How to write a job description

Are you currently recruiting for a new staff member or even in the early planning stages for a new hire and wondering where to begin? To speed up and make the recruitment process as efficient as possible, you absolutely need to make your job description as effective as possible.

In today's competitive job market, precise and well-written job requirements are an absolute must for any hiring manager. It can be the difference between attracting merely adequate applicants (which in the end slows down your hiring process), and finding your next star performer.

Here are some guidelines on how to attract the best talent with an effective job description:

Contract vs. temporary vs. permanent

The first step in writing your job description is deciding what type of employee you need. Are you looking for a staff member to join the team on a temporary basis, an experienced interim manager or an employee to fill a permanent position? This is an important element you need to decide on before writing the job ad.

An important consideration is to decide whether you’re aiming at maintaining your staff headcount and productivity levels (when someone leaves the company), or do you wish to create a new role with the aim to add value to the company in the long run.

Identify job ad stakeholders

The next step is to identify all internal stakeholders who will be involved in the hiring process. Along with a senior HR staffer, this might include the department head, project managers, and key team members who will be working directly with the new employee. To avoid a slow and prolonged recruitment process, try to limit the number of people involved to four or less – with preferably two key decision-makers.

Set start date

As well as specifying whether the position is contract/temporary/permanent, your job description should specify when you prefer the new employee to start. Have you budgeted for the new employee with the preferred start date in mind, or do you still need to get budget approval? If the new employee is replacing someone who is leaving, will there be sufficient overlap for knowledge transfer? How flexible can you be with the start date? Make sure you've considered all possible scenarios before settling on a start date for the new employee.

Define job requirements and responsibilities

Identifying all the essential tasks and responsibilities of the new employee will form the basis of your job description and will help you recognise the skills and experience you should be looking for in the new staff member. Once this process is complete, you can start refining your job ad. Ask:

  • Which duties are most important?
  • What lines of reporting are there, and to whom?
  • What results should the employee deliver?
  • If it's a managerial role, what is the extent of his/her authority?

Determine essential skills and qualifications

Based on your answers to the above questions, the next step to creating a quality job description is putting together key criteria for the new role. Be careful not to confuse qualifications with technical skills or soft skills as there are subtle differences to each.

  • Qualifications relate to what the candidate needs in order to do the job, such as university degrees or industry certifications.
  • Technical skills relate to what the candidate can do, for example working with different computer programs or accounting packages.
  • Soft skills are not as easy to measure or define, such as a proactive and flexible attitude, or an ability to work with people.

The above employment criteria will become especially important if there are several candidates vying for the position. Having a clearly defined set of key requirements will allow you to remove a large number of candidates from the list who won’t be a perfect fit for your role. 

Also, make a distinction between “need-to-have” and “nice-to-have” skills that can be further developed through professional development. If in doubt, seek advice from someone with a few years' experience in a similar role.

Choose a salary band

While it is not essential to include the salary in your job ad, it is often advisable. You should be prepared to set a salary on the basis of the employee’s education, skills and experience, along with location or industry. Sources that can assist you include salary research like the Robert Half Salary Guide, and your own internet research.

Also, get a solicitor to review your hiring forms, policies and procedures to make sure your job requirements and hiring process don't violate employment laws in any way.

Writing the job description

With the above completed, the next step is to write the job ad. In general, this should be practical, functional and clear.

The job description template should include elements such as:

  • Job title, the department and the person to whom the employee will report.
  • The person’s responsibilities: what does the position involve and what is the aim of the position?
  • The most important tasks and responsibilities – list the most important first and the least important last.
  • Skills and characteristics that a good candidate should have. For example: ‘a good organiser’, ‘suited to leading a team’ or ‘capable of working independently’.
  • Other requirements and desired level of education.

Don’t forget that your job ad is not merely used to attract the best candidate, it is also a chance for you to tell prospective employees the benefits of working for your business.  Provide a few points on your unique employer value proposition to distinguish your job ad from the crowd.

Promote the job

Once the job description and salary have been approved by all your internal stakeholders, it's time to promote the job to your target market. This can be done via job boards, social media, the company website, through employee referrals, and recruiters.

Hiring and need to source top talent? Want to avoid a lengthy recruitment process? Talking directly with a recruiter can greatly increase your chances of quickly finding the right person for the job. Contact your local recruitment consultant today for expert advice on job descriptions and position templates.

See more tips on avoiding a slow hiring process.

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