Five Tips for Writing Effective Job Descriptions for Your Firm

8 min read
March 08, 2021

Congrats! Your firm is doing great—you've persevered through the challenges of 2020, and somehow, not only have you sustained your firm, but you're actually experiencing growth and need your team to follow suit. Finish your celebratory splurge of a coffee order because it's time to hire.

Sounds easy enough, right? Just throw a few bullet points together and slap it on Craigslist (read: this is not me recommending Craigslist for your hiring needs). Maybe you even find another firm's job description (JD) and make a few tweaks because it's all the same, right?

Not quite.

You might have some "success" with this approach, but ask yourself, is this method going to find you the perfect addition for your team? Probably not. More likely, it's going to find you the perfect addition for that other company. You know, the one you copied and pasted those bullet points from. While that candidate may be a great fit for that company, they're likely not going to be the best person for your role without you infusing a bit more intentionality into this process.

For those new to the world of talent acquisition, a common misstep is thinking job descriptions are the starting point of the hiring process. This isn't the case, though, and before we jump straight into JDs, consider the prep work.

Have you done a job analysis? What specific accountabilities and responsibilities are you looking to fill? Have you considered your compensation philosophy? Or your total rewards package (HR talk for compensation, benefits, wellness)? Do you have time and resources to support the hiring, interviews, and eventual onboarding and training needed to support the process and keep candidates engaged? Are you aware of the compliance regulations involved for hiring in your state? You should know the answers to these questions before you even write your JD.

Okay, so you've done all that—nice work! Let's get to crafting the perfect job description for your role. Before we get into the highly anticipated five tips, let's quickly go over the general content outline. Here are some significant fields you'll want to include:

  • Job title
  • Company summary
  • Position summary
  • Responsibilities
  • Qualifications
  • Working conditions
  • EEO statement

Easy-peasy! Why do we even need five tips? This should cover it, right? While technically true, taking this basic outline at face value doesn't leave much ANY room for imagination, which is fine, I guess, if you're hoping to hire someone who is drawn to a culture void of creativity, innovation, and energy.

For those of you looking for a candidate a bit more engaged, let's segue into the highly anticipated five tips for writing effective job descriptions.

1. Inject the JD with personality

Hopefully, you have a good handle on your mission, values, and brand. If so, this part will come easily. Look for ways to engage the potential applicant and to inject your style and culture into the fold. This can be achieved using a simple approach: write like you're an actual, live, human being. We've all seen job postings that are five pages long. Nope. We've all been subjected to a job description that reads like it belongs in a scientific journal. Hard pass.

I suggest that you concentrate on using language that speaks to your organization and your atmosphere. In the example below, while both approaches ultimately say the same thing, one has a lot more impact and personality. 

Demonstrates attention to detail


Displays a borderline superhuman attention to detail

There should be several opportunities for you to achieve this throughout the JD but be mindful not to misrepresent your brand or culture. Candidates will sniff that out if you're lucky, and if you're not, they'll end up getting hired, feel like they've been duped, and leave you with an open spot to fill and a whole lot of wasted resources six months down the road. The cost of a mis-hire can be astronomical, which is all the more incentive for you to be intentional about what you are communicating to candidates at this initial point of contact.  

At the end of the day, a job description clearly needs to define the tangibles like knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs), key performance indicators (KPIs), objectives and key results (OKRs), and all the other acronyms. But an effective job description can also convey the intangibles like culture, tone, engagement, and the employee value proposition (EVP) without you having to add yet another section to the JD.  

2. Know your audience

Who are you trying to recruit for this position, and how are you speaking to them directly? You knowing and speaking to your ideal audience will have benefits that reach beyond crafting your JD. Having this knowledge will also guide you in sourcing candidates, selecting job sites that engage your target audience, and setting the tone for the interview phase. 

For example, if you're looking for industry professionals, job-specific acronyms are okay. If you're open to fresh perspectives and are willing to train candidates with high potential but limited industry knowledge, you probably shouldn't use the same jargon. If you're looking for candidates who are creative and innovative, then stray away from run-of-the-mill JDs. If you're on the search for folks with a sense of humor, find ways to make 'em laugh!

3. Post your salary

To quote XYPN's CEO & Co-Founder, Alan Moore, "Please stop posting jobs without a salary or salary range. You know what you're willing to pay, so just say it." Agreed. If you don't know what you're willing to pay, please return to the prep work noted above. If you do, why wouldn't you share that information? (Note: the answer should not be for the sake of tradition.)

