Mar 16, 2015

Job descriptions, those horribly written, barely comprehensible strings of roughly 500 words of stuff that only barely resembles reality if you squint hard, are the coin of the realm in the recruiting world.

And no matter how much we complain about them to each other, they remain as unchanging as a rerun.

Not only do they persist, but recruiters and talent acquisition professionals continue to rely on them at every stage of the recruiting process.

The burden of job descriptions lies with you

Here’s what they do:

  • They assume candidates will search for the terms in the job description.
  • They hope that the candidate will read all that jargon and bland verbiage and become compelled to apply.
  • They cross their fingers that the candidate will refer back to the description when writing a resume and cover letter.

We know that job descriptions are flawed to the point of being broken, and yet we keep using them. Whether we blame “rules and regulations” or complain that writing all our job descriptions from scratch so that they have meaning would take months or years, we can’t ignore them and hope they get better magically.

There is no job description-writing fairy godmother. The burden lies with you.

So here are some ideas on how to stop relying on job descriptions as the primary container of content, as the broken platform our entire recruitment marketing strategies are based on.

1. Don’t erase job descriptions – annotate them

I am fully aware of how long it took to get everyone and their Aunt Sue to sign off on that job description last year. So I won’t suggest you scrap that content.

If your rules and regulations stipulate that this flawed model is necessary (and I would ask to see those rules), add to it. You can add a preamble or “about this job” that doesn’t have to be considered part of the official job description. Like a cover letter frames the content within a resume, your “about the job” content can set the stage for the mush that lives in the official document.

In this section, talk about the day-to-day of the job, who the role will interact with, and what life is like on the job. Tell a story as to why filling this role is crucial to the success of your company, tying it to the corporate mission. (People, especially Millennials, love to know that they are working for more than a paycheck.) You can talk about what kind of person would be successful in this role, or the story of the last person who held this role and where their promotion led.

Aside from the obvious narrative benefits to this annotation, the content you use, because it didn’t have to be watered down by HR and Legal, can use the terms actual people use when searching for jobs. Wouldn’t you like your jobs to show up when people search “customer-service jobs for someone with passion” or “sales jobs for someone who loves bicycles”? (That last one assumes you build or sell bikes.)

Wouldn’t the quality of your candidates improve?

2. Crowdsource it

Building that kind of content for all your jobs is no easy task. And besides, are you really the person best positioned to actually describe these jobs at that level of specificity and meaning? You need to reach out to the people who are.

For your most pressing hiring needs, build a simple survey about the job and send it to the hiring manager, the people the role connects to most closely, and even people doing that job right now. (SurveyMonkey and Google Forms are free and easy.) Ask them some or all of the questions in the previous section and you will get amazing content. Then it will be your team’s job to cull the material into useful chunks and add it to the top of the job description page.

If you don’t get the response you hoped for, ask the hiring manager to nudge their team to complete the survey. The content it provides not only helps you, but it helps ensure the right candidate is brought in for interviews. Remind them that getting this content will make the hiring faster and easier, something they will certainly get behind.

3. Focus on the company, not on the job

Would you take a step down in pay and title to work at Google or SAS or Twitter or any one of those “dream to work for” companies? I bet many of you would.

The job descriptions for a project manager role at Google and a company no one wants to work for (and I have a few in mind) are going to be 90 percent identical. And yet, Google has no problems filling its project manager needs.

This suggests that if we sell the company at the employer value proposition level, we almost don’t have to rely on the job descriptions to drive applications. So build content that highlights what a great place your company is to work for and connect it to every job description.

Now, don’t assume that because you have a picture from last year’s company picnic that someone posted to his or her Facebook, it counts as content. You need to build compelling stories about the people who work there, who they are, why they choose your company every day, etc.

How will you know when you have enough content? If I go to your site and read your content, will it outweigh all the negative things people are saying about you on Glassdoor? One story written by people who want you to apply does not counteract the dozens of people who say that you’re very difficult to work for.

So if ranting about how bad job descriptions are hasn’t persuaded you to change them, look to adding more content to balance things out. It will drive more organic traffic, increase your conversion rates, and help you find the employees you really want.