Our team at FourPointZero work with a wide range of companies across the UK, Europe and beyond. In the rapidly evolving industries we operate in, many of our clients are high growth start-ups that are disrupting their sector. In most instances, the company is run by technology biased individuals and unless there are investors or advisers in the business with the necessary capabilities, they lack the expertise of recruiting for high growth rapid expansion.

The growth stage of any company is the perfect blend of excitement and trepidation. How you scale up during this period will play a massive part in determining the future success of the company. Having a robust hiring strategy in place is key.

From the outset, the odds are stacked against start-up companies as in many instances, you have to compete for talent with higher profile companies who have ‘brand power’ to attract talent. To succeed, you must outsmart your hiring competition and be one step ahead!

Over the next few posts, we’ll be looking at each stage of the hiring process and how you can succeed in a skills short industry where everyone is vying for the same talent. In this post, we’ll look at how to write an effective job description.

A job description is effectively a sales pitch to attract the right people to apply. You’ve got to make it detailed enough to catch someone’s attention and engaging enough to maintain it!

Before we jump in, it’s vital that you know what your ‘value proposition’ and company culture is and why someone would want to join the company. (AKA ‘what’s in it for me?!’) The best approach is taking an objective view and think of yourself as a suitable candidate. What would motivate you to join your company and leave a current role where you’re contented, well paid and generally well looked after?

If you can’t answer these questions, then it’s worth spending the time to clearly define it before looking to make a hire. Without this you won’t have the power of attraction, even if you have the best product/solution that’s a world beater!

The all-important job description

Now you’ve got your value proposition finalised and your culture has been clearly defined, it’s time to write the job description. The key objective is to clearly explain what you’re looking to hire, the skills that are required and why someone would want to join you on your growth journey.

Just the facts, please

The optimum length of a job description to receive the most applications is a much-debated point. A recent study of over 4,000 technically biased job descriptions posted online that received the best responses showed that the optimum number of words is 600. Using this as a template guide ensures that you won’t over explain, use the standard cliche’s (below) or basically ramble on!

Cliché Bingo

Here’s a handy infographic of the main clichés that exist in the majority of job descriptions and are to be avoided at all costs. If you have any of these in your current job description, press delete immediately and don’t be tempted to use them!

The top cliches to avoid in your job descriptions

The title

All job descriptions start with a title…keep it meaningful and all costs avoid ‘Ninja’, ‘Rockstar, ‘Unicorn’, ‘Guru’ or anything else that ‘sounds great’ and will immediately result in your reader switching off!  Be specific about the job title, as this provides a better idea of what to expect in the role. This also results in more self-selecting applicants, and generally leads to a higher quality response.

Salary range

This is a much-debated point when speaking with hiring managers about job descriptions. From our experience and many industry wide statistics, stating a salary will yield a higher response rate and ensures you’re pitching the role at the right level. Avoid using intangible words such as ‘highly negotiable’, ‘market leading’, ‘competitive’ or ‘depending on experience’, as literally no one will apply! The best practice is to also state a salary range and not ‘to £65k’, as individuals will want the exact amount stated, even if they’re earning considerably less than this at the moment. Adding a range provides you with room for negotiation at offer stage, and also shows individuals what the higher end of the salary banding looks like in monetary terms.

The day to day duties

The main thing to remember when writing the key duties of the role is words paint pictures. Use them in a way that puts the reader in the position where they can visualise what they’re daily role looks like in the company. Who they’ll be working with in the team, reporting to and more importantly how their role plays a part in the overall success of the company? It’s also good to give an outline of the projects they’ll be working on and describe the culture of the company. At all costs avoid using clichés, as their baseless and fall into the realm of identikit job description territory.

What do we want? when do we want it?

All too often the key skills the company are looking for in their new hire reads more like a ransom demand than a job description. Typical job descriptions generally comprise of an exhaustive list of 10+ bullet points of skills and experience that not even a superhero would possess!

It’s best practice to have circa 5-6 bullet points of the key skills and experience that are absolutely essential to be a success in the role, and no more.

Add too many points around the skills and experience that’s required, and you are precluding great individuals from applying, because in their mind they don’t match every bullet point so don’t bother submitting and application. (here’s a secret – most Recruiters don’t send job descriptions to individuals that they have attending interviews for this reason. They usually talk themselves out of the role and are beaten well before they’ve sat across the desk from the hiring manager!).

Make sure to add the desirable skills as well, but again keep this to a concise number for the same reason.

What’s in it for me?

No two ways about it, this is the final and probably most important thing that will make the individual get fired up and click the apply button, so make sure you get it right!

Show me the money, or not!

Most employers have a total misconception that because they offer a fantastic salary and benefits package that they should have the top 5% of individuals applying to them. This is totally incorrect!  During our working day we speak to vast number of individuals looking for a new role. In most instances, money is the 3rd or 4th reason for them wanting to move to greener pastures. If all you’re offering is money, you’re in a lose/lose position as you’ll attract applications from money motivated individuals who will depart as soon as a higher bidder comes along!

Instead of waving money around like a magic wand, instead focus on other key benefits of working at your company, such as;

  • talk about your short, medium- and long-term future growth plans, company vision and direction.  Use this to describe looking forwards and not in the rear-view mirror (when they didn’t work at the company!) 
  • how does this make a positive impact to the individual, and what’s the vision for the role that it will eventually become? Not everyone wants to be the next CEO of the company!
  • what immediate and longer-term projects will they be working on to broaden their skills and experience
  • what investment do you make in skills training and career development and how is this monitored at an individual level?
  • Talk about your benefits, no matter how trivial you think they may be. Do you offer gym memberships, flexible working arrangements, on site creche, generous holiday entitlement, health insurance, health cashback schemes, free fruit, company car, share options, home working, free ironing service? The list is endless, but you get the point that you should shout this out loud and not just write ‘great benefits’ as it’s intangible and means virtually nothing!

Make sure you are continually reviewing your unique perks and benefits at your company and in your job descriptions to boost your company brand. Even if you’re a start up or small company that doesn’t have a globally recognised brand, individuals will keep an eye out for job vacancies at your company if they know there’s lots on offer (besides the money!)

Writing a compelling job description is a blend of skill and practice to see what works! Show your company’s personality through them and outline of what makes your company unique from your competition. There are key rules that you’re best adhering to in every job description, like, making sure you’re setting realistic role expectations, providing as much ‘sell’ as you can about your vision and emphasising how your company helps its employees to succeed and flourish. Get all of this right and you’ll outsmart your competition and win the battle for talent!

Before you break out into a cold sweat about crafting job descriptions to perfection, don’t worry help is on hand by way of our experienced team!

The next series in our blog posts covers off the all-important interview stage……

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