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Writing a Job Description the Right Way

Kristen Harcourt Aug 6, 2015 7:30:00 AM

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So, you’ve just posted an opening for a new administrative assistant and BAM! It’s like the flood gates opened and you’re inundated with applications. Suddenly you’re staring down at hours of mind-numbing work sifting through all these applications to find the qualified few. It’s a pretty common problem and, I hate to say it, but it’s your own fault.

If you want to avoid this, it might be time to look at your job descriptions.

A poorly written one will attract unqualified candidates and even turn away those A-level candidates you really want to attract. If it’s too short you won’t cover all of the necessary information. If it’s too long, you may bore your potential applicants away before they even reach ‘apply’. So what length is just right? There isn’t any true consensus but if you can succinctly tap into the following components, you’re more likely to get the candidates you’re looking for.

Back to Basics

A job description should be unambiguous, concise and direct. Candidates should not be left wondering if they’re right for the position or when they’ll hear back. To achieve this there are certain things you’ll need to include:

Position: Should be a familiar and commonly used title. While a “marketing maven” sounds fun a “marketing coordinator” is more likely to be picked up by search engines.

Location/Company: Boast about what makes your company one-of-a-kind. Because although you’ll be paying the new hire, they must buy into your organization.

Qualifications: Consider the kinds of education your candidates will require in order to do the job. Avoid being too narrow and consider all applicable fields to avoid shrinking your candidate pool.

Skill requirements: What’s listed in this section should be only what IS required. By including too much you’ll scare away potential candidates. You can always train for other skills later.

Preferences: This is where any other helpful skills can be listed. Do you have a lot of French or Spanish customers? It may be nice to have a bilingual candidate. The job can be done without your preferred skills but if candidates have and highlight them it’s an added bonus.

How to apply: With the prevalence of online job boards it is not always clear how to apply to your position. If you only look at applications sent through your company’s website, be sure to specify this rather than just providing a hyperlink.

Closing date: It can take candidates an hour to apply to a position. Don’t waste their time by having them apply to a closed position left on an online job board.

How/When they will be contacted: If you’re branding your organization correctly, the right candidates will be excited at the possibility of working with you. If you leave them indefinitely wondering if they’ll hear from you, this excitement will surely go away.

Approximately when they will need to start if hired: This is likely an approximate start date but it can help currently employed candidates plan ahead and let unemployed candidates decide whether they’ll be able to wait out the start date financially.

But most importantly…

Behavioral Requirements

While you can teach skills, behavioral fit is more difficult to develop in new hires. Think of an administrative assistant, you could find a hundred people who have nearly the exact same skill set and level of education. Now imagine this occupation in a tech start up where things are a little less established and organized. The administrative person at this start up will need to roll with quick changes, developments and additions to their responsibilities. An administrative assistant to the CEO of a mature organization will need different attributes to succeed. Fit with the personality and behavior of the boss is also really important in a case like this, and that can differ dramatically.

Be sure to include behavior and personality traits a candidate will need to succeed in your job descriptions to give candidates a complete picture of what working for you will be like.

Our customers use McQuaig assessments to help in this part of writing the job description. By answering a short survey about what types of behaviors will make a candidate more successful in the role, they get back a detailed report that provides ideal temperament of someone in the job. They can then use this to create a more robust job description – and measure candidates against it. Here’s an example of what this might look like:

To succeed in this Administrative role, you should be:

  • A good team member who will be careful about making decisions and will think through a problem and weigh the pros and cons
  • Good with detail and takes your duties seriously
  • Relaxed, patient, steady and reliable
  • Good at and like routine work
  • Logical, task oriented and analytical

The report also provides resume screening tips customized to the behavioral requirements and customized behavioral interview questions to help you assess for these qualities in the interview.

What do you do to set your job descriptions apart from others?

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Courtesy of Flickr CC and john.schultz

Topics: Recruitment, Job Search, Productivity

Kristen Harcourt

Written by Kristen Harcourt

Kristen Harcourt is a highly trusted, creative and collaborative advisor who is passionate about people. She really enjoys helping companies make the right people decisions to achieve long term productivity.