I believe this transparency trend is ultimately where, at least in the US, we're collectively headed. Why? Time is money (pun intended), and why should we waste our time OR the candidate's time when that can be avoided? From the employer's perspective, providing the pay range can set you apart from your competitors. It can position your organization as current and abreast of workforce needs. From the candidate's perspective, it's just what the people—especially millennials and the incoming workforce—want! Growing up in a world of instant information, the modern candidate desires the full picture so they can make informed decisions. Also, PSA, this information is most likely already available—Glassdoor anyone?

Most importantly, posting salaries helps disrupt the gender wage gap. The simple act of adding a few numbers to the JD champions transparency and is a meaningful way to take a stance against pay inequity. Colorado recently passed the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act, mandating that all job descriptions post their salary ranges state-wide. When given the chance to lead or lag, Colorado chose to lead. You should too!

4. View the JD through a DEI lens

Beyond posting your salary, there are several ways that you can leverage your JD to relate to diverse audiences. This will take some practice and ongoing participation in the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) hemisphere. There is an emphasis on "ongoing," as the space is ever-evolving. This evolution is apparent in the DEI acronym itself; a couple of years ago, it was D&I. Now, you'll see variations like DEIJ or IDEA to include other facets like justice, allyship, accessibility, and belonging. While it's important to stay current on DEI topics, also realize that it's okay not to know everything. Just ask or find out. It's also okay to make a mistake. Just own it, allow vulnerability, and leverage what you've learned.

Going back to the prep work, when you were determining what candidate you were looking for, were you describing a mini version of you? Or a like-minded person? Or someone you'd like to have a beer with? If so, you may need to head back to the drawing table. Countless studies show that having a diverse workforce positively contributes to the bottom line. Folks with different backgrounds and experiences have different perspectives, which contribute to diversity of thought, leading to diversity of solutions and a palpable impact on ROI.

With that in mind, how you frame your JD matters. Did you know females are less likely than their male counterparts to apply for a position if they don't meet every single qualification? Consider paring those down to the essentials. Using verbiage with historically racial undertones or pronouns like "he" or "she" to describe your ideal candidate is a no-no. Additionally, words like "assertive" or "guru" may prevent, most times subconsciously, women and other underrepresented groups from applying. Thankfully, the English language is expansive, and there are typically other words that don't present in the same way. You could use "proactive" or "subject matter expert" as alternatives to the examples above. 

5. Focus on skills and growth

This one feels obvious (and it should) but doesn't typically come through in your average JD. More often than not, employers just throw a bunch of daily tasks and responsibilities in and call it ready. Boring. I encourage you to speak to the skills you're looking for rather than the job itself. Jobs evolve—and sometimes end—but valuable skillsets and ongoing retention of knowledge are priceless.

The thing to remember here is that engaging in the selection and interview process is a collaborative effort. While that's always been true, candidates are becoming increasingly sophisticated about making sure the employer aligns with their goals and personal brand. Keep in mind that they're interviewing you and the company as well. Be thoughtful about how you're aligning their personal needs with the opportunity. Prioritize how you respond to the modern workforce's increased emphasis on personal development. Brownie points if you're able to connect the dots for how these skills contribute to the success of the organization.

Let's look at the difference between a random JD excerpt and a bullet-point from a JD written by Kelly Moorman, Director of Brand Communications here at XYPN.

Manages email processes


We're big on email here at XYPN. You'll collaborate cross-departmentally to ensure that members are actually receiving—and opening—our emails. In the process, you'll learn the art of client communications and will dip your toe in the world of marketing platforms.

Again, while both examples communicate the crux of this responsibility, one has a lot more impact and quite clearly describes development opportunities AND how this accountability contributes to XYPN's goal to "help people live their great lives."  

As with most things, the effort, thought, and time you put into crafting your job description directly correlates with the results you get back. While "manages email processes" likely took a lot less time from pen to paper, especially if you just copy and pasted, it's likely not going to attract that subject matter expert you were hoping for. At any rate, I certainly know which company I'd rather work for ;).

XYPN Ryan Watin Headshot

About the Author

As XYPN’s Director of People and Culture, Ryan Watin leverages his passion and talent for bringing people together, enabling them to achieve far more than they could on their own. He spends his days championing XYPN's positive, inclusive, innovative, and get sh*t done culture and doesn’t rest until every team member has what they need to thrive. Ryan is a fundamental part of the seriously strong glue that holds everything we do at XYPN together because, as he knows, we are nothing without our people.

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