary possible. They need a person with the skills and expertise but haven’t researched what talent of this caliber will cost. Understanding the fair market value for the deliverables you’re seeking eliminates lengthy back and forth negotiations.

Luckily, there are dozens of digital calculators available to help you determine a fair pay scale. A simple Google search for similar opportunities in your market provides quick and easy insight to guide your salary range. Once you understand the market price, discuss how much you would be willing to spend for a candidate that exceeds your expectations.

“I don’t pay good wages because I have a lot of money. I have a lot of money because I pay good wages.” – Robert Bosch

Time is of the essence when moving talent through the hiring pipeline. Do your research and engage in salary conversations early to attract your next unicorn.

5. Is there something special that would put a candidate atop the list?

Did you bake a “bonus” or “nice to have” section into your job description? This is an opportunity to highlight an “above and beyond” quality that aligns with your department or company goals. For example, if you work for a company that helps startups find volunteer opportunities, it would be “nice to have” a candidate who is passionate about volunteering or helping the community.

Whether written in your description or discussed directly with the recruiter, communicating the wow qualities will help guide your search toward the rock star candidates.

6. Which part of this position has the steepest learning curve?

I was hiring for a sales role at an analytics startup with a product that was incredibly complex. We were looking for sales talent with enterprise experience in B2B and a light technical background. What we didn’t consider was the existing knowledge required to fully understand how to use and sell the product.

For those without an analytical mindset, it was incredibly difficult (if not impossible for some) to grasp our product. Had we taken the time to search and test for analytical expertise, this learning curve would have been more of a bump than a roadblock in the training road.

Identifying and discussing the most difficult challenges in advance allows you to search for the talent that is better prepared to face them.


The war for talent is on and the number one challenge in this war is finding qualified, specialized talent. We put so much effort into building a strong company culture, boosting employee engagement and improving retention. Isn’t it time to evolve the very first phase of engagement, how we attract this talent?

People are your greatest asset. Invest the time to answer these essential questions upfront with your team to hire the talent that makes a difference.