How to write a job posting that doesn’t terrify and demoralize candidates

September 3, 2014
September 3, 2014

As any job-seeker who has stared with dismay at a long list of job specs might suspect, there’s a major disconnect between most job postings and reality. Hiring managers who describe a dream candidate instead of what they actually need, or obsess about screening out all under-qualified applications, often write postings that ask for much more than the company can realistically expect to find.

“The hiring manager has the initial specification to write, but in process typically ends up over-specifying, because they’re hoping to ‘trick’ a recruiter into getting the best candidate for them,” says Peter Kazanjy, a co-founder of TalentBin, a data-focused recruiting search product acquired by Monster earlier this year.

Because of this, too many companies scare off good candidates and make jobseekers feel consistently unqualified. But that tide is turning, says Scott Purcell, a Bay Area-based technology recruiter at Jobspring Partners.

“I have seen a bit of a trend in Silicon Valley where a lot of companies have started to simplify things quite a bit,” Purcell says. “They don’t list quite as many technologies, they just put a few core things that they need and then describe the kind of work they’re doing… They want to cast a little bigger of a net, and not scare people away.”

Here are some tips to write a more effective job posting:

Assume that jobseekers will read the posting literally

List only genuine core requirements, and make sure that they’re marked clearly. List what’s most important first, instead of way down on a list of items. Actually line up the required experience to the job and the market; too many entry-level jobs ask for two to three years of experience, which manages to scare off viable candidates and career-switchers.

Distinguish between wants and needs

It’s fine to list things that are “nice to have” but label them as such. Don’t expect candidates to divine the difference, and don’t make it a laundry list. Be genuinely honest about what’s a must-have, and be more lenient about requirements in a smaller or more competitive talent pool, Kazanjy says.

Fewer bullet points, more conversation

If there’s a guiding principle for hiring managers and companies, it’s that they need to remember that there’s a human being on the other side of the job board. Rather than a dry description of expectations, describe what the actual daily work is like, what’s being done that’s interesting and challenging. The idea is to make the posting engaging, instead of adversarial.

Don’t make people write for robots

Some companies use automated software (paywall) to screen out many candidates. Sometimes that’s necessary to pare down the flood of candidates that apply to large organizations. But there’s a tendency to overdo it, and those systems can also end up just selecting for people that read up on the software and tailor their resumes precisely, instead of those who might actually be the best fit.

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