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7 strategies that will help develop compelling job descriptions

As with any important task or project, from building a new product to executing sales, it’s essential to have a well thought out plan, a blueprint detailing what one wants the end result to look like, and how to get there. Defining a role for a new hire is no different, and the result we all know is the job description. But how is it best to develop the job description into a compelling document that both encapsulates what you’re looking for, and will appeal to your target candidate base in order to help you attract the top performing candidates you want. Here are 7 strategies to do this: 

The hiring manager takes the lead in drafting

As a hiring manager don’t take the easiest option and have human resources (if you have such a department) send you a standard job description for the role you’re looking to fill, with that standard list of duties and responsibilities to “sign off”. Of course human resources can help you develop it, but given your own personal success depends on getting the hire right, take the lead yourself in developing the job description. Ultimately you know what you’re looking for and how to “sell” the role better than anyone else, so it only stands to reason you’re best placed to develop job description, rather than allow others to make general assumptions of what you need.

Start by creating a vision for the role 

Definition of any solution starts with a thorough needs analysis, so invest time in this initially. Don’t start by listing out role responsibilities, start by outlining what you want this person to deliver (accomplish), how the role benefits the overall company objectives, and what success in the role would look like in a year from now, visualize it. Besides helping you draft an accurate job description, articulating your vision for the role is incredibly powerful in the eyes of candidates. Ultimately besides being able to do the role from an experience basis, you’re looking to hire someone who buys into your vision of the role and what they need to deliver in it, so make it clear from the beginning.

Don’t rush

Take your time to craft a detailed and compelling job description, this is important because;

  • It clarifies your thoughts on what exactly the deliverables and role responsibilities are, besides the nature of skills, experience and prior successes you would like to see in someone. It’s a business analysis task from which you’ll arrive at a solution. 

  • It provides an opportunity for collective buy-in on the role, from all stakeholders whom will work with the future role incumbent to have input in reviewing and developing the role (to a certain extent of course). This will also prove invaluable as you move onto the interview process, given everyone will be “singing from the same song sheet”.   

  • In the eyes of a candidate when sourcing and interviewing, a well thought out and comprehensive job description elevates your professionalism and employer brand, candidates will respect the time and thought that has gone into it, and a compelling job description provides so much more insight to a company. This document is your first opportunity to start selling your company and the role, so make the most of it.

  • The candidate accepts the role knowing exactly what is expected of him or her on joining, no false pretences from either party, which lowers your risk of a mis-hire.

Craft a compelling story

Take your vision for the role, and clearly articulate this, in particular how the role fits into the company objectives and what you want this person to accomplish in the role; paint the picture of how you see the role being executed what success will look like, so the reader can visualise and buy into your vision for the role. This is so much more powerful than starting with a list of the role responsibilities. But following the vision it is also important to articulate the tasks the person will perform in the role, given some tasks may not have quantifiable success measures. In addition, despite the same or similar titles, the nature of a role can certainly vary from company to company, or even within a company. Look at this section as a list of the end results you want to see and associated functional requirements, a full definition of the end solution you’re seeking, in the same way you might need to uncover the solution needed from one of your clients through needs analysis.   

Don’t just "list" candidate requirements

A “standard” job description normally has a list of candidate skills and experience requirements, but I challenge you to consider whether it is necessary at all if you have a spent your time defining the solution you’re seeking. You should be assessing candidates against the detail of role deliverables and functional tasks you’ve identified; this is true competency based assessment. Focus on what you need this person to do and achieve in the role, seek a solution for and assess against that. Whilst understanding a requirement from one of your clients, for example a custom software development project, you wouldn’t expect your client to provide details of how you would build the solution. You would take details of what they are looking for the system to do once built and details of any particular functionality it needs, and as the solution provider you would use your design and engineering expertise to arrive at the best possible solution meeting those needs. Well you should look at hiring in much the same way, and let your recruiter (be it your company talent acquisition team, or an external recruitment firm) provide the solution that meets your needs without any experience profile pre-conceptions.

Help potential candidates self-actualise

Hiring is as much about selling as it is selecting, in particular if you want to compete for the best candidates, the A Players who will make a difference to your business, and the selling starts with the job description. Crafting a compelling story is one part of this, but you also need to think how you can appeal to the A Players in other ways. Well one common trait top performers have is a strong sense of self actualisation, this is the tip at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the need for people to feel they will fulfill their highest potential. So in addition to developing your compelling story about your company and the role, ensure you develop ideas of where this role could lead, or how as an employer and manager you will become invested in this persons self-development to help them achieve their maximum potential in the role and beyond.  

Treat it as a piece of company content marketing

Finally, ensure you treat the job description as you would for publishing any piece of company content for marketing purposes, to show off your employer brand and sell your opportunity to candidates. So with this in mind consider the following two final touches:

  • Have your marketing communications department review it, to ensure the document is in line with your company messaging and branding, and allow creative touches to it. 

  • Consider adding “social proof” of the company’s market position and employer pedigree. i.e. perhaps include headline details of industry awards received, employee testimonials or keys facts and statements from your Employer Value Proposition (EVP).

So next time you're drafting a job description keep these 7 strategies in mind, it's amazing what a few changes to a traditional job description can do for your ability to attract top talent!

If you’re a financial technology, data or research provider looking to develop compelling job descriptions that will give you a distinct competitive advantage in attracting top talent, then book a consultation call with me. Developing killer job descriptions that sell, is just another example of the free value added services my firm provides to our clients.


About the author: Shawn Rutter is the founder of Excelsior Search, a market-leading, niche search company specialising in international executive search and recruitment solutions for financial technology (fintech), data and research providers to the global capital markets and investment industry. With experience delivering search assignments across the Americas, EMEA and APAC, he founded Excelsior Search in 1999, having previously worked as an Army Officer and for the international search firm MRI. Shawn invites you to connect on LinkedIn.