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What REALLY Belongs in Your Job Description

Nobody likes writing job descriptions - that’s just the truth. Most don’t even know how to write a job description. The fact is, though, that writing a job description will save you hours of work down the road. The last thing you want to do is start interviewing and change your mind halfway through about what you actually want- your candidates will think that your company doesn’t know what it’s doing and won’t want to come work for you.

That being said, putting together a job description is a daunting task for any hiring manager. How do you outline your needs? How do you ensure the person you’re looking for is the perfect fit, and how do you ensure that the right kinds of people will be applying to your job?

In my experience working with thousands of tech hiring managers throughout my career, I’ve seen the stress that goes into this, and I’m here to tell you how to make it easier to find the candidate you’re looking for to finally complete your team the way you want to.

The first thing to realize is that you can’t have everything you want. You can’t have a developer who knows every programming language. You can’t find a candidate who has touched every configuration management tool on Planet Earth. You can’t find one single person who can visualize, develop, and market your app. It’s not possible, so get that out of your head.

The Best Formula for Your Job Description

1. Identify the necessary tasks.

What will this person be doing on a day-to-day basis? What do they need to accomplish? What projects will they be working on? Flesh out the responsibilities you need this person to complete.

2. Make a tech list based off of this.

What technologies will this person be using based on this list? What languages and programs do they need to be familiar with? What level of expertise? Make a clear decision on what you need your new hire to be responsible for. Notice how I said what you need. Decide what the main function of this role is, and outline the necessary responsibilities for that function. Once you’ve decided what you need at the core of your team, then you can begin to think about what you might want in addition.

3. Divide your list into “Must Have,” “Nice to Have,” and “Wishlist.”

Maybe you need a web developer, but it would be cool if they knew more than one main language, or if they had some experience in mobile applications. This comes down to a basic “needs” versus “wants” conversation. It’s imperative that you be clear on exactly what falls into each category, because confusion will find you surrounded with great candidates and still unsatisfied. Set realistic expectations for what you can expect a single person to do in the role for the compensation you’re willing to provide them.

I like to call these categories “Nice to Have” items and your “Must Have” items. You can also ask for help in making these lists. Talk to your team as a whole, or another manager, or maybe the person who is doing the job currently that you’re hiring for. Ask them what they do on a daily basis, what they realistically could do or be expected to know. People doing the job will know the market, and they’ll be able to tell you what you can realistically expect from candidates today.

4. Rethink everything.

Go over your list one more time. Do you really need everything on your list of “Must Haves”? Can you move a few things over? Are you trying to force the responsibilities of two roles into one role? If so, can you create two separate roles to make your search (and the pressure on whomever you hire) easier? If not, how can you get your compensation to where it needs to be to entice someone to do this difficult job?

Once you know more about what you’re actually looking for, you can start piecing together your job description. When trying to decide what needs to be there and what doesn’t, remember that less is always more when it comes to job descriptions. Good candidates are picky about what they apply to, and they’re looking to find the one thing that will allow them to stop applying-otherwise known as their next job opportunity. For them to know what they want, you need to know what you want. A candidate who isn’t sure about what they want will apply to something nonspecific - a candidate who knows what they want will apply to the job they see as perfect for them.

You might think that having a long job description makes you look more sure of what you want, but in reality, it just makes it harder to digest. The best candidates will only read so far before clicking out of the browser if they’re feeling overwhelmed. Follow this rule of thumb: if it’s not on your “Must Have” list, it doesn’t need to be in your job description.

It might surprise you to know that some of the best recruiters don’t even use job descriptions. A good recruiter knows the job, knows the client, and can tell if a candidate has what they’re looking for from a single phone conversation. A recruiter needs to know what you need, what you want, and they’ll find the best person for the job. In today’s job market, the best candidates are passive candidates, which means that they aren’t actively applying to and looking for jobs. This also means that they aren’t slogging through job boards reading through endless job descriptions; if they’re being considered for your role, it’s because a recruiter has contacted them directly, told them about the job, and secured their candidacy, all without putting a written job description in front of them.

When you sit down to write a job description for your next role, think long and hard about what your team can provide and what needs could be filled, think about what you can offer as a manager, decide what you need and what you’d merely like to have, and create your short, concise write-up. I guarantee it will serve you well.

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